Institute of English Studies University of Warsaw

Bilingualism, multilingualism, plurilingualism

The knowledge of several languages is nowadays indispensable for university education, cultural and social life, and it often becomes the prerequisite for employment. EU documents state that a contemporary European should be multi- or plurilingual.  What does it actually mean? You can learn more about it from our courses on acquisition, learning and teaching of languages.

Who is bilingual or multilingual?

A bilingual is not a person who knows two languages equally well. Such people are rare.  Bilingualism is defined asthe ability to build understandable utterances in any of the languages known.  So, language learners are also considered bilingual.

Multilingualism is theability to use several languages (not perfectly well), assuming a mutual interaction of languages in the mind of the user, as well as the bulk of linguistic and cultural experience of the user which add to his/her communicative competence. Such a way of understanding multilingualism is connected with the notion of plurilingualism, used in EU documents. Plurilingualism does not mean a perfect command of several languages but the attempt to use one’s linguistic knowledge and skills to communicate with others in many different situations. In practice, it means the ability to effectively function in a multinational and multicultural community thanks to a sensitivity to similarities and differences between languages and cultures.

Psycholinguistics – a domain on the crossroads

Can you measure and describe the acquisition of a first language by children? Can you measure the learning of foreign languages? You will find answers to such questions during our psycholinguistic courses. This is a domain of study on the crossroads of psychology and linguistics which deals with the psychological bases of linguistic functioning, i.e. how languages are acquired, processed, and used by human beings. 

So, a short test for those interested:

Is it possible that a child with normal IQ will never acquire his/her native language?

Yes, if he/she does not start at the right moment, i.e. is isolated from language stimuli till the age of puberty.

Do bilingual children acquiring two languages simultaneously develop similarly to their monolingual peers?

No, in the first years of life their acquisition of both languages may be delayed. They have a double task to do, so they need more time to learn. 

Are the languages of bilinguals and multilinguals “mixed” in their heads?

Yes, languages are not stored in separate “boxes” in the mind.  But bi- and multilinguals can largely control their languages and actively inhibit the use of the language they do not need at the time. Language “mixing” also has an impact on the easiness of learning consecutive languages. 

Do bi- and multilinguals differ from monolinguals?

Yes, the knowledge of languages influences the flexibility of our brain (e.g. inhibitory processes) and our cognitive abilities.

Does bilingualism influence  the way we perceive the world?

Yes, language knowledge may change the way we name objects, or perceive colours and spatial relations.

Do we learn another language differently than the first?

It depends on our age and on the circumstances (How old are you? Are you learning in class or in a natural setting?).

Can a Polish person learn any language with equal ease?

è No, it is easier to learn languages which are typologically closer, so for us it would be Slovak rather than Norwegian.

Interesting? Such issues are discussed during courses dealing with psycholinguistics and language acquisition. We offer courses on:

  • language acquisition
  • learning language systems and skills
  • individual differences in language learning
  • native language influence on language acquisition
  • psychology of communication

Methodology of language teaching

You are bilingual or multilingual. So you can teach other languages. If you want to know:

  • why there is no point in explaining grammar to children,
  • how to cope with a class of eight-year olds,
  • how to entertain teenagers,
  • if a good language teacher should know other languages,
  • where to look for materials for your lessons,

we offer numerous courses on ELT methodology  dealing with:

  • modern methods of English language teaching
  • the analysis and creation of teaching materials
  • language testing

Thanks to these courses you can obtain a teaching certificate that is ESSENTIAL if you want to work as a foreign language teacher.


CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) is an educational approach to language learning promoted by the EU Commission to develop multilingualism. CLIL is an umbrella term for various forms of bilingual teaching and may involve the teaching of content subjects in a foreign language, or introducing to the teaching of languages elements of subjects from the school curriculum. In other words: CLIL is two in one: language and content taught together.

The CLIL approach is spreading in different forms throughout Europe, mainly as a teacher-led phenomenon. That is why our courses, directed at future teachers, provide an overview of how CLIL can be implemented at various levels, from primary schools to secondary and university education. The courses focus mainly on the questions surrounding the CLIL teacher and discuss issues that are of interest to teachers in Poland and across Europe:

  • Why teach content and language at the same time?
  • Doesn’t it slow the process down?
  • What are the benefits of CLIL?
  • Does CLIL always work?
  • How does CLIL differ from language teaching?
  • What forms does it take depending on the age and the level of learners?
  • Where to look for teaching materials?
  • How to create teaching materials that would support language learning during content classes?
  • What basic mistakes do teachers make when creating CLIL materials and syllabuses?

In Poland there is a still growing demand for bilingual teaching, so experience in CLIL may soon become necessary in the language teaching profession. Our courses, run by experienced educators involved in collaboration with schools, provide unique know-how for future teachers.