Tag: language

Mother Tongues, Mother Tongues Dublin, mother tongues, multilingualism, rising bilingual children Dublin, bilingualism, Dublin

Raise your hand if you are bilingual!

This week I started my child language development lecture asking whether there were any bilinguals in the class. Only thee students claimed to be bilingual and they explained how their journeys brought them to Ireland to learn English as an additional language. I thought I would ask the question differently, to encourage a debate, so I asked: “Can anyone in this class speak Irish?”. After a few attempts, a couple of hands started appearing and students talked about their experiences in language immersion programmes during the school holidays. Did they think they were bilingual? The answer was “No” from most of them.
I often come across the same misconception when I ask the same questions to parents of bilingual children.
Many people think that to be considered bilingual you need to be equally fluent in both languages, or you need to have acquired the languages during childhood.

People become bilingual (or multilingual if they can use more than two languages) in many different ways.
A child or an adult could become bilingual after moving to a new country and learning the country’s language. They might still have a distinguishable accent, but they can still be considered bilingual if they can use the two languages to communicate. Some bilinguals have excellent writing skills, but may not get many opportunities to practice spoken language. Think of technical translators, who have great knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary of the languages they can use, but may not use them in their daily conversations. I also know many people who can speak a language fluently but never learned to write in that language.
Are all these people bilingual? They are, and so are my students who spent weeks immersed in the Irish language during language camps only a few months ago, after having spent years learning Irish in school. Their competence in Irish may be different from that of native speakers who live in the Gaeltacht, but that does not make them “monolingual”.
So, now please raise your hands if you are bilingual! And happy Seachtain na Gaeilge everyone!

Francesca La Morgia