Multilingualism is the act of using polyglotism, or using multiple languages, either by an individual speaker or by a community of speakers. Multilingual speakers outnumber monolingual speakers in the world's population. Multilingualism is becoming a social phenomenon governed by the needs of globalization and cultural openness. Owing to the ease of access to information facilitated by the Internet, individuals' exposure to multiple languages is becoming increasingly frequent thereby promoting a need to acquire additional languages.
The definition of multilingualism is a subject of debate in the very same way as the definition of language fluency. On one end of a sort of linguistic-continuum, one may define multilingualism as complete competence and mastery in another language. The speaker would presumably have complete knowledge and control over the language so as to sound native. On the opposite end of the spectrum would be people such as tourists who know enough phrases to get around using the alternate language.
Because of the lack of any true definition for multilingualism, it is very difficult to define an individual as being multilingual. Having no specification of how much knowledge of a language is required for a person to be classified as bilingual makes it difficult for language teaching institutions to teach languages to students to the point of fluency. As a result, since most speakers do not achieve the maximally ideal level, language learners may come to be seen as deficient and by extension, language teaching may come to be seen as a failure.
Since 1992, Vivian Cook has argued that most multilingual speakers fall somewhere between minimal and maximal definitions. Cook calls these people multi-competent.