Bilingualism and Bilingual Education

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By Chief Ankama

According to Wei (2000, and to an extent Romaine 1995, p. 28), the term “bilingual” primarily describes someone with the possession of two languages, but it further takes into account the many people in the world who have varying degrees of proficiency in and interchangeably use three, four or more languages (p. 7).

Romaine (1995, p. 6) refers to ideas of bilingualism as having been adversely influenced by terms like, “the ideal bilingual”, “full bilingualism”, “balanced bilingualism” and the likes, implying various degrees of how bilingual speakers are labeled on their use of bilingualism.

In this connection, Romaine makes us aware that, just as there are various degrees of language knowledge among monolinguals, there are equally varied proficiency and ways of usage among bilinguals.

It looks as if bilingualism/multilingualism has not been widely recognized as “not all countries or world institutions are interested in bi- or multilingualism, even when it affects them directly” (Grosjean 1992, p. 2).

Grosjean presents the rubric that, if there are about as many languages as there are nations, it indicates bilingualism not to be an important phenomenon, “but the more language groups there are, and the more concentrated they are in specific geographical or political areas, the more likely the spread of bilingualism” is (p. 3).

Wei (2000) discusses a popular metaphor in linguistics, that language is a living organism, which is born, grown and dies, that language is a human faculty: it co-evolves with us, homo sapiens; and it is we who give language its life, change it and, if so desired, abandon it (p. 3).

The idea of bilingualism’s existence in three types of countries, viz “monolingual,” “bilingual”, and “multilingual” stated by Grossjean (p. 5), clearly shows not only the varied degree of use in terms of the official status accorded to bilingualism in such countries, but it also confirms “a popular metaphor in linguistics” referred to by Wei above, into reality. That even in so-called monolingual countries, one may find minority groups who speak not only the “official” language of the country, but their own/group languages as well, e.g. France, German and Japan (Grosjean 1992, p. 5).

A country may be seen monolingual officially, because it has adopted the use of one language, for in state business, but people out there would not mind to use their group languages if they so wish.

In other words, even in countries where bilingualism/multilingualism is said to be officially non-existent (in my view this is wishful thinking), bilingualism/multilingualism is usually alive and in use.

Grosjean makes it a point that there is probably a larger proportion of bilinguals in monolingual nations than in bilingual and multilingual countries (p.11).

“It is important to recognize that a multilingual speaker uses different languages for different purposes and does not typically possess the same level or type of proficiency in each language” (Wei 2000, p. 8).

Some countries have opted to adopt two or more official languages for various reasons, be they politically influenced or determined by regional linguistic diversity of the country.

Worth noting also here is the distinction between what Grosjean (1992) terms, the official, de jure bilingualism of a country and the actual de facto bilingualism of its inhabitants.

The first is usually political and governmental grounded, while the second is more natural and language groups??????’??

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