The Meriam Webster dictionary defines bilingual as "using or able to use two languages especially with equal fluency". According to this definition, I am bilingual.
According to the Common European Framework, I am level C2, proficient user, in French because I can:
- understand with ease virtually everything heard or read.
- summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation.
- express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.
The people in my French neighborhood think I'm bilingual. Yet, I would never call myself that. Yes, my children are bilingual because they have grown up speaking two different languages. But not me. I learned French at school in New Jersey, came to France to study, did a Masters in France and started my life here. I now speak English most of the time : at home (where we are OPOL), at work where the working language is English, and socially where my closest friends are native English speakers.
When I first came to France in 1996 until I started my current job in 2003, I spoke French 75% of the time. When I started my current job, the amount of time I spoke French per day dropped to about 30%. And since my first child was born in 2006, the amount of English I speak per day has climbed to the point where there are days I don't utter a single word of French. It even got to the point where I barely hear French, except for the French half of our family conversations (ie when my husband speaks to the kids or me).
But during our vacation this summer - we stayed in France and didn't see any English speakers - I noticed a few phenomenons:
- I am so used to our family's linguistic gymnastics that I do not realize that I speak English to people who I should be speaking French to
- After having a couple weeks in a Franco-French environment, my English became "tainted" and I had trouble finding some English words and mixed them up with french expressions.
- And finally, reading in French came back quickly. After a hiatus of too many years to count, I picked up a book in French and began reading it. Although it was slow going for the first hundred pages. After a while, I was reading in the same way I read in English. And just like in English, there were certain words I don't know the precise definition of but I could read in the context.
So am I bilingual? I don't know. I'm more bilingual that most Americans. But I have an accent, I make mistakes in French and my kids are constantly correcting me. I still can't pronounce words like soleil (sun) and bouilloire (electric kettle) but I can read 600 page books in French.
So what is bilingualism? Do you consider yourself bilingual?