A little lexicon of bilingualism !

When learning about multilingualism, we quickly find a whole collection of words that are sometimes difficult to understand. Here are some definitions to help you: 

Majority language: this is the language used by the majority of people in your community. It is often recognised as the official language of a country/region, the one used by the many schools, administration and most people in daily life. There may be more than one majority language as some countries have more than one official language. 
Minority language: this is a language that is not widely used by the community, the education system, the administration and the state.

For example, in France, French is a majority language but Italian or Arabic are minority languages. In Canada, French and English are majority languages and Spanish is a minority language. 

Dominant language: this is the language in which the child is most comfortable, where he/she has the most understanding, the most vocabulary, the least hesitation. In short, it is his/her strong language!
Non-dominant language: this is the language in which the child is least comfortable. In short, his/her weaker language! Almost all children have one and it is completely normal.

★ majority-minority languages are fixed in a child's life (except in the case of immigration/expatriation) whereas dominant-non-dominant languages vary over a child's life. 

L1: this is the first language learned, the native or mother tongue. All humans have an L1 and some may have more than one.
L2: this is the second language, the non-native language and sometimes a foreign language. It is a language acquired later, by explicit learning rather than natural learning. People can also have more than one!

Active Bilingual is when a person understands and speaks 2 languages.
Passive/receptive bilingual is when a person understands 2 languages but speaks only one.

Early Bilingual when a child grows up learning 2 languages directly.

Simultaneous Bilingual is when both languages are introduced before age 3.
Sequential bilingual is when a second language is introduced after age 3.

Balanced Bilingual is when a child has the same amount of exposure in the 2 languages. He/she is more likely to have equal proficiency in each language and in different life contexts.
Unbalanced Bilingual is when a child has more exposure to one language than another. This unbalanced exposure is more likely to lead to a dominant language and a non-dominant language.

★ Most children are unbalanced bilinguals

I hope these definitions will help you better understand the information about bilingualism. If you have any questions or would like a description of other terms, please let us know.

If you feel the need to clarify these terms specifically about your child, a parental support service is available !a parental support service is available

See you soon,
Julia ☺

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Julia Boulanger

I studied childhood bilingualism at the Masters and Doctorate degree. Today, I help bilingual families and create unique tools for multilingual children. I am here to share science-backed and real-life information and tips.