Bilingualism and multilingualism


Bilingualism and multilingualism


Language is the major means of sending information from one place to another. Various languages are used in the world today. Most are considered major and minor depending on the number of speakers they have. Most people are proficient in one, two or more languages. This had birth, the term monolingualism, bilingualism and Multilingualism.

Bilingualism is a situation where two languages are used in the same environment. Nwala Michael defines bilingualism as the ability to speak languages with almost equal competence for all purposes in the life of a bilingual. He sees a bilingual as a person who is linguistically competent in two languages. A nation or community can be referred to as bilingual when two languages are used.

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Multilingualism: is a term used to describe a situation where more than two languages are used in a certain place. Olaoye 1998 sees multilingualism as a linguistic situation where two or more languages co-exist within the bound of one society or are kept in constant contact by politically and economically determined interests. A multilingual is a person who can speak more than two languages. It covers how a person can communicate actively through speaking and writing and communicate passively through reading and listening. A multilingual must have learnt one language during childhood.

Factors that give birth to bilingualism and multilingualism

1. Colonialism: When a country is ruled by another, the oppressed will learn the language of their oppressors.
2. Migration: When someone moves from one place to another, there is a great tendency that languages of those places are learnt by the person. This really affects people who work trigger migration especially force men (police, military).
3. Religious movement or pilgrimage: Missionaries who engage in the religious movement are exposed to begin multilingually.
4. Increase in communication among countries: When countries communicate well, their languages are learnt.
5. Maintenance and revival of minority language: Language is termed minor when they have a minimum number of speakers. If all the dead languages are revived, multilingualism will thrive effortlessly.
6. Inclusion of foreign languages as part of the curriculum in countries.

Characteristics of a Bilingual and Multilingual

1. Children of expatriates are mostly bilinguals or multilingual.
2. Most of them are immigrants.
3. They have a strong interest in learning foreign languages.
4. Children whose parents have mastery of many languages.
5. They are people who deem it fit to learn a second language for different purposes such as business, information, education, entertainment, etc.
5. People who find themselves in a multilingual society like Nigeria.
6. Most of them are residents in the border areas between two countries of mixed languages.
Bilingualism and Multilingualism give birth to code-mixing and code-switching. Code mixing is when a person uses two or more languages when speaking with no particular pattern. Code-switching is when a person changes from one language to another because of situation, influence, context or audience. Code mixing can occur randomly, within sentences.

Merit/Advantages of Bilingualism/Multilingualism

1. Increase employment opportunities- In a modern world like this, being bilingual or multilingual increases the chance of getting a job. If you find yourself in a place where you can communicate using the language of the place, employment is sure.
2. Unity: Multilingualism and bilingualism create a bond among people. The bond of unity. It is always a joyous thing to find people who understand and speak your language in a strange place. It gives a sense of belonging and oneness.
3. It grants access to the curriculum and learning in school.
4. It provides children as well as adults the opportunity to share a wide range of intercultural experiences such as literature, entertainment, religion and interest.
5. It helps people maintain a connection with their cultural background.
6. It increases access to global learning and advancement through various languages.
7. It promotes and strengthens relationships between countries.


Demerit/Disadvantage of Bilingualism and Multilingualism

1. It makes the implementation of language policies and language planning difficult as in the case of Nigeria which has over four hundred languages.
2. It is prone to manipulation for religious or political purposes.
3. It leads to languages struggling for dominance and superiority.
4. It breeds suspicion especially when there is no mutual intelligibility.
5. It triggers the concealing of information.


Having considered the merit and demerit of Multilingualism and bilingualism, it is pertinent to preserve our language. It is also good to make attempts to become multilingual or bilingual.


Olaoye,A.A (1998), introduction to sociologistics.Abuja:Ogunleye publishing and publishing press.
Nwala,M.A(2005)Introduction to linguistics. A first course.Abakiliki: Wisdom publishers limited


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