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Multilingual sign outside the mayor's office in Novi Sad, written in the four official languages of the city: Serbian, Hungarian, Slovak, and Pannonian Rusyn

Multilingualism is the use of two or more languages, either by an individual speaker or by a community of speakers. Multilingual speakers outnumber monolingual speakers in the world's population.[1] Multilingualism is becoming a social phenomenon governed by the needs of globalization and cultural openness.[2] Owing to the ease of access to information facilitated by the Internet, individuals' exposure to multiple languages is becoming increasingly frequent, thereby promoting a need to acquire additional languages. People who speak several languages are also called polyglots.[3]


The definition of multilingualism is a subject of debate in the very same way as the definition of language fluency. On one end of a sort of linguistic continuum, one may define multilingualism as complete competence and mastery in another language. The speaker would presumably have complete knowledge and control over the language so as to sound native. On the opposite end of the spectrum would be people who know enough phrases to get around as a tourist using the alternate language. Since 1992, Vivian Cook has argued that most multilingual speakers fall somewhere between minimal and maximal definitions. Cook calls these people multi-competent. In addition, there is no consistent definition of what constitutes a distinct language. For instance, scholars often disagree whether Scots is a language in its own right or a dialect of English.[4] Furthermore, what is considered a language can change, often for purely political purposes, such as when Serbo-Croatian was created as a standard language on the basis of the Eastern Herzegovinian dialect to function as umbrella for numerous South Slavic dialects, and after the breakup of Yugoslavia was split into Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin, or when Ukrainian was dismissed as a Russian dialect by the Russian tsars to discourage national feelings.[5] Many small independent nations' schoolchildren are today compelled to learn multiple languages because of international interactions.[6] For example, in Finland, all children are required to learn at least two foreign languages: the other national language (Swedish or Finnish) and one alien language (usually English). Many Finnish schoolchildren also select further languages, such as German or Russian. In some large nations with multiple languages, such as India, school children may routinely learn multiple languages based on where they reside in the country. In major metros of Central, South and East India, many children may be fluent in four languages (the mother tongue, the state language, and the official languages of India, Hindi and English.) Thus a child of Telugu parents living in Bangalore will end up speaking his or her mother tongue (Telugu) at home and the state language (Kannada), Hindi and English in school and his or her surroundings.

Multilingual individuals[edit]

A multilingual person is someone who can communicate in more than one language, either actively (through speaking, writing, or signing) or passively (through listening, reading, or perceiving). More specifically, the terms bilingual and trilingual are used to describe comparable situations in which two or three languages are involved. A multilingual person is generally referred to as a polyglot. Multilingual speakers have acquired and maintained at least one language during childhood, the so-called first language (L1). The first language (sometimes also referred to as the mother tongue) is acquired without formal education, by mechanisms heavily disputed. Children acquiring two languages in this way are called simultaneous bilinguals. Even in the case of simultaneous bilinguals, one language usually dominates over the other. In linguistics, first language acquisition is closely related to the concept of a "native speaker". According to a view widely held by linguists, a native speaker of a given language has in some respects a level of skill which a second (or subsequent) language learner cannot easily accomplish. Consequently, descriptive empirical studies of languages are usually carried out using only native speakers. This view is, however, slightly problematic, particularly as many non-native speakers demonstrably not only successfully engage with and in their non-native language societies, but in fact may become culturally and even linguistically important contributors (as, for example, writers, politicians, media personalities and performing artists) in their non-native language. In recent years, linguistic research has focused attention on the use of widely known world languages, such as English, as a lingua franca or a shared common language of professional and commercial communities. In lingua franca situations, most speakers of the common language are functionally multilingual.

Cognitive ability[edit]

Bilinguals who are highly proficient in two or more languages are reported to have enhanced executive function[7][8] and are better at some aspects of language learning compared to monolinguals.[9] Research indicates that a multilingual brain is nimbler, quicker, better able to deal with ambiguities, resolve conflicts, and resist Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.[10] There is also a phenomenon known as distractive bilingualism or semilingualism. When acquisition of the first language is interrupted and insufficient or unstructured language input follows from the second language, as sometimes happens with immigrant children, the speaker can end up with two languages both mastered below the monolingual standard.[citation needed] For example, the East Bengal rooted bangali Muslim community of Assam province in India. As mentioned, their mother tongue is Bangla. But they have no opportunity to study in the MT in the school. Their medium language of study is Assamese, i. e., the provincial language. So they communicate in a mean language standard mixing both the mother tongue and the medium language. Because they have no chance to study both the languages separately, they can't differentiate between the two and maintain it in expression. Literacy plays an important role in the development of language in these immigrant children.[citation needed] Those who were literate in their first language before arriving, and who have support to maintain that literacy, are at the very least able to maintain and master their first language.[citation needed] There are differences between those who learn a language in a class environment and those who learn through total immersion, usually living in a country where the target language is widely spoken. Without the possibility to actively translate, due to a complete lack of any first language communication opportunity, the comparison between languages is reduced. The new language is almost independently learned, like the mother tongue for a child, with direct concept-to-language translation that can become more natural than word structures learned as a subject. Added to this, the uninterrupted, immediate and exclusive practice of the new language reinforces and deepens the attained knowledge.

Economic benefits[edit]

Bilinguals might have important labor market advantages over monolingual individuals as bilingual people are able to carry out duties that monolinguals cannot, such as interacting with customers who only speak a minority language. A study in Switzerland has found that multilingualism is positively correlated with an individual's salary, the productivity of firms, and the gross domestic production (GDP); the authors state that Switzerland’s GDP is augmented by 10% by multilingualism.[11] A study in the United States by Agirdag found that bilingualism has substantial economic benefits as bilingual persons were found to have around $3,000 per year more salary than monolinguals.[12]

Receptive bilingualism[edit]

Receptive bilinguals are those who have the ability to understand a second language but who cannot speak it or whose abilities to speak it are inhibited by psychological barriers. Receptive bilingualism is frequently encountered among adult immigrants to the U.S. who do not speak English as a native language but who have children who do speak English natively, usually in part because those children's education has been conducted in English; while the immigrant parents can understand both their native language and English, they speak only their native language to their children. If their children are likewise receptively bilingual but productively English-monolingual, throughout the conversation the parents will speak their native language and the children will speak English. If their children are productively bilingual, however, those children may answer in the parents' native language, in English, or in a combination of both languages, varying their choice of language depending on factors such as the communication's content, context, and/or emotional intensity and the presence or absence of third-party speakers of one language or the other. The third alternative represents the phenomenon of "code-switching" in which the productively bilingual party to a communication switches languages in the course of that communication. Receptively bilingual persons, especially children, may rapidly achieve oral fluency by spending extended time in situations where they are required to speak the language that they theretofore understood only passively. Until both generations achieve oral fluency, not all definitions of bilingualism accurately characterize the family as a whole, but the linguistic differences between the family's generations often constitute little or no impairment to the family's functionality.[citation needed] Receptive bilingualism in one language as exhibited by a speaker of another language, or even as exhibited by most speakers of that language, is not the same as mutual intelligibility of languages; the latter is a property of a pair of languages, namely a consequence of objectively high lexical and grammatical similarities between the languages themselves (e.g., Iberian Spanish and Iberian Portuguese), whereas the former is a property of one or more persons and is determined by subjective or intersubjective factors such as the respective languages' prevalence in the life history (including family upbringing, educational setting, and ambient culture) of the person or persons.[13]


Because it is difficult or impossible to master many of the high-level semantic aspects of a language (including but not limited to its idioms and eponyms) without first understanding the culture and history of the region in which that language evolved, as a practical matter an in-depth familiarity with multiple cultures is a prerequisite for high-level multilingualism. This knowledge of cultures individually and comparatively, or indeed the mere fact of one's having that knowledge, often forms an important part of both what one considers one's own personal identity to be and what others consider that identity to be.[14] Some studies have found that groups of multilingual individuals get higher average scores on tests for certain personality traits such as cultural empathy, openmindedness and social initiative.[15][16] The idea of linguistic relativity, which claims that the language people speak influences the way they see the world, can be interpreted to mean that individuals who speak multiple languages have a broader, more diverse view of the world, even when speaking only one language at a time.[17] Some bilinguals feel that their personality changes depending on which language they are speaking;[18][19] thus multilingualism is said to create multiple personalities. Xiao-lei Wang states in her book Growing up with Three Languages: Birth to Eleven: "Languages used by speakers with one or more than one language are used not just to represent a unitary self, but to enact different kinds of selves, and different linguistic contexts create different kinds of self-expression and experiences for the same person." However, there has been little rigorous research done on this topic and it is difficult to define “personality” in this context. François Grosjean wrote: "What is seen as a change in personality is most probably simply a shift in attitudes and behaviors that correspond to a shift in situation or context, independent of language."[20] However, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which states that a language shapes our vision of the world, may suggest that a language learned by a grown-up may have much less emotional connotations and therefore allow a more serene discussion that a language learned by a child and to that respect more or less bound to a child's perception of the world.

Learning language[edit]

Main article: Language education

One view is that of the linguist Noam Chomsky in what he calls the human language acquisition device—a mechanism which enables an individual to recreate correctly the rules () and certain other characteristics of language used by speakers around the learner.[21] This device, according to Chomsky, wears out over time, and is not normally available by puberty, which he uses to explain the poor results some adolescents and adults have when learning aspects of a second language (L2).

If language learning is a cognitive process, rather than a language acquisition device, as the school led by Stephen Krashen suggests, there would only be relative, not categorical, differences between the two types of language learning.

Rod Ellis quotes research finding that the earlier children learn a second language, the better off they are, in terms of pronunciation. See Critical period hypothesis. European schools generally offer secondary language classes for their students early on, due to the interconnectedness with neighbour countries with different languages. Most European students now study at least two foreign languages, a process strongly encouraged by the European Union.[22]

Based on the research in Ann Fathman’s The Relationship between age and second language productive ability,[23][24] there is a difference in the rate of learning of English morphology, syntax and phonology based upon differences in age, but that the order of acquisition in second language learning does not change with age.

In second language class, students will commonly face the difficulties on thinking in the target language because they are influenced by their native language and culture patterns. Robert B. Kaplan thinks that in second language classes, the foreign-student paper is out of focus because the foreign student is employing rhetoric and a sequence of thought which violate the expectations of the native reader.[25] Foreign students who have mastered syntactic structures have still demonstrated inability to compose adequate themes, term papers, theses, and dissertations. Robert B. Kaplan describes two key words that affect people when they learn a second language. Logic in the popular, rather than the logician's sense of the word, which is the basis of rhetoric, is evolved out of a culture; it is not universal. Rhetoric, then, is not universal either, but varies, from culture to culture and even from time to time within a given culture.[25] Language teachers know how to predict the differences between pronunciations or constructions in different languages, but they might be less clear about the differences between rhetoric, that is, in the way they use language to accomplish various purposes, particularly in writing.[26]


Various aspects of multilingualism have been studied in the field of neurology. These include the representation of different language systems in the brain, the effects of multilingualism on the brain's structural plasticity, aphasia in multilingual individuals, and bimodal bilinguals (people who can speak one sign language and one oral language). Neurological studies of multilingualism are carried out with functional neuroimaging,[27] and through observation of people who have suffered brain damage.

The brain contains areas that are specialized to deal with language, located in the perisylvian cortex of the left hemisphere. These areas are crucial for performing language tasks, but they are not the only areas that are used; disparate parts of both right and left brain hemispheres are active during language production. In multilingual individuals, there is a great deal of similarity in the brain areas used for each of their languages. The little variation that there is depends on two main factors, age and language proficiency, with language proficiency being the most important. Multilingualism also affects the structural plasticity of the brain. Bilinguals, particularly those who learned their second language early in life, show increased density of grey matter in the inferior parietal cortex. Although there is some debate over whether this is due to genetic predisposition to increased density or to experience, overall the research suggests that the process of second-language acquisition restructures the brain itself.

Insights into the neurology of multilingualism have been gained by the study of multilingual individuals with aphasia, or the loss of one or more languages as a result of brain damage. Bilingual aphasics can show several different patterns of recovery; they may recover one language but not another, they may recover both languages simultaneously, or they may involuntarily mix different languages during language production during the recovery period. These patterns are explained by the dynamic view of bilingual aphasia, which holds that the language system of representation and control is compromised as a result of brain damage.

Research has also been carried out into the neurology of bimodal bilinguals, or people who can speak one oral language and one sign language. Work with PET scans shows that there is a separate area in the brain for working memory related to sign language, and that bimodal bilinguals use different areas in the right hemisphere depending on whether they are signing or speaking. Studies with bimodal bilinguals have also provided insight into the tip of the tongue phenomenon and into patterns of neural activity when recognizing facial expressions.


A study in 2012 has shown that using a foreign language reduces decision-making biases. It was surmised that the framing effect disappeared when choices are presented in a foreign tongue. As human reasoning is shaped by two distinct modes of thought: one that is systematic, analytical and cognition-intensive, and another that is fast, unconscious and emotionally charged, it was believed that a second language provides a useful cognitive distance from automatic processes, promoting analytical thought and reducing unthinking, emotional reaction. Therefore, those who speak two languages have better critical thinking and decision making skills.[28]

In 2014, another study has shown that people using a foreign language are more likely to make utilitarian decisions when faced with a moral dilemma, as in the trolley problem. The utilitarian option was chosen more often in the fat man case when presented in a foreign language. However, there was no difference in the switch track case. It was surmised that a foreign language lacks the emotional impact of one’s native language.[29]

Multilingualism within communities[edit]

A bilingual sign in Brussels, the capital of Belgium. In Brussels, both Dutch and French are official languages.
A multilingual sign at the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Pier in the Macau SAR, China. At the top are Portuguese and Chinese, which are the official languages of the region, while at the bottom are Japanese and English, which are common languages used by tourists (English is also one of Hong Kong's two official languages).
A caution message in English, Kannada and Hindi found in Bangalore, India
The three-language (Tamil, English and Hindi) name board at the Tirusulam suburban railway station in Chennai (Madras). Almost all railway stations in India have signs like these in three or more languages (English, Hindi and the local language).
Multilingual sign at Vancouver International Airport, international arrivals area. Text in English, French, and Chinese is a permanent feature of this sign, while the right panel of the sign is a video screen that rotates through additional languages.
Multilingual sign at an exit of SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City, Philippines. Three or four languages are shown: Japanese/Mandarin Chinese ("deguchi" or "chūkǒu", respectively), English ("exit") and Korean ("chulgu"). While Filipinos themselves are anglophone, such signs cater to the growing number of Koreans and other foreigners in the country.
A Train name found in South India written in four languages: Kannada, Hindi, Tamil and English. Boards like this are common on trains which pass through two or more states where the languages spoken are different.
A trilingual (Arabic, English and Urdu) sign in the UAE in the three widely spoken languages in the UAE

Widespread multilingualism is one form of language contact. Multilingualism was more common in the past than is usually supposed[weasel words]: in early times, when most people were members of small language communities, it was necessary to know two or more languages for trade or any other dealings outside one's own town or village, and this holds good today in places of high linguistic diversity such as Sub-Saharan Africa and India. Linguist Ekkehard Wolff estimates that 50% of the population of Africa is multilingual.[30]

In multilingual societies, not all speakers need to be multilingual. Some states can have multilingual policies and recognise several official languages, such as Canada (English and French). In some states, particular languages may be associated with particular regions in the state (e.g., Canada) or with particular ethnicities (e.g., Malaysia and Singapore). When all speakers are multilingual, linguists classify the community according to the functional distribution of the languages involved:

  • diglossia: if there is a structural functional distribution of the languages involved, the society is termed 'diglossic'. Typical diglossic areas are those areas in Europe where a regional language is used in informal, usually oral, contexts, while the state language is used in more formal situations. Frisia (with Frisian and German or Dutch) and Lusatia (with Sorbian and German) are well-known examples. Some writers limit diglossia to situations where the languages are closely related, and could be considered dialects of each other. This can also be observed in Scotland where, in formal situations, English is used. However, in informal situations in many areas, Scots is the preferred language of choice. A similar phenomenon is also observed in Arabic-speaking regions. The effects of diglossia could be seen if you look at the difference between Written Arabic (Modern Standard Arabic) and Colloquial Arabic. However, as time goes, the Arabic language somewhere between the two have been created which we would like to call Middle Arabic or Common Arabic. Because of this diversification of the language, the concept of spectroglossia[31] has been suggested.
  • ambilingualism: a region is called ambilingual if this functional distribution is not observed. In a typical ambilingual area it is nearly impossible to predict which language will be used in a given setting. True ambilingualism is rare. Ambilingual tendencies can be found in small states with multiple heritages like Luxembourg, which has a combined Franco-Germanic heritage, or Malaysia and Singapore, which fuses the cultures of Malays, China, and India. Ambilingualism also can manifest in specific regions of larger states that have both a clearly dominant state language (be it de jure or de facto) and a protected minority language that is limited in terms of distribution of speakers within the country. This tendency is especially pronounced when, even though the local language is widely spoken, there is a reasonable assumption that all citizens speak the predominant state tongue (e.g., English in Quebec vs. Canada; Spanish in Catalonia vs. Spain). This phenomenon can also occur in border regions with many cross-border contacts.
  • bipart-lingualism: if more than one language can be heard in a small area, but the large majority of speakers are monolinguals, who have little contact with speakers from neighbouring ethnic groups, an area is called 'bipart-lingual'. An example of this is the Balkans.

N.B. the terms given above all refer to situations describing only two languages. In cases of an unspecified number of languages, the terms polyglossia, omnilingualism, and multipart-lingualism are more appropriate.

Multilingualism between different language speakers[edit]

Whenever two people meet, negotiations take place. If they want to express solidarity and sympathy, they tend to seek common features in their behavior. If speakers wish to express distance towards or even dislike of the person they are speaking to, the reverse is true, and differences are sought. This mechanism also extends to language, as described in the Communication Accommodation Theory.

Some multilinguals use code-switching, a term that describes the process of 'swapping' between languages. In many cases, code-switching is motivated by the wish to express loyalty to more than one cultural group,[citation needed] as holds for many immigrant communities in the New World. Code-switching may also function as a strategy where proficiency is lacking. Such strategies are common if the vocabulary of one of the languages is not very elaborated for certain fields, or if the speakers have not developed proficiency in certain lexical domains, as in the case of immigrant languages.

This code-switching appears in many forms. If a speaker has a positive attitude towards both languages and towards code-switching, many switches can be found, even within the same sentence.[32] If, however, the speaker is reluctant to use code-switching, as in the case of a lack of proficiency, he might knowingly or unknowingly try to camouflage his attempt by converting elements of one language into elements of the other language through calquing. This results in speakers using words like courrier noir (literally mail that is black) in French, instead of the proper word for blackmail, chantage.

Sometimes a pidgin language may develop. A pidgin language is a fusion of two languages that is mutually understandable for both speakers. Some pidgin languages develop into real languages (such as papiamento in Curaçao or Singlish in Singapore) while others remain as slangs or jargons (such as Helsinki slang, which is more or less mutually intelligible both in Finnish and Swedish).[clarification needed] In other cases, prolonged influence of languages on each other may have the effect of changing one or both to the point where it may be considered that a new language is born. For example, many linguists believe that the Occitan language and the Catalan language were formed because a population speaking a single Occitano-Romance language was divided into political spheres of influence of France and Spain, respectively. Yiddish is a complex blend of Middle High German with Hebrew and borrowings from Slavic languages.

Bilingual interaction can even take place without the speakers switching. In certain areas, it is not uncommon for speakers each to use a different language within the same conversation. This phenomenon is found, amongst other places, in Scandinavia. Most speakers of Swedish, Norwegian and Danish can communicate with each other speaking their respective languages, while few can speak both (people used to these situations often adjust their language, avoiding words that are not found in the other language or that can be misunderstood). Using different languages is usually called non-convergent discourse, a term introduced by the Dutch linguist Reitze Jonkman. To a certain extent, this situation also exists between Dutch and Afrikaans, although everyday contact is fairly rare because of the distance between the two respective communities. The phenomenon is also found in Argentina, where Spanish and Italian are both widely spoken, even leading to cases where a child with a Spanish and an Italian parent grows up fully bilingual, with both parents speaking only their own language yet knowing the other. Another example is the former state of Czechoslovakia, where two closely related and mutually intelligible languages (Czech and Slovak) were in common use. Most Czechs and Slovaks understand both languages, although they would use only one of them (their respective mother tongue) when speaking. For example, in Czechoslovakia it was common to hear two people talking on television each speaking a different language without any difficulty understanding each other. This bilinguality still exists nowadays, although it has started to deteriorate after Czechoslovakia split up.[citation needed]

Japanese, English, and Russian sign in Northern Japan

Multilingualism at the linguistic level[edit]

Models for native language literacy programs[edit]

Sociopolitical as well as socio-cultural identity arguments may influence native language literacy. While these two camps may occupy much of the debate about which languages children will learn to read, a greater emphasis on the linguistic aspects of the argument is appropriate. In spite of the political turmoil precipitated by this debate, researchers continue to espouse a linguistic basis for it. This rationale is based upon the work of Jim Cummins (1983).

Sequential model[edit]

In this model, learners receive literacy instruction in their native language until they acquire a "threshold" literacy proficiency. Some researchers use age 3 as the age when a child has basic communicative competence in their first language (Kessler, 1984).[33] Children may go through a process of sequential acquisition if they migrate at a young age to a country where a different language is spoken, or if the child exclusively speaks his or her heritage language at home until he/she is immersed in a school setting where instruction is offered in a different language.

The phases children go through during sequential acquisition are less linear than for simultaneous acquisition and can vary greatly among children. Sequential acquisition is a more complex and lengthier process, although there is no indication that non-language-delayed children end up less proficient than simultaneous bilinguals, so long as they receive adequate input in both languages.

Bilingual model[edit]

In this model, the native language and the community language are simultaneously taught. The advantage is literacy in two languages as the outcome. However, the teacher must be well-versed in both languages and also in techniques for teaching a second language.

Coordinate model[edit]

This model posits that equal time should be spent in separate instruction of the native language and of the community language. The native language class, however, focuses on basic literacy while the community language class focuses on listening and speaking skills. Being a bilingual does not necessarily mean that one can speak, for example, English and French.


Cummins' research concluded that the development of competence in the native language serves as a foundation of proficiency that can be transposed to the second language — the common underlying proficiency hypothesis. His work sought to overcome the perception propagated in the 1960s that learning two languages made for two competing aims. The belief was that the two languages were mutually exclusive and that learning a second required unlearning elements and dynamics of the first in order to accommodate the second (Hakuta, 1990). The evidence for this perspective relied on the fact that some errors in acquiring the second language were related to the rules of the first language (Hakuta, 1990). How this hypothesis holds under different types of languages such as Romance versus non-Western languages has yet to undergo research.

Another new development that has influenced the linguistic argument for bilingual literacy is the length of time necessary to acquire the second language. While previously children were believed to have the ability to learn a language within a year, today researchers believe that within and across academic settings, the time span is nearer to five years (Collier, 1992; Ramirez, 1992).

An interesting outcome of studies during the early 1990s however confirmed that students who do successfully complete bilingual instruction perform better academically (Collier, 1992; Ramirez, 1992). These students exhibit more cognitive elasticity including a better ability to analyse abstract visual patterns. Students who receive bidirectional bilingual instruction where equal proficiency in both languages is required perform at an even higher level. Examples of such programs include international and multi-national education schools.

Multilingualism in computing[edit]

Dual language Hebrew and English keyboard

Multilingualisation (or "m17n", where "17" stands for 17 omitted letters) of computer systems can be considered part of a continuum between internationalization and localization:

  • A localised system has been adapted or converted for a particular locale (other than the one it was originally developed for), including the language of the user interface, input, and display, and features such as time/date display and currency; but each instance of the system only supports a single locale.
  • Multilingualised software supports multiple languages for display and input simultaneously, but generally has a single user interface language. Support for other locale features like time, date, number and currency formats may vary as the system tends towards full internationalisation. Generally a multilingualised system is intended for use in a specific locale, whilst allowing for multilingual content.
  • An internationalised system is equipped for use in a range of locales, allowing for the co-existence of several languages and character sets in user interfaces and displays. In particular, a system may not be considered internationalised in the fullest sense unless the interface language is selectable by the user at runtime.

Translating the user interface is usually part of the software localization process, which also includes adaptations such as units and date conversion. Many software applications are available in several languages, ranging from a handful (the most spoken languages) to dozens for the most popular applications (such as office suites, web browsers, etc.). Due to the status of English in computing, software development nearly always uses it (but see also Non-English-based programming languages), so almost all commercial software is initially available in an English version, and multilingual versions, if any, may be produced as alternative options based on the English original.


Multilingualism in the workplace[edit]

Globalization has led the world to be more deeply interconnected. Consequences of this are that more and more companies are trading with foreign countries, and with countries that don't necessarily speak the same language. English has become an important working knowledge mainly in multinational companies, but also in smaller companies.

Multilingualism in English speaking countries[edit]

According to Hewitt (2008) entrepreneurs in London from Poland, China or Turkey use English mainly for communication with customers, suppliers and banks, but their own native languages for work tasks and social purposes. Even in English speaking countries immigrants are still able to use their own mother tongue in the workplace thanks to other immigrants from the same place. Kovacs (2004)[34] describe this phenomenon in Australia with Finnish immigrants in the construction industry who spoke Finnish during working hours. But even though foreign languages may be used in the work place, English is still a must-know working skill. Mainstream society justifies the divided job market, arguing that getting a low-paying job is the best newcomers can achieve considering their limited language skills.

Multilingualism in Asia, America, and Africa[edit]

With companies going international they are now focusing more and more on the English level of their employees. Especially in South Korea since the 1990s, companies are using different English language testing to evaluate job applicants, and the criteria in those tests are constantly upgrading the level for good English. In India it is even possible to receive training to acquire an English accent, as the number of outsourced call centres in India has soared in the past decades. Not only in multinational companies is English an important skill, but also in the engineering industry, in the chemical, electrical and aeronautical fields. A study directed by Hill and van Zyl (2002) shows that in South Africa young black engineers used English most often for communication and documentation. However, Afrikaans and other local languages were also used to explain particular concepts to workers in order to ensure understanding and cooperation.[35]

Multilingualism in Europe[edit]

In Europe, as domestic market is generally quite restricted, international trade is a norm. But there is no predominant language in Europe (with German spoken in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Belgium; French in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland; and English in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Malta). Most of the time English is used as a communication language, but in multilingual countries such as Belgium (French, Dutch and German), Switzerland (German, French, Italian and Romanche) or Spain (Spanish, Catalan, Basque and Galician) it is common to see employees mastering two or even three of those languages. Some languages such as Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are so close to each other that it is generally more common for meeting to use their mother tongue rather than English.
Continued global diversity has led to an increasingly multilingual workforce. Europe has become an excellent model to observe this newly diversified labor culture. The expansion of the European Union with its open labor market has provided opportunities both for well-trained professionals and unskilled workers to move to new countries to seek employment. Political changes and turmoil have also led to migration and to the creation of new and more complex multilingual workplaces. In most wealthy and secure countries, immigrants are found mostly in low paid jobs but also, increasingly, in high status positions. [36]

Multilingualism in music[edit]

It is extremely common for music to be written in whatever the contemporary lingua franca is. If a song is not written in a common tongue, then it is usually written in whatever is the predominant language in the musician's country of origin, or in another widely recognized language, such as English, German, Spanish, or French.[citation needed]

The bilingual song cycles "there..." and "Sing, Poetry" on the 2011 contemporary classical album Troika consist of musical settings of Russian poems with their English self-translations by Joseph Brodsky and Vladimir Nabokov, respectively.[37]

Songs with lyrics in multiple languages are known as macaronic verse.

See also[edit]

Policies and proposals[edit]




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  2. ^ "The importance of multilingualism". Retrieved 2010-09-16. 
  3. ^ "Polyglot - definition of polyglot by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2010-07-10. 
  4. ^ A.J. Aitken in The Oxford Companion to the English Language, Oxford University Press 1992. p.894
  5. ^ Ems Ukaz
  6. ^ "Writing With English As A Second Language". 
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

International Journal of Bilingualism International Journal of Bilingualism International Symposium on Bilingualism International S