I just discovered from a linguist that more than a quarter of people born and raised in bilingual families fail to become bilingual speakers.


23 thoughts on “Bilingualism

  1. I think that this is because in many cases, the parents know the dominant language, and therefore the children do not need to use the other one to communicate. In that case, the children are likely to only retain a passive knowledge of the other language.

    ISTM that children are more likely to remain bilingual if they are raised in an evironment where they have to use two languages.


  2. I confess I’ve always envied people born and raised in bilingual families. Perhaps this envy is misplaced. Any idea what % of people born and raised in non-bilingual families fail to become bilingual speakers? I didn’t even have the opportunity to take foreign language in school until ninth grade, and even then I had only French, Spanish and Latin to choose from. I’m assuming the late start means I’m a francophile, not a francophone?


  3. Could it be possible that bilingualism as a childrearing strategy might backfire? I’m thinking of the curious case of Kip Kinkle. Perhaps one gets to be authentically bilingual only if one’s parents are authentic migrants or expats and not parents using family expatriation as a means to pedagogical ends?


      1. Looked up Kip Kinkle. This reminded me of how when I tried talking to a school psychologist about my problems at age 15, she listened to me, and said, “What does your mother teach?”

        I asked her how she knew and she said that teachers’ children always stood out because of their psychological problems.

        This Kinkle fellow had 2 parents who were teachers. He is a creep but I feel his pain.


  4. I just realized recently that I (and some of my contemporaries) were in a strong sense bilingual, since we learned modern English and the English of the King James Bible. They are quite different; and I have, for example, no trouble understanding Shakespeare, unlike many people I know.


      1. Klingons are a nonhuman race in the Star Trek universe. A complete new language was created for them; I do not know by whom. Serious Star Trek fans (or fen, as we sf people like to say/write) someitmes learn to speak it. Some of them then speak it to their children.


  5. This would be my ex. His mom spoke to him in Spanish 90% of the time, and he always responded in English. As a result, he understood Spanish perfectly but claimed he could not speak it. I found this perplexing.


  6. These types of findings depend on how you define bilingual of course (most bilinguals are not balanced) but they are not surprising when you consider the power of language ideologies at the societal level. Another striking example in the US is that students from Spanish-speaking households who go to dual immersion schools (ranging from 90/10 to 50/50 Spanish/English instruction) are still often English dominant by about the 5th grade or so (although their Spanish is much, much better than if they had gone to a monolingual school)


    1. Yes, I think this has to do with the choice of an identity. If an identity that is attached to the language is not perceived by the speaker as prestigious or fully desirable, s/he will be more likely to get rid of it.


  7. I have two boys – French father, British mother. The older one is bilingual – he spent a year in the US when he was 2 and refused to speak French until he came back to France. He has improved on the good grounding in English he got since then.

    My youngest son will speak English when we go to the UK but won’t when we are in France. His English is not as good as his brother’s but it’s all up there waiting to be activated which it would be if he spent more time in the UK (or US).

    They both identify with their mainly French side, but really appreciate their British side too. I speak to them in English and they usually reply in French or Franglais. Both say they would love to live in the UK.

    Nearly all the British people I know have bilingual children. One who hasn’t wanted her kids to be excellent in French and pick up English, so she spoke to them in French and the result is their English is crap. So bilingualism isn’t an automatic result of mixed language parents. It actually takes determination on the part of the parents to favour both languages.


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