Multilingual sign outside the mayor's office in Novi Sad, written in the four official languages of the city: Serbian, Hungarian, Slovak, and Pannonian Rusyn
The logo of the Swiss Federal administration, in the four national languages of Switzerland (German, French, Italian and Romansh)

Multilingualism is the use of two or more languages, either by an individual speaker or by a community of speakers. Multilingual speakers outnumber monolingual speakers in the world's population.[1] Multilingualism is becoming a social phenomenon governed by the needs of globalization and cultural openness.[2] Owing to the ease of access to information facilitated by the Internet, individuals' exposure to multiple languages is becoming increasingly frequent, thereby promoting a need to acquire additional languages. People who speak several languages are also called polyglots.[3] As far as learning a language, multilingual speakers have acquired and maintained at least one language during childhood, the so-called first language (L1). The first language (sometimes also referred to as the mother tongue) is acquired without formal education, by mechanisms heavily disputed. Children acquiring two languages in this way are called simultaneous bilinguals. Even in the case of simultaneous bilinguals, one language usually dominates over the other. People who know more than one language have been reported to be more adept at language learning compared to monolinguals.[4] Additionally, bilinguals often have important economic benefits over monolingual individuals as bilingual people are able to carry out duties that monolinguals cannot, such as interacting with customers who only speak a minority language.

Multilingualism in computing can be considered part of a continuum between internationalization and localization. Due to the status of English in computing, software development nearly always uses it (but see also Non-English-based programming languages), so almost all commercial software is initially available in an English version, and multilingual versions, if any, may be produced as alternative options based on the English original.


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The definition of multilingualism is a subject of debate in the very same way as the definition of language fluency. On one end of a sort of linguistic continuum, one may define multilingualism as complete competence and mastery in another language. The speaker would presumably have complete knowledge and control over the language so as to sound native. On the opposite end of the spectrum would be people who know enough phrases to get around as a tourist using the alternate language. Since 1992, Vivian Cook has argued that most multilingual speakers fall somewhere between minimal and maximal definitions. Cook calls these people multi-competent. In addition, there is no consistent definition of what constitutes a distinct language. For instance, scholars often disagree whether Scots is a language in its own right or a dialect of English.[5] Furthermore, what is considered a language can change, often for purely political purposes, such as when Serbo-Croatian was created as a standard language on the basis of the Eastern Herzegovinian dialect to function as umbrella for numerous South Slavic dialects, and after the breakup of Yugoslavia was split into Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin, or when Ukrainian was dismissed as a Russian dialect by the Russian tsars to discourage national feelings.[6] Many small independent nations' schoolchildren are today compelled to learn multiple languages because of international interactions.[7] For example, in [Finland], all children are required to learn at least two foreign languages: the other national language (Swedish or Finnish) and one alien language (usually English). Many Finnish schoolchildren also select further languages, such as German or Russian. In some large nations with multiple languages, such as India, school children may routinely learn multiple languages based on where they reside in the country. In major metropolitan areas of Central, South and East India, many children may be fluent in four languages (the mother tongue, the state language, and the official languages of India, Hindi and English.) Thus a child of Telugu parents living in Bangalore will end up speaking his or her mother tongue (Telugu) at home and the state language (Kannada), Hindi and English in school and his or her surroundings.

Multilingual individuals

A multilingual person is someone who can communicate in more than one language, either actively (through speaking, writing, or signing) or passively (through listening, reading, or perceiving). More specifically, the terms bilingual and trilingual are used to describe comparable situations in which two or three languages are involved. A multilingual person is generally referred to as a polyglot. Multilingual speakers have acquired and maintained at least one language during childhood, the so-called first language (L1). The first language (sometimes also referred to as the mother tongue) is acquired without formal education, by mechanisms heavily disputed. Children acquiring two languages in this way are called simultaneous bilinguals. Even in the case of simultaneous bilinguals, one language usually dominates over the other. In linguistics, first language acquisition is closely related to the concept of a "native speaker". According to a view widely held by linguists, a native speaker of a given language has in some respects a level of skill which a second (or subsequent) language learner cannot easily accomplish. Consequently, descriptive empirical studies of languages are usually carried out using only native speakers. This view is, however, slightly problematic, particularly as many non-native speakers demonstrably not only successfully engage with and in their non-native language societies, but in fact may become culturally and even linguistically important contributors (as, for example, writers, politicians, media personalities and performing artists) in their non-native language. In recent years, linguistic research has focused attention on the use of widely known world languages, such as English, as a lingua franca or a shared common language of professional and commercial communities. In lingua franca situations, most speakers of the common language are functionally multilingual.

Cognitive ability

Main article: Cognitive advantages of bilingualism

People who know more than one language have been reported to be more adept at language learning compared to monolinguals.[4] Bilinguals who are highly proficient in two or more languages have been reported to have enhanced executive function or even have reduced-risk for dementia.[8][9][10] More recently, however, this claim has come under strong criticism [11] with repeated failures to replicate.[12][13] There is also a phenomenon known as distractive bilingualism or semilingualism. When acquisition of the first language is interrupted and insufficient or unstructured language input follows from the second language, as sometimes happens with immigrant children, the speaker can end up with two languages both mastered below the monolingual standard.[citation needed] For example, the East Bengal rooted bangali Muslim community of Assam province in India. As mentioned, their mother tongue is Bangla. But they have no opportunity to study in the MT in the school. Their medium language of study is Assamese, i. e., the provincial language. So they communicate in a mean language standard mixing both the mother tongue and the medium language. Because they have no chance to study both the languages separately, they can't differentiate between the two and maintain it in expression. Literacy plays an important role in the development of language in these immigrant children.[citation needed] Those who were literate in their first language before arriving, and who have support to maintain that literacy, are at the very least able to maintain and master their first language.[citation needed] There are differences between those who learn a language in a class environment and those who learn through total immersion, usually living in a country where the target language is widely spoken. Without the possibility to actively translate, due to a complete lack of any first language communication opportunity, the comparison between languages is reduced. The new language is almost independently learned, like the mother tongue for a child, with direct concept-to-language translation that can become more natural than word structures learned as a subject. Added to this, the uninterrupted, immediate and exclusive practice of the new language reinforces and deepens the attained knowledge.

Economic benefits

Bilinguals might have important labor market advantages over monolingual individuals as bilingual people are able to carry out duties that monolinguals cannot, such as interacting with customers who only speak a minority language. A study in Switzerland has found that multilingualism is positively correlated with an individual's salary, the productivity of firms, and the gross domestic production (GDP); the authors state that Switzerland's GDP is augmented by 10% by multilingualism.[14] A study in the United States by Agirdag found that bilingualism has substantial economic benefits as bilingual persons were found to have around $3,000 per year more salary than monolinguals.[15]

Receptive bilingualism

Main article: Passive speakers (language)

Receptive bilinguals are those who have the ability to understand a second language but who cannot speak it or whose abilities to speak it are inhibited by psychological barriers. Receptive bilingualism is frequently encountered among adult immigrants to the U.S. who do not speak English as a native language but who have children who do speak English natively, usually in part because those children's education has been conducted in English; while the immigrant parents can understand both their native language and English, they speak only their native language to their children. If their children are likewise receptively bilingual but productively English-monolingual, throughout the conversation the parents will speak their native language and the children will speak English. If their children are productively bilingual, however, those children may answer in the parents' native language, in English, or in a combination of both languages, varying their choice of language depending on factors such as the communication's content, context, and/or emotional intensity and the presence or absence of third-party speakers of one language or the other. The third alternative represents the phenomenon of "code-switching" in which the productively bilingual party to a communication switches languages in the course of that communication. Receptively bilingual persons, especially children, may rapidly achieve oral fluency by spending extended time in situations where they are required to speak the language that they theretofore understood only passively. Until both generations achieve oral fluency, not all definitions of bilingualism accurately characterize the family as a whole, but the linguistic differences between the family's generations often constitute little or no impairment to the family's functionality.[citation needed] Receptive bilingualism in one language as exhibited by a speaker of another language, or even as exhibited by most speakers of that language, is not the same as mutual intelligibility of languages; the latter is a property of a pair of languages, namely a consequence of objectively high lexical and grammatical similarities between the languages themselves (e.g., Iberian Spanish and Iberian Portuguese), whereas the former is a property of one or more persons and is determined by subjective or intersubjective factors such as the respective languages' prevalence in the life history (including family upbringing, educational setting, and ambient culture) of the person or persons.[16]


Because it is difficult or impossible to master many of the high-level semantic aspects of a language (including but not limited to its idioms and eponyms) without first understanding the culture and history of the region in which that language evolved, as a practical matter an in-depth familiarity with multiple cultures is a prerequisite for high-level multilingualism. This knowledge of cultures individually and comparatively, or indeed the mere fact of one's having that knowledge, often forms an important part of both what one considers one's own personal identity to be and what others consider that identity to be.[17] Some studies have found that groups of multilingual individuals get higher average scores on tests for certain personality traits such as cultural empathy, openmindedness and social initiative.[18][19] The idea of linguistic relativity, which claims that the language people speak influences the way they see the world, can be interpreted to mean that individuals who speak multiple languages have a broader, more diverse view of the world, even when speaking only one language at a time.[20] Some bilinguals feel that their personality changes depending on which language they are speaking;[21][22] thus multilingualism is said to create multiple personalities. Xiao-lei Wang states in her book Growing up with Three Languages: Birth to Eleven: "Languages used by speakers with one or more than one language are used not just to represent a unitary self, but to enact different kinds of selves, and different linguistic contexts create different kinds of self-expression and experiences for the same person." However, there has been little rigorous research done on this topic and it is difficult to define "personality" in this context. François Grosjean wrote: "What is seen as a change in personality is most probably simply a shift in attitudes and behaviors that correspond to a shift in situation or context, independent of language."[23] However, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which states that a language shapes our vision of the world, may suggest that a language learned by a grown-up may have much less emotional connotations and therefore allow a more serene discussion that a language learned by a child and to that respect more or less bound to a child's perception of the world.

Multilingualism within families

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One should not assume that many languages within a family translates into a common language. For example, a person's parents might know English and French; he might know English, French, Mandarin Chinese, and Esperanto; and his wife Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, and Japanese. In the example above, in spite of the mother and wife sharing five languages between them, they still would not share a common language. Additionally, since the more languages one knows, the easier it is to learn yet another, the language barrier might in fact be more prevalent among multilinguals than monolinguals counter to what intuition might suggest.[24][25]

A number of strategies can be adopted to solve the problem:

1. Acceptance. In the above example, an in-law might simply resign himself to relying on a family member for interpretation.

2. Learning the dominant language. In the example above, supposing that the wife should live in a predominantly English-speaking city, she might try to learn English over time. This could also work in reverse if the parents moved to a predominantly Chinese-speaking community as long as their mental faculties have not been significantly dulled by age.

3. Esperanto. Studies have shown Esperanto to be from five to ten times easier to learn than English. In the example above, had his parents known Esperanto, the person could teach his wife Esperanto, especially if they live in a very Chinese-speaking part of town where learning English might be a long-term prospect. By extension, he could also teach his child Esperanto so as to equip that child to teach his future spouse Esperanto to communicate with his father-in-law and his future child to communicate with his grandfather if necessary.

4. Any common language of least resistance. Should the parents and wife live in a community where neither know the common local language, they might agree to learn that as their common language.

Learning language

Main article: Language education

One view is that of the linguist Noam Chomsky in what he calls the human language acquisition device—a mechanism which enables an individual to recreate correctly the rules () and certain other characteristics of language used by speakers around the learner.[26] This device, according to Chomsky, wears out over time, and is not normally available by puberty, which he uses to explain the poor results some adolescents and adults have when learning aspects of a second language (L2).

If language learning is a cognitive process, rather than a language acquisition device, as the school led by Stephen Krashen suggests, there would only be relative, not categorical, differences between the two types of language learning.

Rod Ellis quotes research finding that the earlier children learn a second language, the better off they are, in terms of pronunciation. See Critical period hypothesis. European schools generally offer secondary language classes for their students early on, due to the interconnectedness with neighbour countries with different languages. Most European students now study at least two foreign languages, a process strongly encouraged by the European Union.[27]

Based on the research in Ann Fathman's The Relationship between age and second language productive ability,[25][28] there is a difference in the rate of learning of English morphology, syntax and phonology based upon differences in age, but that the order of acquisition in second language learning does not change with age.

In second language class, students will commonly face the difficulties on thinking in the target language because they are influenced by their native language and culture patterns. Robert B. Kaplan thinks that in second language classes, the foreign-student paper is out of focus because the foreign student is employing rhetoric and a sequence of thought which violate the expectations of the native reader.[29] Foreign students who have mastered syntactic structures have still demonstrated inability to compose adequate themes, term papers, theses, and dissertations. Robert B. Kaplan describes two key words that affect people when they learn a second language. Logic in the popular, rather than the logician's sense of the word, which is the basis of rhetoric, is evolved out of a culture; it is not universal. Rhetoric, then, is not universal either, but varies, from culture to culture and even from time to time within a given culture.[29] Language teachers know how to predict the differences between pronunciations or constructions in different languages, but they might be less clear about the differences between rhetoric, that is, in the way they use language to accomplish various purposes, particularly in writing.[30]


Main article: Neuroscience of multilingualism

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Neuroscience of multilingualism is the study of multilingualism within the field of neurology. These studies include the representation of different language systems in the brain, the effects of multilingualism on the brain's structural plasticity, aphasia in multilingual individuals, and bimodal bilinguals (people who can speak one sign language and one oral language). Neurological studies of multilingualism are carried out with functional neuroimaging,[31] electrophysiology, and through observation of people who have suffered brain damage.

The brain contains areas that are specialized to deal with language, located in the perisylvian cortex of the left hemisphere. These areas are crucial for performing language tasks, but they are not the only areas that are used; disparate parts of both the right and left brain hemispheres are active during language production. In multilingual individuals, there is a great deal of similarity in the brain areas used for each of their languages. Insights into the neurology of multilingualism have been gained by the study of multilingual individuals with aphasia, or the loss of one or more languages as a result of brain damage. Bilingual aphasics can show several different patterns of recovery; they may recover one language but not another, they may recover both languages simultaneously, or they may involuntarily mix different languages during language production during the recovery period. These patterns are explained by the dynamic view of bilingual aphasia, which holds that the language system of representation and control is compromised as a result of brain damage.

Research has also been carried out into the neurology of bimodal bilinguals, or people who can speak one oral language and one sign language. Studies with bimodal bilinguals have also provided insight into the tip of the tongue phenomenon, working memory, and patterns of neural activity when recognizing facial expressions, signing, and speaking. </onlyinclude>


This section may need to be cleaned up or summarized because it has been split from/to Multilingual#Neuroscience.

Centralization of language areas in the brain

Language acquisition in multilingual individuals is contingent on two factors: age of the language acquisition and proficiency.[32][33] Specialization is centered in the perisylvian cortex of the left hemisphere. Various regions of both the right and left hemisphere activate during language production. Multilingual individuals consistently demonstrate similar activation patterns in the brain when using either one of the two or more languages they fluently know.[34] Age of acquiring the second-or-higher language, and proficiency of use determine what specific brain regions and pathways activate when using (thinking or speaking) the language. In contrast to those who acquired multiple languages at different points in their life, those who acquire multiple languages when young, and at virtually the same time, show similar activations in parts of Broca's area and left inferior frontal lobe. If the second-or-higher language is acquired later in life, specifically after the critical period, the language becomes centralized in a different part of Broca's area than the native language and other languages learned when young.[34]

Brain plasticity in multilingualism

A greater density of grey matter in the inferior parietal cortex is present in multilingual individuals. It has been found that multilingualism affects the structure, and essentially, the cytoarchitecture of the brain. Learning multiple languages re-structures the brain and some researchers argue that it increases the brain's capacity for plasticity. Language learning boosts brain plasticity and the brain's ability to code new information. Early language learning plays a significant role in the formation of memory circuits for learning new information.[35] Most of these differences in brain structures in multilinguals may be genetic at the core. Consensus is still muddled; it may be a mixture of both—experiential (acquiring languages during life) and genetic (predisposition to brain plasticity).[36][37]

Experience can change both the function and the structure of the brain. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) reflect synchronized postsynaptic activity in cortical pyramidal neurons. ERPs can be used to track learning-related changes in brain function. Semantic anomalies elicit a negative wave which suggests the separation between semantic and syntactic processing [38]

Heightened brain plasticity in infants impacts later language development.[39] Recent studies show that even brief exposure to a language in infancy changes how the brain processes a second-language acquisition. Participants in the studies who had transient language exposure as an infant or were multilingual showed greater brain activation in non-verbal working memory patterns, compared to monolingual speakers.[39] The measure of uncommitted neural circuitry in infants can be accounted for in the perception of nonnative language at early stages of language acquisition. Research has shown that infants who show proficiency in nonnative phonetic perception at 7 months have slower language development than those who show proficiency in native phonetic perception.[40] This research supports the Native Language Magnet/Neural Commitment Theory originally proposed by Patricia K. Kuhl.[41]

Aphasia in multilingualism

Insights into language storage in the brain have come from studying multilingual individuals afflicted with a form of aphasia. The symptoms and severity of aphasia in multilingual individuals depend on the number of languages the individual knows, what order they learned them, and thus have them stored in the brain, the age at which they learned them, how frequently each language is used, and how proficient the individual is in using those languages.[42][43] Two primary theoretical approaches to studying and viewing multilingual aphasics exist—the localizationalist approach and the dynamic approach. The localizationalist approach views different languages as stored in different regions of the brain, explaining why multilingual aphasics may lose one language they know, but not the other(s).[44] The dynamical theory (or shared representation) approach suggests that the language system is supervised by a dynamic equilibrium between the existing language capabilities and the constant alteration and adaptation to the communicative requirements of the environment.[45][46][47] The dynamic approach views the representation and control aspects of the language system as compromised as a result of brain damage to the brain's language regions.[34][48][49] The dynamic approach offers a satisfactory explanation for the various recovery times of each of the languages the aphasic has had impaired or lost because of the brain damage. Recovery of languages varies across aphasic patients. Some may recover all lost or impaired languages simultaneously. For some, one language is recovered before the others. In others, an involuntary mix of languages occurs in the recovery process; they intermix words from the various languages they know when speaking.[49] Research affirms with the two approaches combined into the amalgamated hypothesis, it states that while languages do share some parts of the brain, they can also be allotted to some separate areas that are neutral.[47]

Aphasia in multilinguals (or bilinguals) is commonly assessed through a Bilingual Aphasia Test (or BAT). The BAT consists of 3 sections that patients are required to answer with continuously as the test administrators record their answers. Patients' performances are then documented and processed with computer programs that determine the percentages of correctness given the specific linguistic skill.[50] With the BAT many clinical settings have a standardized system of determining the extent of aphasia in the multilingual patients.[47]

PET scan studies on bimodal individuals

Neuroscientific research on bimodal individuals—those who speak one oral language and one sign language—has been carried out. PET scans from these studies show that there is a separate region in the brain for working memory related to sign language production and use. These studies also find that bimodal individuals use different areas of the right hemisphere depending on whether they are speaking using verbal language or gesticulating using sign language.[51] Studies with bimodal bilinguals have also provided insight into the tip of the tongue phenomenon and into patterns of neural activity when recognizing facial expressions.[52][53]

Role of the executive control system in preventing cross talk

There are sophisticated mechanisms to prevent cross talk in brains where more than one language is stored.[33] The executive control system might be implicated to prevent one language from interfering with another in multilinguals. The executive control system is responsible for processes that are sometimes referred to as executive functions, and among others includes supervisory attentional system, or cognitive control. Although most research on the executive control system pertains to nonverbal tasks, there is some evidence that the system might be involved in resolving and ordering the conflict generated by the competing languages stored in the multilingual's brain.[54] During speech production there is a constant need to channel attention to the appropriate word associated with the concept, congruent with the language being used. The word must be placed in the appropriate phonological and morphological context.[55] Multilinguals constantly utilize the general executive control system to resolve interference/conflicts among the known languages, enhancing the system's functional performance, even on nonverbal tasks. In studies, multilingual subjects of all ages showed overall enhanced executive control abilities. This may indicate that the multilingual experience leads to a transfer of skill from the verbal to the nonverbal.[54] Recent meta-analyses do not show any support for this assumed cognitive advantage.[56] There is no one specific domain of language modulation in the general executive control system, as far as studies reveal. Studies show that the speed with which multilingual subjects perform tasks, with and without mediation required to resolve language-use conflict, is better in bilingual than monolingual subjects.[55]

Health effects of multilingualism and bilingualism

Despite the growth of multilingualism in different parts of the world, there are controversies on the positive and negative impacts of bilingualism on the education of children. Studies have brought part of the answer to frequent questions such as: are bilingual children distressed? Does multilingualism make children smarter? Defenders of multilingualism assert that speaking another language contributes to an intelligent and healthy brain whereas opponents of multilingualism vehemently insist that speaking another language does not make children smarter and that on the contrary, it can disturb their learning journey.[citation needed] Researcher Ellen Bialystok examined the effect of multilingualism on Alzheimer's disease and found that it delays its onset by about 4 years. The researcher's study found that those who spoke two or more languages showed symptoms of Alzheimer's disease at a later time than speakers of a single language.[54] The study found that the more languages the multilingual knows, the later the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Lexical deficit results from second language acquisition.[57]

Functional neuroimaging and language organization in the human brain

Work in the field of cognitive neuroscience has located classical language areas within the perisylvian cortex of the left hemisphere. This area is crucial for the representation of language, but other areas in the brain are shown to be active in this function as well. Language-related activation occurs in the middle and inferior temporal gyri, the temporal pole, the fusiform gyri, the lingula, in the middle prefrontal areas (i.e. dorsolateral prefrontal cortex), and in the insula. There also appears to be activation in the right hemisphere during most language tasks.[58]

Language-related areas are dedicated to certain components of language processing (e.g. lexical semantics). These areas are functionally characterized by linguistically pertinent systems, such as phonology, syntax, and lexical semantics—and not in speaking, reading, and listening.[58] In the normal human brain, areas associated with linguistic processing are less rigid than previously thought. For example, increased familiarity with a language has been found to lead to decreases in brain activation in left dorsolateral frontal cortex (Brodmann areas, 9, 10, 46).[59][60]

Language production in bilinguals

Bilingualism involves the use of two languages by an individual or community. Neuroimaging studies of bilingualism generally focus on a comparison of activated areas when using the first language (L1) and second language (L2). Studies of language production which employ functional neuroimaging methods, investigate the cerebral representation of language activity in bilinguals. These methods (i.e. PET and fMRI) separate subjects mainly on basis of age of L2 acquisition and not on proficiency level in L2.

With the use of PET in the study of late learners, regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) distribution has been found to be comparable between L1 and L2. Repetition of words engages overlapping neural structures across both languages; whereas, differences in neural activation are only observed in the left putamen when individuals repeat words in their second language. The putamen, therefore, plays a critical role because the articulation process places greater demand on brain resources, when one is producing a second language learned late in life.[61]

Word generation tasks including rhyme generation (phonological bases), synonym generation (semantic search bases), and translation (lexical access to other language) are used to observe lexical-semantics. Word generation has been shown to cause significant activation in the left dorsolateral frontal cortex (Brodmann areas 9, 45, 46, 47). Considerable overlie has been found in the frontal areas, regardless of task requirements (rhymes or synonyms) and language used (L1 or L2). Selective activation is observed in the left putamen when words are generated in the second language (i.e. increased rCBF in left putamen resulting from L2-L1 subtractions). Even when the second language is acquired later in life (up to age five), L2 production in highly proficient bilinguals reveals activation of similar brain regions as that in L1.[61]

Word generation (phonemic verbal fluency) has also led to larger foci of brain activation for the least fluent language(s) within multilinguals (observed using fMRI). Regardless of language, however, activation is principally found in the left prefrontal cortex (inferior frontal, middle frontal, and precentral gyri). Additionally, activation can be observed in the supplementary motor area and parietal lobe. This activation is larger for L3 than L2 and L1, and less for L1 than for L2. Familiarity with a language reduces the brain activation required for its use.[62]

Age of second language acquisition

Language acquisition appears to play a large role in the cortical organization involved in second language processing. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), representations of L1 and L2 have been found in spatially isolated parts of the left inferior frontal cortex of late learners (Broca's area). For early learners, similar parts of Broca's area are activated for both language—whereas later learners have shown to use different parts of Broca's area. In contrast, there is overlap in active regions of L1 and L2 within Wernicke's area, regardless of age of L2 acquisition.[63]

Effects of language proficiency on L2 cortical representation

Conversely, it has also been reported that there is at times, no difference within the left prefrontal cortex when comparing word generation in early bilinguals and late bilinguals.[64] It has been reported that these findings may conflict with those stated above because of different levels of proficiency in each language. That is, an individual who resides in a bilingual society is more likely to be highly proficient in both languages, as opposed to a bilingual individual who lives in a dominantly monolingual community. Thus, language proficiency is another factor affecting the neuronal organization of language processing in bilinguals.[58]

With the use of positron emission tomography (PET), research has shown that brain regions active during translation are outside classical language areas.[65] Translating from L1 to L2 and vice versa activates the anterior cingulate and bilateral subcortical structures (i.e. putamen and head of caudate nucleus). This pattern is explained in terms of the need for greater coordination of mental operations. More specifically, automated circuits are favoured over cerebral pathways for naming words. Language switching is another task in which brain activation is high in Broca's area and the supramarginal gyrus. This was originally observed by Poetzl, (1925, 1930) and Leischner, (1943)—all of whom reported that patients with supramarginal lesions were defective in switching languages.[58]

Areas of the brain associated with phonological working memory have been shown to have greater activation in bilinguals proficient in both languages using fMRI. Equally proficient bilinguals use working memory more than bilinguals who have unequal proficiency. This suggests that optimal use of phonological working memory, specifically the left insula and left inferior frontal gyrus, is associated with higher second language acquisition.[66]

Linguistic fluency

Most studies involving neuroimaging investigations of language production in bilinguals employ tasks that require single word processing—predominantly in the form of word generation (fluency) tasks.[58] Fluency tasks show substantial activation of the left dorsolateral frontal cortex.[67] Phonemic verbal fluency (initial letter fluency) activates the left inferior frontal gyrus, and the posterior frontal operculum (Ba 44). Semantic fluency, however, engages discrete activation of anterior frontal regions (Brodmann areas 45 and 46).[58]

Functional neuroimaging research has shown that very early bilinguals display no difference in brain activation for L1 and L2—which is assumed to be due to high proficiency in both languages. Additionally, in highly proficient late bilinguals, there is a common neural network that plays an important role in language production tasks;[64][68] whereas, in late bilinguals, spatially separated regions are activated in Broca's area for L1 and L2.[63] Finally, it has been found that larger cerebral activation is measured when a language is spoken less fluently than when languages are spoken fluently. Overall, in bilinguals/polyglots, achieved proficiency, and possibly language exposure, are more crucial than age of acquisition in the cerebral representation of languages.[58] However, since age of acquisition has a strong effect on the likelihood of achieving high fluency, these variables are strongly intertwined.

Language comprehension in bilinguals

Research generally supports the belief that language comprehension in the bilingual brain is malleable.[69][70][71] Listening to stories in L1 and L2 results in largely dissimilar patterns of neural activity in low proficiency bilinguals—regardless of age of acquisition. Some researchers propose that the amount to which one masters L2 is accountable for the measured differences between groups of early and late learners.[58] Specifically, in terms of auditory language comprehension for proficient bilinguals who have acquired L2 after ten years of age (late learners), the activated neural areas are similar for both languages. However, as already noted, there are fewer individuals becoming highly proficient at later ages of acquisition.

Language comprehension research on bilinguals used fMRI techniques. Groups of two orthographically and phonologically outlying languages (English and Mandarin) were the basis of analysis.[72] Sentence comprehension was measured through visually presented stimuli, showing significant activation in several key areas: the left inferior and middle frontal gyri, the left superior and middle temporal gyri, the left temporal pole, the anterior supplementary motor area, and bilateral representation of the superior parietal regions and occipital regions. Also, brain activation of these two orthographically and phonologically outlying languages showed striking overlap (i.e. the direct contrast did not indicate significant differences). Single word comprehension using L1 generated greater activation in the temporal pole than comprehension of words in L2. Language comprehension studies of bilinguals using neuroimaging give more conclusive results than production studies.

General findings

Functional neuroimaging methods such as PET and fMRI are used to study the complex neural mechanisms of the human language systems. Functional neuroimaging is used to determine the most important principles of cerebral language organization in bilingual persons. Based on the evidence we can conclude that the bilingual brain is not the addition of two monolingual language systems, but operates as a complex neural network that can differ across individuals.[58]

The bilingual language system is affected by specific factors of which proficiency appears to be the most important. Evidence, mentioned previously, has shown that differential cerebral activation in anterior brain structures (e.g. Ba and the basal ganglia) is related to poor performance on word generation and production. With regards to language comprehension, differences in levels of language proficiency engage the temporal lobes (particularly the temporal pole). Where in the least proficient language, more cerebral activation is related to speech production, less activation is related to comprehending the least proficient language.

Age of acquisition is not as important in comprehension activities as it is in production activities.[58] However, that is not to say that age of acquisition is not a major factor in the proficiency of L2. In fact studies have determined late learners to be less proficient in L2 than early learners.[73][74][75] Functional imaging methods have revealed that holding proficiency constant leads to age of acquisition not having a large influence on representation of L2 in the brain, but there are fewer individuals achieving high proficiency at later ages of acquisition.

Structural plasticity

Second language proficiency and age at acquisition affect grey matter density in the brain. The human ability to learn multiple languages is a skill thought to be mediated by functional (rather than structural) plastic changes in the brain. Learning a second language is said to increase grey matter density in the left inferior parietal cortex, and the amount of structural reorganization in this region is modulated by the proficiency attained and the age at acquisition. It has been suggested that this relation between grey matter density and performance denotes a general principle of brain organization.[35]

There is an increase in grey matter density in the left inferior parietal cortex of bilinguals compared to that in monolinguals. Grey matter density is more prominent in early bilinguals than it is in late bilinguals. Evidence has also shown that density in this region increases with second language proficiency and is negatively correlated with age of acquisition.[35]

It has also been shown that bilingualism affects the white matter of the brain, expressed as increased myelination of a series of white matter tracts, including the corpus callosum, in sequential adult bilinguals that are active users of their second language.[76] It is thought that these effects are due to the cognitively demanding skill of handling more than one languages, which requires more efficient connectivity between areas in the grey matter of the brain. Similar effects have been found in lifelong elderly bilinguals [77] and simultaneous bilingual children.[78]

It is debated whether the above-mentioned effects are the result of a genetic predisposition to increased density, rather than experience-related structural reorganization.[79] A second language is likely acquired through social experience, in early bilinguals, rather than through genetic predisposition. Thus, the research suggests that the structure of the human brain is reworked by the experience of acquiring a second language.[36][37]

This theory is also consistent with growing evidence that the human brain changes structurally due to environmental demands. For instance, it has been established that structure is altered as a consequence of learning in domains independent of language.[80][81]

As to structural plasticity induced by bilingualism, it has recently been shown that bilinguals, as compared to monolinguals, have increased grey matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). The ACC is a brain structure that helps subjects to monitor their actions and it is part of the attentional and executive control system. Bilinguals have increased grey matter in this brain area because they continuously monitor their languages in order to avoid unwanted language interferences from the language not in use. The continuous use of the ACC in turn induces plastic neural effects. This may be the same reason why bilinguals are faster than monolinguals on many attentional control tasks.[82]

Bilingual aphasia

Bilingual aphasia is a specific form of aphasia which affects one or more languages of a bilingual (or multilingual) individual. As of 2001, 45,000 new cases of bilingual aphasia are predicted annually in the United States.[83] The main factors influencing the outcomes of bilingual aphasia are the number of languages spoken and the order in which they are learned—both influenced by the pattern of daily use and expertise in each language before the onset of aphasia. The type and severity of the aphasia, the location and size of the lesions, as well as the patient's levels of education and literacy also influence the functional outcomes of bilingual aphasia.[42][84]


Previously, research has revolved around the hypothesis that language in bilingual individuals is more symmetrically represented in the brain, where the symmetrical representation in the cerebral hemispheres can be attributed to differential localization of the languages. Thus, if one of the languages is heavily represented in the right hemisphere, it can then be partially represented in a different locus, and this has been the explanation to some nonparallel recovery patterns. Based on further studies with communication deficits associated with right hemisphere lesions, it can be safely assumed that the right hemisphere is crucial to processing the pragmatics of using languages. With bilinguals, they are likely to compensate for their gaps in linguistic understandings in their weaker language by increasing reliance on their pragmatics. Therefore, it is highly expect that they will be involving the use of the right hemisphere to allow this process, and thus further supporting the notion of lateralization of multiple languages.[49]

There are two proposed theoretical views generally taken to approach bilingual aphasia. The more traditional Localizationist view, states that the loss of one language occurs because the patient's languages are represented in different brain areas or in different hemispheres. Thus, if one area is damaged, only the language represented there would suffer, and the others would not.[85] The second view is the Dynamic view of selective language recovery, which proposes that the language system of representation and control is compromised as a result of damage.[49][34][48] This theory is supported by the functional imaging data of normal bilinguals and holds that fluency in a language is lost because of an increase in the activation threshold. The Dynamic view offers an explanation for selective recovery of language and many reported recovery patterns in bilingual aphasia (See Recovery[49]) There is much debate over which hemisphere supports the languages and which intrahemispheric neural regions represent each language within a bilingual individual. Most neuroimaging studies show no laterality differences between monolingual and bilingual speakers, supporting the hypothesis that languages share some areas of the brain, but also have some separate neural areas.[63][86][87] Right hemisphere damage has been shown to result in the same patterns of cognitive-communication deficits in monolinguals and bilinguals; however, bilingual speakers who have left hemisphere damage are shown to be at risk for aphasia while monolingual individuals are not.[88]

Bilingual Aphasia Test

In the past, the assessment of aphasia in bilinguals or multilinguals was only available in the language of the hospital. This was problematic because the professionals performing these assessments often misjudged the patient's recovery progress in the non native languages of the professional. To solve this issue, The Bilingual Aphasia Test (BAT) was developed by Michel Paradis and associates. The test was developed as an instrument to assess aphasia with more accuracy. The test is available in many different languages and is designed to be equivalent in its content, and not merely translations of each other. Components of linguistic construction of some languages do not directly translate to other languages (i.e. passive in English). Therefore, the tests are designed to be culturally and linguistically equivalent. The goal of the tests is to tap into the same information in different languages with respect to the rationale that motivated the constructions. The BAT consists of 3 major sections, each listed as Part A, Part B, and Part C. Patients are required to take each section accordingly. Part B examines language performance in 4 modalities: hearing, speaking, reading, and writing. At the word, sentence, and paragraph level, the patient is tested on level of linguistic skill (phonological, morphological, syntactic, lexical, semantic). Part C is used to assess the ability of the subject to translate material between given pairs of their known languages. There are currently 65 available languages for Part B and 160 language pairs available for Part C.[50] The specifics and associated cultures of each languages were accounted for and the materials of these sections were adapted accordingly rather than being directly translated.[47] An example follows where, in a Friulian and English pair, the English stimuli included “mat, cat, bat, hat” and the Friulian counterpart (which included 4 words that differed solely by one initial phoneme) was represented as “‘cjoc, c¸oc, poc, toc’ (drunk, log, chicory, piece).”[50] The response of the patients are recorded and processed with computer programs that indicate the percentage of correct answers for each linguistic skill. Thus, with the BAT, the assessment of bilingual aphasia allows a direct comparison of the knowledge and performance of each of the patient's languages to determine the severity of the aphasia.[47]


The concept of different recovery patterns was first noted by Albert Pitres in 1895. Since then, seven patterns have been outlined, where differential recovery, alternating recovery, alternating antagonistic recovery, and blended recovery were additionally noted by Michel Paradis:[49]

  1. Selective recovery – one language remains impaired and the other recovers; the activation threshold for the impaired language is permanently increased
  2. Parallel recovery of both languages (i.e., when both impaired languages improve to a similar extent and concurrently);
  3. Successive recovery (i.e., when complete recovery of one language precedes the recovery of the other);
  4. Differential recovery – occurs when there is greater inhibition of one language than of another
  5. Alternating recovery (i.e., the language that was first recovered will be lost again due to the recovery of the language that was not first recovered);
  6. Alternating antagonistic recovery – in which the language that was not used for a time becomes the currently used language (i.e., on one day the patient is able to speak in one language while the next day only in the other); and
  7. Blended recovery – Pathological mixing of two languages (i.e., the elements of the two languages are involuntarily mixed during language production)

These patterns arise due to the state of the cerebral substrate. Research has proposed that it is not due to the cerebral substrate being physically destroyed, but due to its weakened state that has led to the different forms of inhibition. This weakening of the system has been tied to the idea of increased inhibition, which is when the threshold in activation for that system rises unnaturally due to damage. This leads to languages being inhibited in various was, and thus, resulting in variations in the recovery, and sometimes non-recovery, of the languages.[49]

Research that compares the prevalence of the different recovery patterns generally shows that the most common pattern of recovery is parallel recovery, followed by differential, blended, selective, and successive.[83] In regards to differential recovery, better recovery of L1 is shown to be slightly more common than better recovery of L2.[89]

In 1977, it was proposed that when the effects of age, proficiency, context of acquisition, and type of bilingualism are combined, the recovery pattern of a bilingual aphasic can be properly predicted.[90] It has recently been reported that language status (how frequently the language is used in comparison to other languages), lesion type or site, the context in which the languages were used, the type of aphasia, and the manner in which the language could not reliably predict recovery patterns.[50]

In comparison to monolinguals, bilinguals have shown to have a better recovery after stroke. As with Alzheimer's patients, bilingual patients who have suffered an ischemic stroke have shown to have a better cognitive outcome which researchers believe is due to a higher cognitive reserve.[91] This increase of cognitive reserve might be attributed to the increase of grey matter in bilingual individuals. Since bilingual individuals have to constantly change and inhibit a language, the brain is more used to brain training and has been able to optimize better the space it uses. Brain training has led researchers to believe is a factor that helps stroke patients recover faster and better. Bilingual individuals then are able to benefit more from rehabilitation after stroke compared to monolingual patients because the brain has a higher plasticity ability that allows for a better remodeling of the brain after stroke. Stroke patients (bilinguals) with aphasia also perform better in other cognitive tasks that measure attention and ability to organize and retrieve information. This is attributed again to the increase of grey matter since it is involved in cognitive control and higher cognitive functions that are more present in bilinguals. This is relevant since in some patients the automatization of language is impaired, highly correlated to basal ganglia lesions and anterior parietal cortex. Although it is uncommon for patients to lose automatization of the first language, basal ganglia lesions have been correlated to loss of automatization of language, which fits with the role of basal ganglia in automatized motor and cognitive performance.[92] This is more evident with patients who have acquired a second language at a later age since studies suggest that late bilingual aphasics' syntactic judgment abilities may be more impaired for the second language.[93] Acquisition of language at a later age changes the mapping of language in the brain since the languages do not overlap. This difference in mapping seems to be a contributing factor in recovery for patients with bilingual aphasia since there are second language-restricted zones that are dedicated to the first language.[94]

Nonetheless, age of acquisition also shows to be a factor in the degree of recovery of stroke patients due to differences in language mapping and the amount of grey matter developed. Studies have shown stroke patients are able to benefit more from rehabilitation and recover faster if they have acquired a new skill that requires high cognitive ability due to more extensive brain training. This is true also for patients who have acquired a new skill at a later age. Nonetheless, stroke patients who have acquired a skill (second language in this case) early on have a higher chance of recovery than those who acquired i.e. language later on. This is again attributed to the higher grey matter area that those with early acquisition have developed.

The bimodal bilingual brain

Bimodal bilinguals are individuals who are fluent in both sign language and oral language. The effect of this language experience on the brain compared to brain regions in monolinguals or bilinguals of oral languages has only recently become a research interest, but is now used to provide insight on syntactic integration and language control of bilinguals.[95] PET scans of a 37-year-old, right handed, bilingual (English and American Sign Language) male with left frontal lobe damage revealed evidence of increased right hemisphere activity compared to normal controls during spontaneous generation of narrative in both English and American Sign Language (ASL).[96] Research with fMRI has found that showing sign language to deaf and hearing signers and showing written English to hearing non-signers activates the classical language areas of the left hemisphere in both cases.[97] Studies in this area generally compare the behaviour or brain activity in normally hearing monolingual speakers of an oral language, genetically deaf, native signers, and normally hearing bimodal bilinguals. With the use of functional Near-Infrared Imaging (fNIR), Kovelman (2009) compared the performance and brain activity of these three groups in picture-naming tasks. These researchers found that, although performance in all groups was similar, neuroimaging revealed that bilinguals showed greater signal intensity within the posterior temporal regions (Wernicke's area) while using both languages in rapid alternation than when they were only using one language.[98]

Working memory

PET studies have revealed a language modality-specific working memory neural region for sign language (which relies on a network of bilateral temporal, bilateral parietal, and left premotor activation), as well as a difference in activation of the right cerebellum in bimodal bilinguals between when they are signing or speaking. Similarities of activation have been found in Broca's area and semantic retrieval causes similar patterns of activation in the anterior left inferior frontal lobe. The bilateral parietal activation pattern for sign language is similar to neural activity during nonverbal visuospatial tasks.[51]

Face recognition

Sign language and oral language experience in bimodal bilinguals are shown to have separate effects on activation patterns within the superior temporal sulcus when recognizing facial expressions. The superior temporal sulcus, located in the temporal lobe of the brain, serves a variety of social processes. Some of these social processes include language perception or the ability to mimick the mental progressions of others (theory of mind). An fMRI study conducted by Deen B, Koldewyn K, Kanwisher N, Sax R concluded that the first cognitive function attributed to the superior temporal sulcus was language comprehension.[99] Additionally, hearing signers (individuals who can hear and also speak sign language) do not show the strong left-lateralized activation for facial expression recognition that has been found within deaf signers. A potential reason for this is most facial processing studies done on humans show a stronger stimulation in the right hemisphere than when compared to the left.[100] This indicates that both sign language experience and deafness can affect the neural organization for recognizing facial expressions.[53]

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A study in 2012 has shown that using a foreign language reduces decision-making biases. It was surmised that the framing effect disappeared when choices are presented in a foreign tongue. As human reasoning is shaped by two distinct modes of thought: one that is systematic, analytical and cognition-intensive, and another that is fast, unconscious and emotionally charged, it was believed that a second language provides a useful cognitive distance from automatic processes, promoting analytical thought and reducing unthinking, emotional reaction. Therefore, those who speak two languages have better critical thinking and decision making skills.[1]

In 2014, another study has shown that people using a foreign language are more likely to make utilitarian decisions when faced with a moral dilemma, as in the trolley problem. The utilitarian option was chosen more often in the fat man case when presented in a foreign language. However, there was no difference in the switch track case. It was surmised that a foreign language lacks the emotional impact of one's native language.[2]

Multilingualism within communities

A bilingual sign in Brussels, the capital of Belgium. In Brussels, both Dutch and French are official languages.
A multilingual sign at the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Pier in Macau. At the top are Portuguese and Chinese, which are the official languages of Macau, while at the bottom are Japanese and English, which are common languages used by tourists (English is also one of Hong Kong's two official languages).
A caution message in English, Kannada and Hindi found in Bangalore, India
The three-language (Tamil, English and Hindi) name board at the Tirusulam suburban railway station in Chennai (Madras). Almost all railway stations in India have signs like these in three or more languages (English, Hindi and the local language).
Multilingual sign at Vancouver International Airport, international arrivals area. Text in English, French, and Chinese is a permanent feature of this sign, while the right panel of the sign is a video screen that rotates through additional languages.
Multilingual sign at an exit of SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City, Philippines. Three or four languages are shown: Japanese/Mandarin Chinese ("deguchi" or "chūkǒu", respectively), English ("exit") and Korean ("chulgu"). While Filipinos themselves are anglophone, such signs cater to the growing number of Koreans and other foreigners in the country.
A Train name found in South India written in four languages: Kannada, Hindi, Tamil and English. Boards like this are common on trains which pass through two or more states where the languages spoken are different.
A trilingual (Arabic, English and Urdu) sign in the UAE in the three widely spoken languages in the UAE

Widespread multilingualism is one form of language contact. Multilingualism was more common in the past than is usually supposed[weasel words]: in early times, when most people were members of small language communities, it was necessary to know two or more languages for trade or any other dealings outside one's own town or village, and this holds good today in places of high linguistic diversity such as Sub-Saharan Africa and India. Linguist Ekkehard Wolff estimates that 50% of the population of Africa is multilingual.[3]

In multilingual societies, not all speakers need to be multilingual. Some states can have multilingual policies and recognize several official languages, such as Canada (English and French). In some states, particular languages may be associated with particular regions in the state (e.g., Canada) or with particular ethnicities (e.g., Malaysia and Singapore). When all speakers are multilingual, linguists classify the community according to the functional distribution of the languages involved:

N.B. the terms given above all refer to situations describing only two languages. In cases of an unspecified number of languages, the terms polyglossia, omnilingualism, and multipart-lingualism are more appropriate.

Multilingualism between different language speakers

Whenever two people meet, negotiations take place. If they want to express solidarity and sympathy, they tend to seek common features in their behavior. If speakers wish to express distance towards or even dislike of the person they are speaking to, the reverse is true, and differences are sought. This mechanism also extends to language, as described in the Communication Accommodation Theory.

Some multilinguals use code-switching, a term that describes the process of 'swapping' between languages. In many cases, code-switching is motivated by the wish to express loyalty to more than one cultural group,[citation needed] as holds for many immigrant communities in the New World. Code-switching may also function as a strategy where proficiency is lacking. Such strategies are common if the vocabulary of one of the languages is not very elaborated for certain fields, or if the speakers have not developed proficiency in certain lexical domains, as in the case of immigrant languages.

This code-switching appears in many forms. If a speaker has a positive attitude towards both languages and towards code-switching, many switches can be found, even within the same sentence.[5] If, however, the speaker is reluctant to use code-switching, as in the case of a lack of proficiency, he might knowingly or unknowingly try to camouflage his attempt by converting elements of one language into elements of the other language through calquing. This results in speakers using words like courrier noir (literally mail that is black) in French, instead of the proper word for blackmail, chantage.

Sometimes a pidgin language may develop. A pidgin language is a fusion of two languages that is mutually understandable for both speakers. Some pidgin languages develop into real languages (such as Papiamento in Curaçao or Singlish in Singapore) while others remain as slangs or jargons (such as Helsinki slang, which is more or less mutually intelligible both in Finnish and Swedish).[clarification needed] In other cases, prolonged influence of languages on each other may have the effect of changing one or both to the point where it may be considered that a new language is born. For example, many linguists believe that the Occitan language and the Catalan language were formed because a population speaking a single Occitano-Romance language was divided into political spheres of influence of France and Spain, respectively. Yiddish is a complex blend of Middle High German with Hebrew and borrowings from Slavic languages.

Bilingual interaction can even take place without the speakers switching. In certain areas, it is not uncommon for speakers each to use a different language within the same conversation. This phenomenon is found, amongst other places, in Scandinavia. Most speakers of Swedish, Norwegian and Danish can communicate with each other speaking their respective languages, while few can speak both (people used to these situations often adjust their language, avoiding words that are not found in the other language or that can be misunderstood). Using different languages is usually called non-convergent discourse, a term introduced by the Dutch linguist Reitze Jonkman. To a certain extent, this situation also exists between Dutch and Afrikaans, although everyday contact is fairly rare because of the distance between the two respective communities. The phenomenon is also found in Argentina, where Spanish and Italian are both widely spoken, even leading to cases where a child with a Spanish and an Italian parent grows up fully bilingual, with both parents speaking only their own language yet knowing the other. Another example is the former state of Czechoslovakia, where two closely related and mutually intelligible languages (Czech and Slovak) were in common use. Most Czechs and Slovaks understand both languages, although they would use only one of them (their respective mother tongue) when speaking. For example, in Czechoslovakia it was common to hear two people talking on television each speaking a different language without any difficulty understanding each other. This bilinguality still exists nowadays, although it has started to deteriorate after Czechoslovakia split up.[citation needed]

Japanese, English, and Russian sign in Northern Japan

Multilingualism at the linguistic level

Models for native language literacy programs

Sociopolitical as well as socio-cultural identity arguments may influence native language literacy. While these two camps may occupy much of the debate about which languages children will learn to read, a greater emphasis on the linguistic aspects of the argument is appropriate. In spite of the political turmoil precipitated by this debate, researchers continue to espouse a linguistic basis for it. This rationale is based upon the work of Jim Cummins (1983).

Sequential model

In this model, learners receive literacy instruction in their native language until they acquire a "threshold" literacy proficiency. Some researchers use age 3 as the age when a child has basic communicative competence in their first language (Kessler, 1984).[6] Children may go through a process of sequential acquisition if they migrate at a young age to a country where a different language is spoken, or if the child exclusively speaks his or her heritage language at home until he/she is immersed in a school setting where instruction is offered in a different language.

The phases children go through during sequential acquisition are less linear than for simultaneous acquisition and can vary greatly among children. Sequential acquisition is a more complex and lengthier process, although there is no indication that non-language-delayed children end up less proficient than simultaneous bilinguals, so long as they receive adequate input in both languages.

Bilingual model

In this model, the native language and the community language are simultaneously taught. The advantage is literacy in two languages as the outcome. However, the teacher must be well-versed in both languages and also in techniques for teaching a second language.

Coordinate model

This model posits that equal time should be spent in separate instruction of the native language and of the community language. The native language class, however, focuses on basic literacy while the community language class focuses on listening and speaking skills. Being a bilingual does not necessarily mean that one can speak, for example, English and French.


Cummins' research concluded that the development of competence in the native language serves as a foundation of proficiency that can be transposed to the second language — the common underlying proficiency hypothesis. His work sought to overcome the perception propagated in the 1960s that learning two languages made for two competing aims. The belief was that the two languages were mutually exclusive and that learning a second required unlearning elements and dynamics of the first in order to accommodate the second (Hakuta, 1990). The evidence for this perspective relied on the fact that some errors in acquiring the second language were related to the rules of the first language (Hakuta, 1990). How this hypothesis holds under different types of languages such as Romance versus non-Western languages has yet to undergo research.

Another new development that has influenced the linguistic argument for bilingual literacy is the length of time necessary to acquire the second language. While previously children were believed to have the ability to learn a language within a year, today researchers believe that within and across academic settings, the time span is nearer to five years (Collier, 1992; Ramirez, 1992).

An interesting outcome of studies during the early 1990s however confirmed that students who do successfully complete bilingual instruction perform better academically (Collier, 1992; Ramirez, 1992). These students exhibit more cognitive elasticity including a better ability to analyse abstract visual patterns. Students who receive bidirectional bilingual instruction where equal proficiency in both languages is required perform at an even higher level. Examples of such programs include international and multi-national education schools.

Multilingualism in computing

Dual language Hebrew and English keyboard

With emerging markets and expanding international cooperation, business users expect to be able to use software and applications in their own language.[7] Multilingualisation (or "m17n", where "17" stands for 17 omitted letters) of computer systems can be considered part of a continuum between internationalization and localization:

Translating the user interface is usually part of the software localization process, which also includes adaptations such as units and date conversion. Many software applications are available in several languages, ranging from a handful (the most spoken languages) to dozens for the most popular applications (such as office suites, web browsers, etc.). Due to the status of English in computing, software development nearly always uses it (but see also Non-English-based programming languages), so almost all commercial software is initially available in an English version, and multilingual versions, if any, may be produced as alternative options based on the English original.[8]

TheMultilingual App Toolkit (MAT)[9] was first released in concert with the release of Windows 8 as a way to provide developers a set of free tooling that enabled adding languages to their apps with just a few clicks, in large part due to the integration of a free, unlimited license to both the Microsoft Translator machine translation service and the Microsoft Language Platform service, along with platform extensibility to enable anyone to add translation services into MAT. Microsoft engineers and inventors of MAT, Jan A. Nelson and Camerum Lerum have continued to drive development of the tools, working with third parties and standards bodies to assure broad availability of multilingual app development is provided.[10] With the release of Windows 10, MAT is now delivering support for cross-platform development for Windows Universal Apps as well as IOS and Android.


Multilingualism in the workplace

Globalization has led the world to be more deeply interconnected. Consequences of this are that more and more companies are trading with foreign countries, and with countries that don't necessarily speak the same language. English has become an important working knowledge mainly in multinational companies, but also in smaller companies.

Multilingualism in English speaking countries

According to Hewitt (2008) entrepreneurs in London from Poland, China or Turkey use English mainly for communication with customers, suppliers and banks, but their own native languages for work tasks and social purposes. Even in English speaking countries immigrants are still able to use their own mother tongue in the workplace thanks to other immigrants from the same place. Kovacs (2004)[11] describe this phenomenon in Australia with Finnish immigrants in the construction industry who spoke Finnish during working hours. But even though foreign languages may be used in the workplace, English is still a must-know working skill. Mainstream society justifies the divided job market, arguing that getting a low-paying job is the best newcomers can achieve considering their limited language skills.

Multilingualism in Asia

With companies going international they are now focusing more and more on the English level of their employees. Especially in South Korea since the 1990s, companies are using different English language testing to evaluate job applicants, and the criteria in those tests are constantly upgrading the level for good English. In India it is even possible to receive training to acquire an English accent, as the number of outsourced call centres in India has soared in the past decades. Meanwhile, Japan ranks 26th out of 63 countries in a 2014 English Proficiency Index, amid calls for this to improve in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.[12]

Multilingualism in Africa

Not only in multinational companies is English an important skill, but also in the engineering industry, in the chemical, electrical and aeronautical fields. A study directed by Hill and van Zyl (2002) shows that in South Africa young black engineers used English most often for communication and documentation. However, Afrikaans and other local languages were also used to explain particular concepts to workers in order to ensure understanding and cooperation.[13]

Multilingualism in Europe

In Europe, as domestic market is generally quite restricted, international trade is a norm. But there is no predominant language in Europe (with German spoken in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Belgium; French in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland; and English in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Malta). Most of the time English is used as a communication language, but in multilingual countries such as Belgium (Dutch, French and German), Switzerland (German, French, Italian and Romanche) or Spain (Spanish, Catalan, Basque and Galician) it is common to see employees mastering two or even three of those languages. Some languages such as Danish, Swedish and Norwegian or Croatian, Slovenian, Serbian and Bosnian are so close to each other that it is generally more common for meeting to use their mother tongue rather than English.

Continued global diversity has led to an increasingly multilingual workforce. Europe has become an excellent model to observe this newly diversified labor culture. The expansion of the European Union with its open labor market has provided opportunities both for well-trained professionals and unskilled workers to move to new countries to seek employment. Political changes and turmoil have also led to migration and to the creation of new and more complex multilingual workplaces. In most wealthy and secure countries, immigrants are found mostly in low paid jobs but also, increasingly, in high status positions.[14]

Multilingualism in music

It is extremely common for music to be written in whatever the contemporary lingua franca is. If a song is not written in a common tongue, then it is usually written in whatever is the predominant language in the musician's country of origin, or in another widely recognized language, such as English, German, Spanish, or French.[citation needed]

The bilingual song cycles "there..." and "Sing, Poetry" on the 2011 contemporary classical album Troika consist of musical settings of Russian poems with their English self-translations by Joseph Brodsky and Vladimir Nabokov, respectively.[15]

Songs with lyrics in multiple languages are known as macaronic verse.

See also

Policies and proposals




  1. ^ Boaz Keysar; Sayuri L. Hayakawa; Sun Gyu An (18 April 2012). "The Foreign-Language Effect : Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases". Psychological Science. 23 (6): 661–668. doi:10.1177/0956797611432178.
  2. ^ Albert Costa1, Alice Foucart, Sayuri Hayakawa, Melina Aparici, Jose Apesteguia, Joy Heafner, Boaz Keysar (23 April 2014). "Your Morals Depend on Language". PLOS ONE. 9 (4). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094842.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: unflagged free DOI (link)
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  5. ^ Poplack Shana (1980). "Sometimes I'll start a sentence in Spanish y termino en español": toward a typology of code-switching". Linguistics. 18 (7/8): 581–618. doi:10.1515/ling.1980.18.7-8.581.
  6. ^ One Language or Two: Answers to Questions about Bilingualism in Language-Delayed Children
  7. ^ Dedić, N. and Stanier C., 2016., "An Evaluation of the Challenges of Multilingualism in Data Warehouse Development" in 18th International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems - ICEIS 2016, p. 196.
  8. ^ "Multilingual Functionality: New in Wolfram Language 11". Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  9. ^ "The New Reynell Developmental Language Scales". Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  10. ^ "Jan Nelson (Microsoft): The Multilingual App Toolkit Version 3.0". Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  11. ^ Kovacs, M. (2004). Australian Finns on the verge of language shift. pp. 108, 200–223.
  12. ^ The Japan Times 27 August 2015
  13. ^ Gunnarson, Britt-Louise (2013). "Multilingualism in the Workplace". Annual Review of Applied Linguistics. 33: 162–189.
  14. ^ Gunnarsson, Britt-Louise (2014). "Multilingualism in European Workplaces". 33: 11–33. doi:10.1515/multi-2014-0002. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  15. ^ "Troika: Russia's westerly poetry in three orchestral song cycles", Rideau Rouge Records, ASIN: B005USB24A, 2011.

Further reading

Media related to Multilingualism at Wikimedia Commons