[ bahy-ling-gwuh-liz-uhm or, Canadian, -ling-gyoo-uh- ]
/ baɪˈlɪŋ gwəˌlɪz əm or, Canadian, -ˈlɪŋ gyu ə- /
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the ability to speak two languages fluently.
the habitual use of two languages.
Canadian. a government-supported program encouraging all citizens to acquire a knowledge of both English and French.
Were you ready for a quiz on this topic? Well, here it is! See how well you can differentiate between the uses of "was" vs. "were" in this quiz.
Question 1 of 7
“Was” is used for the indicative past tense of “to be,” and “were” is only used for the subjunctive past tense.
Also bi·lin·gual·i·ty [bahy-ling-gwal-i-tee or, Canadian, -ling-gyoo-al-]. /ˌbaɪ lɪŋˈgwæl ɪ ti or, Canadian, -lɪŋ gyuˈæl-/.

Origin of bilingualism

First recorded in 1870–75; bilingual + -ism
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does bilingualism mean?

Bilingualism is the ability to speak or understand two languages or the regular use of two languages.

The adjective bilingual is most commonly used to describe someone who can speak or understand two languages, especially with some level of fluency. It can also be used to describe things that involve or that are written or spoken in two languages, as in These instructions are bilingual—they’re written in English and Spanish.

The similar terms trilingualism and multilingualism are used in the same way, with trilingualism indicating the use of three languages and multilingualism indicating the use of more than two and especially several languages. Monolingualism refers to the use of only one language.

In Canada, bilingualism is used in a more specific way to refer to a government-supported program to encourage all citizens to learn both English and French.

Example: Our kids’ school supports bilingualism both for students with two natives languages and students who are learning a second language.

Where does bilingualism come from?

The first records of the word bilingualism come from the 1870s. It’s composed of bi-, meaning “two,” lingual, which means “pertaining to languages,” and -ism, indicating the practice of something. Lingual shares a root with other language-related words, like linguistics and linguaphile.

Bilingualism typically refers to the regular use of two languages, such as by people in a particular place, such as a region or country. Countries are often described as bilingual when they have two official or widely used languages. Canada is often called a bilingual country since both English and French are widely spoken in certain places, though of course many other languages are spoken there, including many different Indigenous languages.

Bilingualism can also refer to the ability of a bilingual person. Some people who are bilingual may be masters of both of the languages they speak. But bilingualism can also involve a person who’s not fluent in the second language.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to bilingualism?

What are some synonyms for bilingualism?

  • bilinguality

What are some words that share a root or word element with bilingualism

What are some words that often get used in discussing bilingualism?

How is bilingualism used in real life?

The word bilingualism is commonly used in the context of education and discussions of its benefits.



Try using bilingualism!

Is bilingualism used correctly in the following sentence?

In some places where bilingualism is common, the street signs are in two different languages.

How to use bilingualism in a sentence