Sequential bilingualism

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Sequential bilingualism occurs when a person becomes bilingual by first learning one language and then another. The process is contrasted with simultaneous bilingualism, in which both languages are learned at the same time.

There is variation in the period in which learning must take place for bilingualism to be considered simultaneous. Generally, the term sequential bilingualism applies only if the child is approximately three years old before being introduced to the second language (L2).

Linguistic Competence[edit]

Achieving the Competence of a Native Speaker[edit]

Achieving the linguistic competence comparable to a native speaker can be achieved when the second language is learned before the critical period of acquiring a language ends. It is more difficult to achieve a native-like competence when the language is learned at a later time in life.[1]

Dominant versus Balanced Bilinguals[edit]

There are two types of bilinguals: the dominant and balanced bilinguals. Dominant bilinguals are bilinguals who are more proficient in one language as compared to the other language.[2]

Balanced bilinguals are people who have equal proficiency in both their first language (L1) and L2. However, balanced bilinguals are not common as people rarely use two languages in the same situation.[2]

Grammatical versus Communicative Competence[edit]

Grammatical competence refers to knowing how to use the language correctly by forming well-formed utterances.[2]

Communicative competence refers to knowing when saying something is appropriate or not in a culture. It also emphasizes on knowing how to interpret an intended message in an utterance when there is a meanings difference.[2] For example, knowing that when you are asked “Can you open the door?” means that someone is requesting you to open the door and not whether you have the ability to open the door.

When the second language is taught formally, the focus is always concentrated on gaining grammatical competence that is comparable to the native speakers.[2]

Majority vs Minority Language[edit]

First Language as a Majority Language[edit]

The acquisition of a foreign language that is not commonly spoken in the community is dependent on one's motivation and determination (provided that he/she is able to attain the means and opportunity of the acquisition), since it is not a useful medium of communication in his/her society. There would also not be any major consequences as he or she will still have many opportunities to communicate with L1 still.

First Language as a Minority Language[edit]

Minority language of a region is a language spoken by the minority in a population. Such as a Chinese, bilingual child is living in the United States with the first language being Chinese and American English as the major, regional language.

Minority languages have a risk of being lost depending on the following factors:

Age of introduction of L2[edit]

Several studies show that immigrant children who arrive at the country early eventually switch their primary and dominant language from L1 to L2, while children who arrive later in childhood keep their L1 as their primary, strong and dominant language. Hence this is evident that the loss in the minority language is dependent on the age of acquisition of the majority language. This is because, the later the age that the child is introduced to the latter, the more the child has exposure and knowledge of use about the former language, and hence less tendency to lose his ability to use native languages, since the minority language will still be their primary and dominant language of use.[3]

Value and Importance of Minority Language in Society[edit]

Especially in societies like the United States, where linguistics or ethnic diversity are not particularly valued, language-minority children encounter powerful forces for language shift or assimilation when they enter the majority-speaking world of the classroom in the society’s schools. Young children are extremely vulnerable to the social pressures exerted by people in their social worlds. But the social pressure they experience are not entirely external. Internal pressure too play a part. Once they turn on the television and they can see that they are different in language, in appearance and in behavior and they come to regard these differences as undesirable. At the same time, they are motivated to stop using their L1, all too often long before they have mastered the second language, all due to the internal and external pressures from their environment.[4]

Furthermore, the rank of the minority language in the family, language profile of the parents, opportunity to interact with L1 peers and the importance of the language to a person will also play a part in whether the minority language will be lost.[5]

Consequences of First Language Attrition (FLA)[edit]

The term 'First Language Attrition' (FLA) refers to the gradual decline in native language proficiency among migrants. As a speaker uses their L2 frequently and becomes proficient (or even dominant) in it, some aspects of the L1 can become subject to L2 influence or deteriorate.

For children in language-minority communities, maintaining their ancestral language preserves ties to their grandparents and keeps open the option of experiences that build ethnic identification and pride, as well as cultural continuity.[6] Parents cannot easily convey to them their values, beliefs, understandings, or wisdom, and about how to cope with their experiences. They cannot teach their children about the meaning of work, or about personal responsibility or what it means to be a moral or ethical person in a world with too many choices and too few guideposts to follow. What is lost are the bits of advice parents should be able to offer children in their everyday interactions with them. Talk is a crucial link between parents and children. It is how parents impart their culture to their children and enable them to become the kind of men and women they want them to be. When parents lose their means for socializing and influencing their children, rifts develop and families lose the intimacy that comes from shared beliefs and understandings.[7]

During language attrition, individuals will give up their cultural identity and take on the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of the majority culture. Individuals integrate when they continue to hold on their cultural identity, but also become integral members of the majority culture. When they desire to hold on to their cultural identity, there will be separation from society; the individual will withdraw from the majority culture.[8] Languages contribute to sum of human knowledge. Inside each language, there is a vision of the past, present and future. When a language dies, so too die culture, identity and knowledge that have been transmitted from generation to generation through that language.[9]

Modes to acquire L2[edit]

Circumstantial Bilingualism vs Elective Bilingualism[edit]

Elective bilingualism is whereby L2 is acquired through language classes, and have been immersed by choice in a social context for a prolonged period of time where the L2 language is spoken as the L1.

Circumstantial bilinguals, on the other hand, are forced to relocate to a new country and must learn the new language for survival. The child learners will enter a “functional” stage of learning the language after about two years of being in a new country. This means that they will basically be fluent and able to function in all aspects of life with needed written and oral language skills. When the child has reached this stage, they will begin to avoid using their native language. However, this native language will still be present in the way they both speak and write. Adult learners will most likely not enter the functional stage until they have been in the new country for 10 years. They will also remain native language preferent.[10]

Formal vs Informal Learning[edit]

Informal L2 learning takes place in naturalistic contexts while formal L2 learning takes place in classrooms, and L2 learning that involves a mixture of these settings and circumstances. For example, when a Japanese child goes to United States, the child will informally learn English through interaction and attending class with English-speaking citizens. Whereas when a Russian student takes a course of Arabic in school, the student is undergoing formal lessons to acquire the second language.[11]

Success factors contributing to acquisition of L2[edit]

Individual learner differences[edit]

Biological factors of an individual can affect their own L2 acquisition. Underdevelopment of any of the biological systems, or damage or disruptions to the systems can and will impede the acquisition process of a language, be it L1 or L2. These systems include the cognitive, sensory, social, emotional, and neurobiological systems. These systems not only play a critical independent role on language acquisition, they also interact with each other to contribute to the person’s ability towards language learning.[12]

Availability of Opportunities[edit]

Here, opportunities are social factors that lead to the availability of situations for the use of the acquired L2. Increased chances to use a language greatly improve one’s ability in that language. For example, the environment must first present access to that language. Then, there must be a need for using the language as a form of communication, which will thus force and motivate the learner to consistently speak in that language. In addition, opportunities for language use should come in diverse forms, like spoken or written, and in various contexts, like in school, at home or during peer interaction, so that the child would learn how to adapt to and apply the language appropriately in different situations, using mediums, with different people.[13][12]

Parents are crucial here because they are essentially the key provider of a child’s L2 learning opportunities. They are the ones who choose the type of L2 and enroll the child in L2 learning classes. Additionally, when the parent takes on the active role, whereby they actively and consciously monitor the child and encourage the child to learn the language, and provide chances for the use and practice of the L2 in different contexts with different people, these will generally reinforce the child’s successes too.


Successful L2 acquisition is affected by one’s motivation to learn and use the language too. Motive refers to the purpose of learning and communicating in that specific language. The motive is determined by the interaction between environmental needs and opportunities as well as personal preferences, which is dependent on social contexts.

For learning an L2, there are two forms of motive: Integrative Motivation and Instrumental Motivation. It is assumed that language acquisition is most successful when one learns a language because one truly liked the language and culture and possessed a desire to integrate into the culture in which the language is used.[14] This form of motivation is known as integrative motivation. Developing a certain level of proficiency in the language becomes necessary because the community which one wants to immerse oneself into uses the target language in its social interactions. Thus, in order to operate socially in the community and become one of its members, one has to be sufficiently proficient in that target language.[15] In contrast, Instrumental motivation is the opposite. People who are instrumentally motivated to learn a language acquires that language because they want to benefit from that language, like gaining something practical or concrete.[16] There is a practical purpose for acquiring an L2, such as meeting the requirements for school or university graduation, applying for a job, requesting higher pay based on language ability, or even achieving higher social status. Here, there is little or no desire for social integration of the learner into a community.

While both integrative and instrumental motivation are essential elements of successful language acquisition, research have determined integrative motivation as the main element in long-term success sustenance when learning a second language.[17][18][19]

For communication purposes, which language a bilingual chooses to speak, motive may interact with both the listener’s identity and the environmental context—one language may be preferred to communicate with a parent or child, another to complete a business transaction. The social status or prestige associated with a language could also motivate one to use that specific language. For example, United States being a political and economic powerhouse, the motivation to learn and acquire English is huge. Young immigrants in this country are spurred to learn English as fast as possible, mostly within a single generation,[20] and many third-generation immigrants speak only English, with little or no ability in the language of their grandparents.[21]

Obstacles faced when acquiring second language[edit]

Familial and Cultural factors[edit]

Parental and family support are important because they are the key providers to the child’s L2 learning and acquisition opportunities. They provide access to L2 learning and also to the use of the language, not only because they interact with the child the most often and therefore are the people whom the child can most often practice and use the L2 they learned, parents can also determine who the child interacts with and thus determine their opportunities for L2 use outside the family context.

However, as there is the risk that the child would lose competence in their native language, which is especially so if the L2 is considered to be of a higher prestige than the native language and is more useful and beneficial to the speaker in more contexts than the other, parents might disapprove L2 acquisition because they see their native language as a form of identity and their heritage and do not want their child to lose it. Furthermore, if the parent holds negative attitudes towards the L2, they might transfer these negative attitudes to the child, and thus reducing the child's motivation to learn the language.[22]

Also, low socioeconomic status is another obstacle because even if the family supports L2 learning, they might not have sufficient income to provide the adequate resources and help required for learning an L2. Parents are financially incapable of enrolling their children in language classes, neither are they able to afford textbooks, reading and practice materials for their children to learn and practice. All these are possible factors acting as L2 acquisition barriers.

Individual Factors[edit]

In addition to biological, psychological and physical deficits, like hearing loss, mental retardation, motor deficits, neurological or psychiatric disorders, impairment in auditory system, as well as inability to extract linguistic features and impairment in representational or symbolic reasoning, there are other individual factors that could act as barriers to L2 acquisition.

Affective factors and Age[edit]

The learner's emotional state or affect can interfere with acquiring a new language because acquiring a new language inevitably involves practicing it in public and conversing with others. All these encompassed the possibility of making mistakes, resulting in embarrassment, and such anxiety can block the ability to receive and process new information.[23][24] Thus, high self-consciousness and a reluctance to reveal their weaknesses and faults, coupled with feelings of vulnerability could greatly impede second language learning.[25] Fear of embarrassment has been found to occur more in adults than children because adults are more self-conscious about speaking, making errors and are more easily demoralized by pronunciation difficulties.[26] In addition, the Critical Period Hypothesis states that younger learners have certain advantages over older learners in language learning that allows them to learn L2 easily and quickly in comparison to older children. When the critical period is over, it is nearly impossible to reach native-like proficiency in one’s second language and even those who learn a language fluently are probably recognized as having an accent. Although they can achieve expertise in a written language, they face problems in spoken language.[27] Hence, age can also be regarded as an influential factor determining the quality of second language learning.

Self-belief and Motivation (Low intrinsic and extrinsic motivation)[edit]

Motivation undoubtedly has a profound impact on second language learning as well. There are two kinds of motivation, namely Integrative (intrinsic) and (instrumental) extrinsic motivation, as have been mentioned above. Intrinsically motivated students engage in the learning process because they are truly interested and enjoy the learning process; whereas extrinsically motivated learners learn in order to gain a reward or to avoid punishment. It has been shown that intrinsically motivated goals are more likely to achieve long-term success. Furthermore, self-belief has been acknowledged as able to potentially influence effort and persistence invested in acquiring a desired level of second-language competence. Self-belief comprises two components: Self-efficacy beliefs and self-concept beliefs. The former refers to one’s own belief as to whether he or she is capable of performing a given learning task and are consequently future-oriented; whereas the latter involves evaluations of one’s general self-worth based on past experiences.[28] It is said that low self-efficacy beliefs would pose as an obstacle in language learning because it indicates a lack of self-confidence and thus reduces the motivation to learn.

L1 Interference[edit]

L1 interference in bilingual language acquisition generally refers to the influence that the learner’s L1 exerts over the acquisition of an L2.[29] Habits have been formed during L1 acquisition will influence the L2 learning process, either facilitate or hinder L2 learning.[30] The more similar L1 is with L2, the greater ease learners have with learning the L2 structures. In contrast, areas where L1 and L2 differ, the learners face much difficulty in learning because learners would use their L1 knowledge and experience to guide their L2 learning and responses.[31]

Pedagogical Factors[edit]

For sequential bilinguals, education usually plays a far more central role than simultaneous bilinguals. Education help bilinguals develop higher level of language literacy and proficiency in terms of language structure, vocabulary, syntax, phonology, morphology, literacy and communicative purposes.[32] Some key factors critical to a good Bilingual education program includes:[33]

1. The type of bilingual education program. The type of bilingual education program should match the proficiency and goals of the learner. For example, to foster bilingualism and bi-literacy in mixed language students, two-way/ dual language programs are more effective than immersion programs, which are catered more for students whose L1 is the major language and trying to learn a L2 minority language.[34]

2. Duration of the program. The longer the bilingual education programs, the more significantly effective they are because they allow for L2 learning delay that could negatively impact the acquisition of academic language proficiency in an L2.

3. The ratio of L1 to L2 use at different stages of the program. Usually, programs start off with maximum exposure of the curriculum in L2 while progressively increasing the proportion of L1 used, but there are programs which do it the opposite way, and the method used is based on the goals of the program and the learner. However, strict separation of languages of instruction should always be maintained so that the L2 is not subsumed by the L1.

4. Continuity of the program across levels within education systems.

5. Bridging support. This support involves materials to help overcome the initial limitations of the students’ L2 proficiency and also include extra tuition or smaller remedial classes to cater more specifically to difficulties faced by each individual.

6. Sufficient and adequate resources and educational material.

7. Availability of qualified and committed personnel. Provision of constant teacher training, and staff-development program for teachers is crucial as teachers are the people who interact with and impart the language skills to the students.[35] Teachers have to be committed as language acquisition requires a huge amount of time and effort. Additionally, it is important to ensure that teachers are familiar and proficient with the specific educational materials developed so that these material are complementing their teachings.

8. Attitude of the educators toward the culture of the target language. Teachers can transfer their attitudes to the students. Hence, if teachers had a negative attitude towards L2, then it might undermine the effort and restrict the success in L2 language acquisition.


Bilinguals tend to code-switch when talking to people who understand both their first and second language. Code-switching takes place when a bilingual uses two or more languages in a conversation and this is a natural effect of knowing more than one language. Code-switching can take place due to a lack of sufficient vocabulary in one of the languages to express an idea (not to be confused with a lack of sufficient vocabulary knowledge from the speaker) and so the speaker expresses the idea using another language. However, code-switching can also be done to convey special emphasis or establish cultural identity.

Emotional Intensity of Languages in Bilinguals[edit]

Various studies have found that for bilinguals, the emotional intensity of L1 is different from the emotional intensity of subsequent languages learned.[36][37][38] These studies concluded that L1 has the highest emotional impact and is the language of personal involvement while L2 is the language that can create distance and detachment as it has lesser emotional impact as compared to L1.

Yet, paradoxically, many late bilinguals indicate that it is harder for them to swear in their L1 as compared to their L2.[39] As such they would prefer to use their L2 to swear despite it having lesser emotional impact on the speakers themselves. This could be due to the fact that they are unable to feel the total strength of their spoken words when swearing in their L2 and as such, they would swear in their L2 more easily.

See also[edit]


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