Ask the question above to a person near you and he or she would most likely say, “just like we have two eyes, you speak two languages, but if you speak more than two, you are multilingual”.
However, bilingualism is more than just knowing two languages. You can choose to see a bilingual person as two different people knowing two different languages or as an individual with a combined language capacity.
Just because you can speak two languages, does not mean that you do speak them. You are only bilingual if you use the two languages. Bilinguals typically use their two languages with different people, in different situations and for various purposes. Effective bilinguals are able to code-switch between languages as and when needed.
If you are known to be a good bilingual, it does not just mean you are good grammatically, but you also understand different social and cultural norms and situations associated with the languages you know.
Perhaps, being bilingual can be thought of as having two eyes, but, just as there is a deeper biological system that incorporates our eyes into our being, bilingualism shapes one’s communication skills.
Summarised and adapted from “Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism”. 6th Edition. Colin Baker and Wayne E. Wright. 2017.
For your further reading and understanding:
Multilingual Children’s Association
Written by Kausalya Vijayan Kumaran, Content & Programme Developer