|BILINGUALISM-002| Models of Bilingualism

Hello Exam Seekers,

As I may have mentioned before, I am taking a course on Bilingual Education. Therefore, I decided to write a little about the topic. If you find it interesting, I’ll write more and more about it. As for today, I will talk a little about what bilingualism is and some of its models.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the definition for bilingualism is:


But, according to some authors specialized in the area, bilingualism is not one stationary thing. There is still a considerable debate on it, so I will describe some types of bilingualism: additive, subtractive, recursive, and dynamic bilingualism. I will also talk about monoglossic and heteroglossic bilingual education.

Cover for Models of Bilingualism

Additive x Subtractive

There are two models of bilingualism when it comes to how students are going to learn the language. The first one is regarding the maintenance of two languages, while the other one implies the loss of the learner’s mother tongue.

When students learn an additional language and still get to keep their mother tongue, this is called additive bilingualism, since it works on the basis where you keep on learning your native language (L1) plus learning a second language (L2), and ends up with both of them. L1 + L2 = L1+L2

However, once you start learning an additional language and are encouraged to stop studying and using your mother tongue, you are directed to something else. When the intention is to be solely an L2 speaker, then it is subtractive bilingualism. Therefore, you lose your first language and learn a second one, leading to a learner who only speaks one language in the end. L1 + L2 – L1 = L2

Still, these two models do not fulfill the need of a 21st-century learner. There is more than simply being additive or subtractive bilingualism when it comes to developing a language, mainly because from this perspective, the two languages are separating the languages into two unique blocks. And then comes the question, should we consider language learning as a different block when talking about languaging? After all, should there be this barrier for bilingual beings, or should language happen more interactively so that talking about first or second language is not the priority anymore?

As stated by Ofelia Garcia (2009, p.48), “bilingualism is not about 1 + 1 = 2, but about a plural, mixing different aspects or fractions of language behaviour as they are needed, to be socially meaningful“.

Recursive x Dynamic

It was thinking about the 21st-century learner that another two models were created.

Recursive bilingualism tends to happen in communities where the original language spoken by the ancestral is suppressed and is then kept on ceremonies and in different manners. Thus, concerning a bilingual continuum, those who are in the recursive one will be going back and forth in the continuum. There are parts of the language in use rather than its whole. Recursive bilingualism is already an idea that takes language from a more heteroglossic view than a monoglossic one. Still, does bilingualism happen in a linear construction?

recursive ofelia garcia

Dynamic bilingualism, on the other hand, comes down to multiplicity (diversity). Due to the increase in the connection between people, globalization has made it more accessible to interact with others, demanding different functions and contexts. According to García (2009. p.53), “in the linguistic complexity of the twenty-first century, bilingualism involves a much more dynamic cycle where language practices are multiple and ever adjusting to the multilingual, multimodal terrain of the communicative act“. Thus, the concept of dynamic bilingualism can even be extended to plurilingualism, mainly because of the facility in which individuals have access to and use multiple languages for different purposes and in different situations.

dynamic ofelia garcia

Monoglossic x Heteroglossic

Even though these two dichotomies are the basis for defining the two categories described above, I decided to leave them for last to provide better differentiation between them and reinforce the previously mentioned concepts.

When talking about a monoglossic view of the language, we talk about a diglossic view of the language, which means that there is a sociopolitical factor involved, and it depends on the communicative situation. Therefore, one language is a prestigious one and spoken in more formal cases, while the other one tends to be restricted to more informal settings.

So, there is a monolingual standard established for language learning. This view considers that only coming from a monolingual perspective can develop a language appropriately, with proficiency, since this is when the student has the real opportunities to practice the language.

With this in mind, the two models of education that take language acquisition from a monoglossic perspective are the additive and subtractive ones.

Again, additive bilingualism aims to have two monolinguals in one person and sees bilingualism as something positive. Nevertheless, subtractive bilingualism is seen as a problem and seeks to have a monolingual student who knows the L2 solely. The mother tongue is slowly removed from the school curriculum when students are only using the language used in school.

On the other hand, when talking about a heteroglossic view, the aim is to go global, rather than to compartmentalize the two languages into two different blocks. Here, languages are not ‘competing’ against one another, but they will work depending on the need and situation. This concept involves two models, the recursive and the dynamic one. The recursive takes bilingualism as a right, and the linguistic and cultural background of the student is preserved and valued. As García (2009) mentioned, the learners here are emergent bilinguals rather than second language learners. Besides that, there is dynamic bilingualism, which unites different contexts and cultures, creating a “hybrid cultural experience” (García, 2009, p.119). This model allows translanguaging to take place and also welcomes different linguistic identities.


There is plenty of food for thought regarding bilingual education, mainly because we are dealing with a different kind of learner, which needs a lot more from school than before. The perspectives have changed a lot concerning the learner and the 21st Century skills and how we should develop them.

I’d love to know your view on the matter. Do you agree with all these changes? How much impact did they have had on your classes lately? Please, leave a comment in the comment section below sharing your thought.


That’s it for today! Please like the post and follow the blog on:

You can also listen to this post at Anchor!!!

Have a great week,
Patricia Moura


Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount

Thanks for making this possible! 🙂

Thanks for making this possible! 🙂

Thanks for making this possible! 🙂

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Updated: April 28th, 2021

García, O. Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective. UK: 2009.

Leave a Reply