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BILINGUALISM: a definition

Seen simply, bilingualism is the ability to perform in two languages.

    As seen in the Introduction to MBE the issue is more complex than it appears. Skutnabb-Kangas (1998) (please refer to Bibliography) points out the complexity of this notion by listing and exemplifying the following criteria:

 

  • origin: referring to the language(s) one learned first
  • competence: referring to the language(s) one knows best
  • function: referring to the language(s) one uses most
  • identification - internal: referring to the language(s) one identifies most with
  • identification - external: referring to the language(s) one is identified with by others

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Cognitive development in bilingual individuals: two major theories

‘Common Underlying Proficiency’ Theory

    This theory was developed by Jim Cummins, in the early 1980’s. It stated that the two languages used by an individual, though on the surface apparently separate, function through the same central cognitive system.

"When a person owns two or more languages, there is one integrated source of thought." (Baker, 1996, p.147 )

The ‘Threshold’ Theory

    This was first put forward by Toukomaa and Skutnabb-Kangas in 1977. It suggested that the development of two or more languages in a balanced bilingual person moves upward through three identifiable levels, crossing two distinct thresholds in between levels. According to this theory, positive cognitive advantages are only to be achieved when the first and second thresholds have been crossed.

Click here for information on an in-depth study of these theories in Chapter Nine, Baker (1996).

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BILINGUALISM: development of children’s bilingual capabilities

To know more about the development of children’s bilingual capabilities, please refer to the Bibliography.

Saunders (1988) has researched how best to bring up children in a bilingual setting.

Baker (1996) describes the different contexts in which children can be brought up to be bilingual and compares the benefits and drawbacks of the different ways children acquire two languages.

 

BILINGUALISM: plurilingualism and diglossia in different countries

Click here for more information on the nature of bilingualism in different societies and countries.

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BILINGUAL EDUCATION

    The common denominator of all schools which profess to have a Bilingual Education programme is simply that some or all of the content based subjects are delivered through the medium of a second language, which is not the mother tongue of the majority of the pupils.

    Some programmes will aim at producing pupils who are bilingual at the end of their schooling. Others will aim at easing the transition from a minority language to a majority language, which might involve losing one language and acquiring another.

    Yet others will aim at increasing the pupils’ competence in a foreign language so that, at the end of their schooling, pupils have a ‘working knowledge’ of that language.

A variety of models exist around the world and differ in terms of

  • their goals,
  • the characteristics (linguistic and otherwise) of the participating students,
  • the sequencing and amount of instruction in the languages involved,
  • their pedagogical approaches,
  • the amount of support from the policy makers and the community.

 

Please click here for more information about specific models in different countries.

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