Standard Article

Early Bilingualism

  1. Annick De Houwer

Published Online: 5 NOV 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781405198431.wbeal0351

The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics

How to Cite

Houwer, A. D. 2012. Early Bilingualism. The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 5 NOV 2012


Early bilingualism arises when young children start to regularly hear two languages instead of just one. Children may hear these languages from birth, or they may start to hear a second language at a somewhat later age. In the first case, children are going through a process of bilingual first language acquisition or BFLA (Meisel, 1989; De Houwer, 1990, 2009). BFLA children have two first languages, namely Language A (LA) and Language Alpha (Lα), which typically are both spoken to them at home. This notation indicates that BFLA children have no chronologically first or second language. Children who are at first raised with just a single language (Language 1 or L1), and who start to regularly hear a second language (Language 2 or L2) at a later age are going through a process of early second language acquisition or ESLA (De Houwer, 1990, 2009). Typically, ESLA children hear only one language at home (L1), and meet the L2 in a group setting outside the home, such as a daycare center or a preschool. The L1 is usually a minority language.


  • bilingualism;
  • first language acquisition;
  • child language