Being bilingual is truly amazing.
It opens up a whole new world for the language speaker and brings about many positive life changes. How a person learns a new language, is the key to being fluent. Based on the learning methods, we can identify 3 types of bilinguals. Along with covering these, we will go over some basic directions to aid language learning in each category.
Types of bilinguals
As we mentioned, there are three types of bilinguals based on how they became bilingual. These distinctions have no direct impact on the ability of an individual to be fluent in a new language. But, they do provide insight into possible learning strategies for each of these individuals.
Compound bilinguals are often described as the ones who speak two languages by birth. This is when a child learns two languages at once and becomes fluent over time. They grow up with two linguistic codes that tie back to one single consolidated set of concepts. The purpose and the environment of both languages are the same, both are effective tools for communication. So when they hear one language, they will translate it into the other language to understand it, and vice-versa.
Coordinate bilinguals learn two languages in two different contexts. An example of this would be using a different language in school as compared to their homes. They have a good foundation in the native language but they learn a new language in school. Since the time of learning two languages is far apart, the language systems are independent. They don't translate between their two languages. There is a separation in the form, purpose, and environment in which coordinate bilinguals use each language. They are still learning two languages, just in a mutually exclusive manner.
This is most applicable to adolescent and adult language learners. These learners are already proficient in one language, but absolute beginners in the other. The new language learning comes from their experience in the native language. For example, they will learn the vocabulary in the new language by drawing parallels with what they already know. If an English learner is learning French, they would replace the car with voiture (French for car).
When viewed in isolation, the three types of bilinguals can be difficult to describe and understand. Dictated by age, the difference lies in how someone learns a second language.
Compound bilinguals learned both languages simultaneously with no language to compare them to. Coordinate bilinguals although know one language, they are still learning it. So when they will learn a second language, they will not have many references to fall back on to translate between. Subordinate bilinguals will learn the second language through their understanding of the first language.
Now we will go over some of the techniques by which each type of bilingual can learn a new language.
Learning techniques for compound bilinguals
Compound bilinguals are not learning languages of their own accord. The languages they are learning are the first languages they are ever going to learn. This is true in the case of babies and toddlers. Their learning will be highly dependent on what they are being taught. Let's look at some of the techniques, by which a child can become a compound bilingual.
- One parent one language
One-parent-one-language is a popular method for teaching babies and toddlers a new language. As the name suggests, in this method one parent only communicates in the native language while the other communicates in the majority language. An example would be parent A communicating in Spanish and parent B communicating in English.
- Watching language learning media
Popularised by Dora the Explorer, this is an effective method of learning, although considered a lower-quality input. This is something that your child should be watching in their "free" time with little to no parental support. Watching cartoons should be entertainment before its education. It's a good inclusion, but can't be the only source of language learning for children.
- Reading language learning books
Reading language-learning books can be a great way to learn a new language. Reading is the most concrete way to learn concepts and the nuances of a language. Language learning books translate between two languages. They often compare words while depicting visual meanings. Banana - Plátano with a picture of a Banana. They are best for children when a parent helps the child read and pronounce words in a different language.
Quality language learning books like our A-Z Creatures Language Learning Bilingual Book, combine strong colorful visuals with pronunciations in each language. Children learn language through the sounds made by the words when spoken aloud. Combined with visuals, they can very quickly learn to associate words in two languages with their visual meanings.
- Language hours
Language hours are a fun and interactive way to teach your child a new language. You essentially block out an hour in the day where you casually learn a language using things around the house. Learning small phrases and generic words for people and things that your child interacts with, is one example. Abuela is Spanish for grandmother, so if your child switches between the English and Spanish words, they will learn to address her in two different ways.
Learning techniques for coordinate bilinguals
As we discussed, coordinate bilinguals have some background in one language. Yet, they do not have a strong base in the language that they know. So they rely on contextual cues, to inform their usage, and both languages are exclusive in their mind. They will not constantly translate between languages. Let's look at some of the methods by which coordinate bilinguals can become fluent.
- Input enrichment
This is a requirement for any language learner. Rich, high-quality input is essential for coordinate bilinguals. They are likely to have biases toward using the language that they know. High-quality input makes sure they get enough if not equal opportunities to use their second language.
This input enrichment can come in forms similar to that of compound bilinguals. This can include books, media, and communication with parents, family, and classmates.
- Two-way immersion programs
Piggybacking on the previous point of input enrichment, two-way immersion programs are a structured way of doing just that.
Two-way immersion programs are classrooms with students who have a different primary language. The composition is 50-50 in classroom strength and the mode of teaching. Teachers teach half of the classes in one language and the other half in the other language. This fosters a new learning environment for all students and abundant opportunities to practice with peers.
Read our post on What is bilingual education?
Learning techniques for subordinate bilinguals
Subordinate bilinguals often depend on the language systems of one language to learn another. They know one language and rely on translation between the first and the second language. There are many resources that they can use to aid language learning.
- Input enrichment
As a requirement for all language learners, input enrichment is cardinal at all stages. Language lessons are the first thing. Taking time to attend professional lessons is important. Most subordinate bilinguals will not use their second language for most of the day, so it's essential that they dedicate fixed time to it weekly.
Another way of input enrichment is to have a learning buddy, with whom you learn and practice languages. That person is also an accountability partner, who stops you from falling off the bandwagon.
Any of the techniques from previous stages can be applicable here, including children's books and cartoons.
Read Is reading children's books a good way to learn a language?
- Foreign literature
Subordinate bilinguals can learn a new language by reading foreign literature. This can include books, poetry, and online content. When read digitally, one can change the language of the page to better identify word meanings. In addition to being a good vocabulary source, foreign literature also provides great contextual cues to aid learning.
- Proficiency testing
Taking language proficiency tests is another great way to learn a language. Most proficiency tests will require preparation, for which there is professional support. Once you enroll yourself in an ecosystem like that, the level of accountability will be high. This is an expensive route to take, but definitely the one with the highest rate of success.
- Have patience
Children learn language because they don't treat it like studying when they begin. Have patience and treat language as a form of expression, and enjoy the learning process. Don't force learning, and find a way that works for you. Language learning should be challenging but shouldn't seem like hard work.
In this post, we saw that bilinguals have 3 types including compound bilinguals, coordinate bilinguals, and subordinate bilinguals. The main difference in each of those classifications is the way that bilingual individuals learned a language. Primarily based on age, the classifications are simply an indicator. Anyone at any age can learn a second language but how they do it will differ. Rich and quality input is important for language learning at all stages. Some bilinguals do require different teaching methods. Language learning is fun and awesome, no matter when you choose to do it! Happy learning!