What is the best bilingual definition you have ever heard? That’s a tough question to answer. I’ve heard a lot of definitions for the word bilingual; many of which, in my opinion, have not been quite up to par. Bilingualism isn’t something that is easily defined. It is as varied as each individual attempting to define it is. Some general principles do exist that we can apply to help carve out the best bilingual definition ever heard.
Shrouded in darkness, cloaked in mystery, the true meaning of this word came up in a question someone sent me via private message on Facebook. He explained his situation, and asked me whether or not I would consider him a bilingual. This got me thinking about what people truly think the word bilingual means. So I turned to the experts… a bunch of bilinguals! I asked for a good bilingual definition on my Facebook page (like us to get in on this fun action!) and got a varied response which you will see below. First, let’s check out what Mr. Webster says about being bilingual.
Bilingual Definition #1: Webster Dictionary
Definition number two is the one we want to be working with.. it states:
…using or able to use two languages especially with equal fluency…
I like almost everything about this definition except the word ‘equal.’ It taints everything. Nobody speaks any two languages with ‘equal fluency.’ I don’t even speak my own language, English, with ‘equal fluency’ from day to do. While technically splitting hairs, it’s true. Some days I’m more verbally varied than others. When I’m tired, distracted, stressed, or just not talkative I can be quite a bit less eloquent than other times in English. How could I ever possibly aspire to speak English and Spanish with ‘equal fluency.’
Bilingual Definition #2: The More Practical Definition
On my Facebook post I received some great comments. Olga from Europeanmama stated the following:
I love how Olga says that she was relieved to realize she didn’t have to be equally fluent in each language to be considered a bilingual. In my opinion, that is a part of the bilingual definition we have to get right.. and it must be included.
Another great comment came from Olena who blogs over at BilingualKidsRock:
My favorite part of this comment is how she states bilingualism is not a destination, it’s a journey. When you learn a language, even if it’s the easiest language to learn, it’s going to be a process. That process is never finished. Think about it… do you know every word in your native language? English has some 750,000+ words and the average college-educated American has a passive vocabulary of somewhere around 30,000. That is less than 5%.
The Bilingual Definition Conclusion:
Almost anyone can come up with a makeshift bilingual definition. While that doesn’t make them wrong, it doesn’t make them right either. Each individual will have their own bilingual definition. This is a good thing. Measuring language, language learning, fluency, and various other things that are highly subjective is close to impossible. If you have a desire to speak more than one language, actively pursue it, or utilize more than one language on a regular basis, feel free to call yourself a bilingual. Nobody can prove you ‘wrong’… and you cannot prove yourself ‘right.’
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