A Study into the Different Types of Bilinguals

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Bilinguals in the world have been categorised into groups depending on certain points. The Finnish linguist Skutnabb-Kangas (1981) discusses this part of the issue of bilingualism and she proposes that bilinguals in the world can be classified into four different groups and there are some factors should be taken into account to distinguish between these groups. The factors are: the pressure to become bilingual, the prerequisites for bilingualism, the method used to achieve bilingualism, and the consequences in the case of failure. Skutnabb-Kangas focuses mainly on children bilinguals in her classification, but this classification to some extent might apply on bilinguals other than children. She classifies the groups as the following:

Elite bilinguals: this group consists of people who have chosen to learn another language and become bilingual and in most cases they are not forced to bilingualism. Most of the bilinguals in this group are upper and middle class people. For example, some of them become bilinguals for the sake of studying or working abroad such as wining scholarships or having business, while others move and change their country of residence, so they want to learn the language of the target country. Regarding the factor of pressure, elite bilinguals volunteer to learn a second language and there is mostly no pressure, unless the children from the families who move to other countries might feel the pressure since they have to learn the language of the new country. In this group, the bilinguals' prerequisites are seen to be most often suitable for them, because this is their choice of being bilinguals. In the case of children, the parents make their children acquire the mother tongue very well, so they will not lose it when learning another language. When they live abroad, the children then will be encouraged to learn a second language which is expected to be used most often, however they will still use the mother tongue at least within the home environment. The method of achieving bilingualism for elite bilinguals is a combination of the "natural method" and teaching as Skutnabb-Kangas states, where children or other bilinguals will face situations in which they must speak and communicate in the foreign language. Besides, they will be taught the foreign language in their home country as well as in the target country. In the case of failure for elite bilinguals, there are no serious consequences when not making a positive progress in learning a second language. For example, children or bilinguals might have less contact with native speakers and in some cases they will accompany speakers of their own mother tongue.

Children from linguistic majorities: this group consists mainly of children who learn a language at school other than their mother tongue and this language is more likely to be a minority language, where children or bilinguals from such groups will learn it for certain reasons. This minority language is used either for the enhancement of its prestige, Hoffmann (1991) provides an example of learning French in Canada (Hoffmann 1991), or a language might be regarded as being highly beneficial in the field of education and also in getting good occupations in a country, so this language will be used in immersion programmes or in foreign language classes, Hoffmann (1991) mentions the case of using English as a foreign language in Netherlands as an example for the second reason (Hoffmann 1991). Another example for the later reason could be the situation of teaching English in almost all the educational institutions in Oman and using it widely in most of the occupations in the various fields of work. There is little or no pressure on the children or other people of this group to learn a second language. The family and the society might be a source of pressure for the children; the parents will motivate their children to become bilinguals for either of the reasons been mentioned previously at least. The members of this group are taught to learn a second language and the methods used in teaching are believed to be better than the methods used for the rest of the groups, because these methods involve well-prepared materials that aid the learning of the second language. The consequences of failure in learning the language and being bilingual are small and this might result that people of this group will use the mother tongue in the society and they will have less opportunities of getting better jobs.

According to Hoffmann (1991) the members of the preceding two groups come from monolingual backgrounds. In the contrary, the members of the following two groups are from bilingual backgrounds.

Children from bilingual families: this group consists of children who come from bilingual families which are the families that the parents have two different mother languages. For example, a family in Finland where the father’s mother language is Finnish and the mother’s is Swedish. In this case there is some pressure on the children to be able to speak with their parents in their mother tongues. Besides, the society will push and encourage the children to learn the language used officially in the country which is more likely to be the mother language of either parent, and this helps the children to integrate in the society and to be successful at school. However, in this case the children become monolingual and there are some possible problems in the relationship between them and one or both of their parents, because these children lack complete bilingualism of both parents mother tongues. In the case of failure, the children of this group will face some problems and there might be negative consequences within the family environment. For example, a child has negative relationship with one of the parents because he or she fails in being bilingual and learning the mother language of the father or mother.

4. Children from linguistic minorities: this group consists of children whose parents use a language of the minority. For example, a family in Canada, where both parents speak French (minority). In this case, there will be strong pressure from the society and the family on this group of children to become bilingual and learn the language of the majority (English) in order to successfully contact in that society and cope up with the others from majority groups. The methods and materials used to achieve bilingualism need to be more developed, because they still have not reached the level of the high expectations. In the case of failure, the children of this group will face consequences that are thought to be greater than for any of the other previous groups as Skutnabb-Kangas shows that the failure of being bilingual may be catastrophic. For example, the children might lose most of the educational and future opportunities and their contact with the society will be very limited.