raising bilingual children
Getting Started
Language Milestones
Tips and Tools
Bulletin Board
News and Press
Keep Me Posted
For practical tips & news
Our Community Pages
Glossary of Terms
Common definitions and expressions
Terms used on this web site or common in multilingual discussions. These definitions are short, but for more elaborate explanations online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia.com or Answers.com are good sources.

Angular Gyrus – A region of the brain that is involved in the processing of speech comprehension and the integration of alphabet letters with their corresponding sounds.

Aphasia – Aphasia is a language disorder that results from damage to portions of the brain that are responsible for language. It impairs both the expression and understanding of language as well as reading and writing.

Arcuate Fasciculus – The neural pathway connecting Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area (two areas involved with language production and comprehension).

Auditory Cortex – The region of the brain which is responsible for processing of sound, including the spoken word.


Bilingual – Capable of communicating in two languages – but not necessarily at the same level of proficiency.

Brain Plasticity – See: Plasticity

Broca’s Area – The area of the brain coordinating the speech organs for the actual production of language.

Cback to top

Cognition – The mental processes involving knowledge, expertise or learning. (Cognitive)

Community Language – The language most widely spoken in the country or region (sometimes called Lingua Franca).

Consecutive Multilingualism – see Serial multilingualism.

Critical Period – When the imprinting or development of certain skills takes place, and thus the ideal time to cultivate that skill.


Dominant Language – Any language dominant in the child’s situation, often (but not always) it is the community language.


ESL – English as a Second Language.

Iback to top

Intonation – (or Melody) The variation of tone used when speaking like sound modulation and inflection.


Labeling – Naming an object. How children learn nouns, often the very first words in their vocabulary.

Language System (or Approach / Organization / Pattern) – Agreed rule on how the child is exposed to the different languages, most common is OPOL, meaning “one parent one language”.

Linguistics – The scientific study of human language.

Linguistic Relationship Between Languages – The historical connection between different languages identifying their similarities and differences.

Mback to top

m=X, M=Y – Minority language = X and Majority language = Y. Often used in signatures when describing the family’s or persons language system.

Majority Language – Any language dominant in the child’s situation, often (but not always) the community language.

Minority Language – Any language(s) subordinate in the child’s situation.

ML@H (also ML@H, MLaH, ml@h) Minority language at home. Using the minority language, i.e. the language not spoken in the community, at home to create a bilingual environment for the child.

Monolingual – Capable of communication in one language.

Motherese – See: Parentese

Multilingual – Capable of communication in more than one language, but not necessarily at the same level of proficiency.

Multiliterate – The ability to read and/or write in several languages.

Myelin Insulation – It is an electrically insulating layer that surrounds the neurons and increase the speed of impulses.

Neocortex – Often seen as the hallmark of human intelligence related to higher level thinking processes, such as language and reasoning.


Neuron – The primary cells of the nervous system and brain specialized in impulse-connecting

Neurolinguistics – The science concerned with the human brain mechanisms underlying the comprehension, production, and abstract knowledge of language.

Neurology – The science of the nerves, nervous system and brain.

Oback to top

OPOL – One Person One Language. Each parent or person involved with the child (grandparents, nanny’s etc.) uses one language when speaking to the children, to create a multilingual environment for the child.

Orthography – Writing. The set of rules of how to write correctly with the proper letters and spelling.


Plasticity (brain plasticity) – refers to the changes that occur in the organization of the brain and its capability of “re-wiring” itself, and adapt to changes.

Parallel Multilingualism : Learning several languages as "first languages". Infants who are exposed to two languages from birth become parallel multilinguals. Sometimes also called Simultaneous multilingualism.

Parentese – (or Motherese) is the universally used high pitched sing-songy voice parents use when speaking to their babies

Phoneme – The basic sound segment or unit of spoken language that can distinguish words (“cat vs. rat”)

Pictograph – (or ideograph) is the symbol based writing system of Chinese, Korean and Japanese Kanji.

Polyglot – Someone who speaks and/or writes two or more languages. Multilingual.

Prosody – The distinctive variations of stress, tone, pitch and timing in spoken language.

Rback to top

Receptive Multilingualism – Being able to understand more than one language but not capable of speaking it/them.


Semilingual – A person who has partial or incomplete working knowledge of a language or languages.

Serial Multilingualism (Successive or Consecutive Multilingualism) – Learning one language after already knowing another.

Simultaneous Multilingualism – See: Parallel multilingualism.

Successive Multilingualism – See: Serial multilingualism.

Synapse – The circuits in which the neurons of the brain interconnect.

Syntax – The grammatical rules of a language.


Tween – (or preteen) Used for children just before their teens, "between " childhood and being teenagers, roughly 8-12 years of age.


Visual Cortex – The part of the brain that is responsible for processing visual stimuli.


Wernicke’s Area – The area of the brain involved in the understanding and comprehension of spoken language.

back to top

Copyright © 2024 Multilingual Children’s Association, All Rights Reserved.
Your Guide to Raising Bilingual Children