Bilingualism Matters in Luxembourg

Bilingualism Matters Luxembourg launches on Friday 5th March 2021. The branch will be hosted by the University of Luxembourg Faculty of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences. The Director is Dr Claudine Kirsch, Associate Professor in Languages, who is joined by a team of active researchers on multilingualism from social, educational and psychological perspectives. The branch aims to:

  • Generate high-quality research in the field of multilingualism in a range of disciplines and across disciplines
  • Provide scientific knowledge, information and advice to teachers, educators, university lecturers, parents, health and other professionals, managers in multilingual organizations, researchers, as well as policy-makers
  • Inform attitudes towards multilingualism of parents and professionals in education and public sectors
  • Promote multilingual education at home as well as in formal and non-formal education sectors
  • Facilitate the creation of materials to support the development of multiple languages and literacies in a range of contexts
  • Raise awareness of the role of multilingualism and multiculturalism in teaching and learning

The BM Luxembourg website will be launched soon – keep an eye on our social media and website for updates. In the meantime you can contact the team using this email address

See the full list of Bilingualism Matters branches around the world here.

Looking for Gaelic-speaking children to take part in research

A research team from the University of Edinburgh is looking at how bilingual children learn Gaelic and English and which areas of the languages are hard for them. The project is investigating how children in Gaelic-medium education (GME) in Scotland learn Gaelic in order to identify areas of difficulty for children with typical development and for those at risk of language impairment in these schools.

The study is looking to recruit children from Primary 2 to Primary 5 with typical development or whose parents, teachers and/or Additional Support Needs Co-ordinators (ASNCOs) have expressed concerns about their language development in their dominant language (be it English or Gaelic). The study is being conducted online by video conference during a time suitable for parents and children.

Read the letter to parents in Gaelic and English here (pdf)

Share the project flyer (pdf)

This work is led by Dr Vicky Chondrogianni, our Bilingualism Matters Edinburgh Programme Director for Bilingual Development and Developmental Language Disorders.

If you would like to take part, or would like more information, please contact Catriona crennie2@ed.ac.uk

The Joy of Languaging: In Celebration of Human Rights Day

Post by Mariel Deluna, PhD Education Student at University of Edinburgh & BM Edinburgh Volunteer

We celebrate Human Rights Day to honor the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted on December 10, 1948. The UDHR is itself proof of the power of language: it has been translated in over 500 languages and is the most translated document in the world. Today, the UDHR is part of the International Bill of Human Rights alongside two more documents that protect our civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. The section that protects our civil and political rights says that ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities, “shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.”

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Galician: A minority language in Spain

Post by María García Basanta, BM Edinburgh Volunteer

Galicia is a region in the northwest of Spain. This is a bilingual area where Spanish and Galician are both spoken and used in education, or by regional public organisations. The population is bilingual: some predominantly Spanish speakers, others predominantly Galician speakers.

The similarities between Spanish and Galician allow speakers to mix them. You will easily find someone speaking Spanish introducing Galician words into their sentences or the other way around. We speak of “castrapo” when someone uses a mix of Spanish with syntax, vocabulary and expressions taken from Galician.

Language switching (or ‘code switching’ as researchers call it) is also a widely spread phenomenon. People switch languages in the same conversation or depending on the environment or the person they are talking to. Most of these changes are mainly due to the age of the speakers or their background (Spanish is mainly used in cities and Galician in the countryside). When you move from one sphere to another, people will categorise you and talk to you in what they think is your majority language. It is like wearing an invisible tag: “I am from a young person from a city; therefore, people will talk to me in Spanish”.

Most language choices made daily, such as mixing or switching, are due to stereotypes and prejudices associated with Galician. This was inherited from Franco’s dictatorship when Galician was forbidden. Many prejudices and bad connotations appeared at the time to discourage the use of the language. This misinformation has outlived previous generations and sadly remains among the population.

The situation affects the language choices families make with children. Parents often do not choose Galician as the language they speak with their children. Young people are widely addressed in Spanish. Why do grandparents, parents and entire families speak Galician among themselves but in Spanish to the children? Is the fear that existed during the dictatorship? Is it because of prejudices and stereotypes?

I grew up with two languages, but mainly one was spoken to me: Spanish. My mum came from a city where she spoke Spanish and she used that language with me. My dad tried to speak Galician at home; however, he was a minority.

My education was bilingual Galician-Spanish and a determinant factor of my Galician skills. Approximately seventy-eighty per cent of my subjects were taught in Galician and the rest in Spanish. When I was in secondary school, the government started a trend of restrictions that reduced Galician exposure to a maximum of fifty per cent of the curriculum. But that, at least, allowed me to maintain a balanced exposure to both languages at school. If it were not because Galician is compulsory in the educational curriculum in the region, most of the young population would not speak it fluently or at all.

I believe we need to break all the negative tendencies, language choices and prejudices. My most used language might be English or Spanish since I moved abroad, but Galician is the language of my home, my family, my culture, my education, and a big part of me.

Outside Galicia we feel “morriña”, a feeling of sorrow when being away of our homeland, and only our own language has a word to describe that feeling. There is a strong regional feeling, we have our own culture and traditions that are linked to the language. If we lose one, we will lose the other. We need a change in the region, in the population, in the families’ language choices. Inform families of the benefits of raising children bilingually, of speaking a minority language. Help families avoid choosing only Spanish just because they mistakenly believe “it will be better for their future”. What is it going to happen to Galician in fifty years if children and young people do not speak the language? We need to break what we have inherited over the years and let the language grow, not disappear.

In Galicia, the word “lingua” means both tongue and language. It is said that Galicians are so lazy that we have a “lingua” and we do not use it. How can our language survive with that attitude?

Accent Positivity

Post by By Maria Dokovova, BM Edinburgh Volunteer

One aspect of bilingualism that often flies under the radar is people’s accents. The “not what you say, but how you say it”.

English language academics have often defined bilingualism as the ability to pass for a monolingual in each of the languages. [1, 2, 3]  However, it is one of the earliest and some of the more recent definitions that emphasise the fluid aspect of people’s accents and thankfully don’t require people to erase their identities to be counted as bilinguals. [4, 5]

You don’t need to look far to see the impact of the strict bilingualism definitions. Indeed, the foreign language learning outcomes listed by the Bulgarian Ministry of Education expect high school students to use a native-like accent in their chosen foreign language. The Ministry diplomatically refrains from specifying which native accents are acceptable. As someone who has attended a Bulgarian high-school, something tells me that regional native accents or an accent that matches the students’ social class within their second language might be discouraged by their teachers. Of course, I would love it if I was proved wrong!

The more insidious impact of this philosophy lies in the feelings of shame and inadequacy that it breeds among foreign language learners. Most people I know who have tried to speak a foreign language are immediately faced with how different they sound from the “native” standard. Moreover, second language accents are a mockery staple, especially in a classroom full of teenagers. This results in unwillingness to speak, or in people harboring shame in the failure to change something that is inextricably linked to their identity.

Changing our accent is linked to accepting a new identity. Fellow second language English speakers have asked me countless times to help them get rid of their Bulgarian accent. And why not? If your native accent will lower your score in standardized language testing, lead to lower levels of trust 6, and lower intelligibility 7 then frankly, I might want to consider changing my accent as well!

And so I have, actually. I still remember how alien it felt when I was in high-school in Bulgaria. Every time I tried to adopt an English ‘received pronunciation’ twist, I felt like I was lying to everyone by trying to be someone I am not. However, later in my life, when I was immersed in an environment that led me to rapidly grow as a person, I effortlessly absorbed the accent of the young US women I was surrounded by and whom I ended up identifying with. So, every time I get a compliment for not sounding like someone who identifies as Bulgarian, I take that as a reflection of the person’s values rather than a compliment on the effort that I didn’t actually put into changing my accent.

There is so much more to be said on this topic and we want to encourage everyone to share their perspective and experiences online using this hashtag: #accentpositivity

For now I just want to challenge the reader to try the following exercise. [Disclaimer: I do this exercise regularly, because I need it too: challenging feelings and assumptions that arise automatically after years of societal conditioning is not wrong because it feels uncomfortable.] Consider these questions and how they make you feel: What if people’s accents are just an element of their identity? What if my accent is just an element of my identity? What if they are not a moral choice, or a failure at tongue gymnastics? For the sake of this mental exercise, what does it feel like to accept people’s accents with positivity for what they are?

As a society we are already trying not to treat people poorly because of their skin colour, size, sexuality, gender identity, religion, social class or place of origin. All of these facets can find a way to express themselves in people’s accents and voices. Do we want to encourage their erasure? Or can we adjust to society’s expectations to embrace the myriad wonderful accents our individual identities have created?

[1] Bloomfield, L. (1933), Language, H. Holt, New York.

[2] Huston, N. (2002), Losing North: Musings on Land, Tongue and Self, McArthur, Toronto.

[3] Thiery, C. (1978), “True Bilingualism and Second-language Learning”, in Gerver, D. and Wallace Sinaiko, H. (Eds.), Language Interpretation and Communication, Springer US, Boston, MA, pp. 145–153.

[4] Haugen, E. (1956), Bilingualism in the Americas: A Bibliography and Research Guide, American Dialect Society.

[5] de Bot, K. and Jaensch, C. (2015), “What is special about L3 processing?*”, Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 130–144.

[6] Foucart, A., Santamaría-García, H. and Hartsuiker, R. (2017), “First impression matters. Impact of a foreign accent on cognitive processes.”, presented at the Conference on Multilingualism, Groningen, the Netherlands, p. 33.

[7] van Wijngaarden, S.J., Steeneken, H.J.M. and Houtgast, T. (2002), “Quantifying the intelligibility of speech in noise for non-native talkers”, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Vol. 112 No. 6, pp. 3004–3013.

Bilingualism and Literacy Development

By Candice Mathers, PhD Candidate in Linguistics & English Language, University of Edinburgh

This October we celebrate Bilingual Child Month. A bilingual child knows two or more languages, which can offer tremendous insights into multiple cultures. There are many studies surrounding the benefits of bilingualism and methods to teach infants and children multiple languages. We know that language learning stimulates the mind, improves concentration and multitasking abilities, supports creativity, and builds strong social interaction skills. Bilingualism also has benefits as an adult. Multiple language use improves competitiveness in the job market and can help an individual to stay mentally stronger for longer.

One of the most important aspects of development for bilingual children is the development of literacy. We understand literacy as the ability to process the structures of a language and to understand the purpose and meaning of written language. Reading is particularly essential for a child’s present and future academic success. Children that experience difficulties with reading may never overcome them, resulting in poor academic performance. Learning to read is a challenge for all children, regardless of whether they are learning to read in one language or two. It takes years of teaching and practice for a child to become a skilled and fluent reader. Children have to learn how letters (orthography), sounds (phonology), and meaning (semantics) relate to one another. Some bilingual children may learn two languages from birth (simultaneous bilingualism), while others learn one language from birth and add a second a few years later (sequential bilingualism). Neither approach is better than the other and bilingual children will regardless have two sound systems, vocabularies and grammars to work with.

HOW DO BILINGUAL CHILDREN LEARN TO READ IN TWO LANGUAGES?

When bilingual children learn to read, they compare the differences and similarities of their two languages. This helps them to understand both languages in depth. For example, they will notice that their two languages have different rules for creating words and meaning, and that we can name the same thing but it will be written in different ways. But being bilingual does not necessarily slow down or confuse children when it comes to reading. In fact, bilingual children can even show some advantages over their monolingual peers when developing important reading skills. Research shows that bilingual learners may actually transfer orthographic, phonological, and semantic skills between their languages, which actually supports their ability to read in both languages.

WHAT DOES RESEARCH ON BILINGUALISM AND LITERACY EXAMINE AND WHY?

Research on the bilingual child’s reading progress tries to answer several questions, such as:

  • How do children learn to read in different languages?
  • What mental and linguistic factors help create fluent reading in a second language?
  • What challenges do bilingual children face?
  • How can we support their reading development in both languages?

Researchers can test language skills in children with the help of clever and fun tasks, for example by asking children to name pictures, give antonyms and synonyms to words, break apart words into sounds, or remove sounds in a word. Understanding how growing up bilingual affects children’s language skills and reading outcomes can help us understand which language and reading skills parents and educators can focus on to promote reading success.

HOW CAN WE SUPPORT A CHILD’S INTEREST IN READING IN THEIR LANGUAGES?

There are several positive methods for encouraging reading skills in the home and in school. Below is a list of possible activities that parents and educators can use to help promote reading development, though it is far from exhaustive. Some methods may work better than others for each individual child but with some trial and error, each child can become a successful bilingual reader.

  • Begin reading to your children as early as possible. Even when you think they’re not paying attention you’re still helping to establish a reading habit.
  • Make sure your children see you reading regularly and that they are aware of how important reading is to you.
  • Engage your child’s interests by finding books in both languages that focus on the topics they care about.
  • Consider bilingual books where both languages are used to tell a story. You can read the book in one language and ask the child to read in the other.
  • If your kids are already reading, talk to them about the books they are reading, and look for reading material that covers the same topics in the second language.
  • Try to find materials related to your family history and culture to give personal meaning to bilingual reading.
  • Don’t make books the only source of reading material. Look for other things to read such as magazines, newspapers, online articles, puzzles, and board games.
  • Recruit the help of family or friends who speak the second language. Look for opportunities for your child to read to others, such as younger siblings and older relatives, in either language.

It is important to remember that sometimes a young bilingual reader can get things a little mixed up. The journey to bilingual literacy is individual of course, but with encouragement, time, and practice, bilingual children can learn to read in both of their languages.

If you have any questions about raising bilingual children, or encouraging language learning, please get in touch.

Much Language Such Talk – launch of new BM podcast

We are delighted to launch a new Bilingualism Matters podcast, Much Language Such Talk, which will release fortnightly episodes on bi- and multilingualism and what it means to speak more than one language.

Through engaging interviews with researchers, experts, parents, teachers and much more, each podcast episode will explore different topics, such as language change, how we learn languages at different ages, bilingualism and language disorders, language identity and culture, minority languages, language policies, and language education.

The podcast is produced by our wonderful volunteers at Bilingualism Matters Edinburgh, and we look forward to going on this exciting language journey with them.

Visit the Much Language Such Talk website

European Day of Languages: reflecting on European identity, freedom of movement and the role of linguistic exchange

Post by Vittoria Moresco, PhD Student, University of Edinburgh

Photo by Lukas on Unsplash

Since 2001, when it was jointly introduced by the Council of Europe and the European Union, on 26th September of each year we celebrate the European Day of Languages. Involving institutions as well as the public from its 45 participating countries, it is a day dedicated to the celebration of Europe’s linguistic diversity and the endorsement of language learning and linguistic exchange.

It would feel somewhat contradictory to write about anything European without acknowledging that we find ourselves at a time when our “European identity” is undeniably more fractured than it has been since maybe World War II. If existing in a post-Brexit Europe wasn’t enough to intensify the national-vs-European dichotomy, the COVID-19 pandemic adds yet another layer to this divisive discourse that could tear us apart. In the midst of this crisis, we have seen a number of examples of national interests suppressing the concepts of European solidarity and collaboration our Union was founded on – from Germany’s denial of medical equipment shipments to Switzerland in March’s mask hysteria, to the EU’s reluctant response to Italy’s plight. Moreover, with the importance of freedom of movement being undermined and used as pawn in political negotiations after the Brexit referendum, the threat to our physical freedom has been made even more painfully tangible by the – albeit necessary – lockdown restrictions and isolation measures.

In this climate, raising awareness of the European linguistic landscape might seem to be irrelevant to the very poignant condition of Europe as a continent as well as a social construct. But as an organisation grounded on linguistic research, the idea that the languages you speak and interact with can shape your perspective and identity is a very familiar one. Research shows that learning foreign languages can boost one’s empathy, while also promoting communication skills by enhancing perspective taking. While your native language provides you the starting point to develop your identity through interaction, with linguistic exchange comes the possibility to broaden your horizons – both literally as well as socially – by facilitating the way in which you are able to see the world through many different lenses, some of which you might wish to make your own.

In an increasingly nationalistic environment, celebrating the European day of languages seems this year more important than ever, as it encourages an awareness of our diversity and the opportunities for growth that come with it. It encourages us to abandon fear-driven isolation tendencies within ourselves, as well as nationalistic and isolationist attitudes on a larger political and socio-economic scale, in favour of a supportive and collaborative exchange.

May you spend this day reflecting upon the joy and growth arising from your interaction with other languages and cultures in your own life, I know I will.

References:

1. https://edl.ecml.at/Home/Whatisit/tabid/1760/language/en-GB/Default.aspx

2. https://ettg.eu/2020/05/11/european-identity-and-the-test-of-covid-19/

3. https://www.thelocal.com/20200309/germany-blocks-protective-masks-headed-for-switzerland

4. https://rusi.org/commentary/europe-coronavirus-response-selfish-member-states-and-active-institutions

5. Fan, S. P., Liberman, Z., Keysar, B., Kinzler, K. D. (2015). ‘The Exposure Advantage: Early Exposure to a Multilingual Environment Promotes Effective Communication’, in Psychological Science, 26(7), 1090-1097.

Celebrating the International Day of Sign Languages

To mark the International Day of Sign Languages on 23rd September 2020, we are delighted to publish our first video in British Sign Language (BSL), by Alison Hendry, British Sign Language Development Officer at the University of Edinburgh. The video provides an introduction to Bilingualism Matters and introduces a second video of our first recorded event with BSL interpretation (English transcript available here).

Introduction to Bilingualism Matters & June 2020 webinar in BSL
Bilingualism Matters Edinburgh June 2020 Webinar with BSL translation and captions

Find out more about the International Day of Sign Languages at the United Nations website.

The International Day of Sign Languages is an unique opportunity to support and protect the linguistic identity and cultural diversity of all deaf people and other sign language users. […] Sign languages are fully fledged natural languages, structurally distinct from the spoken languages. […]

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes and promotes the use of sign languages. It makes clear that sign languages are equal in status to spoken languages and obligates states parties to facilitate the learning of sign language and promote the linguistic identity of the deaf community.

United Nations

The Importance of Language Learning and Maintenance amid Brexit and COVID-19: Evidence from Successful EAL Practice

Post by Mattia Zingaretti, PhD Researcher in Linguistics & English Language, University of Edinburgh

The following thoughts and reflections are based on and inspired by the presentations given by Prof Antonella Sorace, Dr Naomi Flynn and Dr Yvonne Foley at the recent webinar ‘The new normal for languages at home, school and in the community’, co-organised by Bilingualism Matters (BM) and Scotland’s National Centre for Languages (SCILT).

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