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Monolingualism – Bilingualism – Multilingualism

The Teacher's Perspective


Hanna Komorowska and Jarosław Krajka

The book brings together sociolinguistic, neurolinguistic, and educational perspectives on language acquisition and learning in the classroom and at home. First and second language acquisition studies, classroom research findings, Polish, European and international legislation, as well as statistical reports on foreign language learning and teaching show how learners proceed from monolingual to bilingual or plurilingual competence. The book provides an overview of the major issues in the field from the teacher’s perspective, equipping teachers with theoretical underpinnings related to language education, and inviting reflection on individual choices in promoting bi- and multilingualism.

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3. Monolinguality, bilinguality and multilinguality


3. Monolinguality, bilinguality and multilinguality

3.1. Defining concepts

When attempting to define a monolingual, a bilingual and a multilingual, it should be noted here that some authors make a distinction between two terms for each: monolingualism/monolinguality, bilingualism/bilinguality and multilingualism/multilinguality, the first of the two referring to regions and the second to the individual’s ability (Hamers and Blanc 1989/2000), while others do not make any distinction between these two terms.

Monolinguals are usually defined as “individuals who use one language and may be proficient at using a number of different varieties of the language together with different registers in the variety or varieties they know, and of switching between varieties and between registers in the appropriate context” (Kemp 2009: 13). However, it must be taken into consideration that differentiating between a language and a dialect or a variety is both difficult and prone to ideological pressures (see section 1.1).

Multilinguals are those who can use three or more languages, though the question immediately arises as to the degree of proficiency, type of skills or attitudes – aspects to be analyzed further in this chapter in relation to bilinguals. According to Kemp, multilinguals

may use a number of languages on account of many different social, cultural and economic reasons. They may live in a multilingual community, or overlapping bilingual communities, or be in contact with several monolingual communities. Their proficiency in each of their languages is likely to differ, and may fluctuate over...

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