I would like to know if there is a technical (or common) term for the type of bilingual (or multilingual) conversation described in the title. For example, one person could be speaking French, while the other is speaking English, while understanding each other. This could happen if both speakers have studied the other language enough to understand it, but not enough to speak fluently. In a different situation, this could also occur between two languages with high mutual intelligibility (perhaps Spanish and Italian, or some pairs of Slavic languages), without the speakers having specifically studied the other language.

The same idea was hinted at in this earlier question, which didn't get much discussion.


1 Answer 1


One standard term is receptive multilingualism, which can be via the oral medium or the written medium (or of course, both).

One definition:

This particular description fits the person who understands a second language, in either its spoken or written form, or both, but does not necessarily speak or write it. An alternative term for this case is passive multilingualism.

It can cover similarity of the languages involved (e.g. in Scandinavia), or the personal history of the interlocutors (e.g. heritage speakers or international families).

A few papers that use the term:

Here, you probably want to specify a "mutual" receptive multilingualism (although in practice, this is probably most evident in mutual receptive bilingualism than any larger number!).

  • Exactly what I was looking for. Thank you! Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 7:13

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