The Personal MA TESOL: Bilingualism

At its most basic, the goal of English language teaching is bi- or multilingualism, isn’t it? We are not trying to replace one’s language; we are trying to add to one’s linguistic repertoire, and with it some cognitive, economic, and social benefits. So, bilingualism and bilingual education is actually at the core of TESOL.

I consider Colin Baker’s “Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism” to be the Bible of bilingualism. Baker discusses bilingualism (and multilingualism) from almost every aspect. He looks at what it means to be bilingual, quickly dispelling the myth that only those who have perfect native-like fluency in two languages is bilingual. He looks at bilingualism in society and has a good discussion of diglossic nations. There is in-depth discussion of the cognitive dimensions of bilingualism, including past and present research on the benefits (many) and drawbacks (almost none). And of course, he discusses bilingual education in-depth, which includes its history, the different types of bilingual education, their effectiveness, and even bilingual education’s controversial nature in the States. Hands down, this is the quintessential guide to bilingualism. (Note: You can view much of the book for free from Google Books.)


Those of us interested in bilingualism probably hope that our children will one day be bilingual. Baker also has a book for that: “A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism“. To be honest, I have not read it. But, based off of “Foundations…”, I would wager it is an excellent resource. However, I have read “Language Strategies For Bilingual Families” (Google Books link) by Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert. This is an excellent, well-researched book that discusses different strategies for raising a bilingual or multilingual family. Although it focuses on one-parent, one-language (the OPOL approach), it gives great details and ideas for other approaches. There are actually numerous approaches, and although OPOL is the most effective, it is not the only effective method. Whatever method, research shows that families that consciously plan and actively pursue bilingualism usually attain their goals.

There are literally hundreds of resources available online on this subject. Two of my favorites are

  • Professor Francois Grosjean’s website – he is a bilingualism researcher with a number of articles on his website that are worth a read. He is probably bilingualism’s most vocal proponent. Consider him bilingualism’s David Crystal.
  • Multilingual Living – a online magazines and forum dedicated to having multilingual families. You will also find links to related blogs and websites.

And finally, because a discussion of bilingualism cannot be complete without a discussion of polyglottery and hyperpolyglottery (a person who can speak 11 or more languages), I recommend “Babel, No More” by Michael Erard. His book details his search for true hyperpolyglots, through time and around the globe. While pursuing hyperpolyglots, he looks at issues such as language learning, culture, and even neuroscience.

In addition, I recommend doing a YouTube search for “polyglot” and subsequently having your mind blown. I’ll start you off with two videos. The first is of the most recent polyglot who has made the news (Timothy Doner, 16). The other is of a man speaking 16 languages at a polyglot convention in Hungary.