Sceptics and believers – or, how to find a path through confounding variables in bilingualism research

Dr Thomas Bak Thomas H Bak is a reader in Human Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. In addition to his work with Bilingualism Matters, he is a member of the Centre for Cognitive Ageing & Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE) and the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences (CCBS).

Parents often tend to be impressed by their children and I am certainly no exception. Today at the breakfast table my wife asked my 3-year old daughter what is in the spotty bag she was holding in her hands. My daughter’s answer was: “I am not entirely sure”. This made me speechless: not only because of the rather fancy word “entirely”, but also because suddenly I realised that this short sentence expresses something that I have been missing a lot in the recent “bilingualism debate”. [Read more…]

Bilingualism Matters at the American Association for the Advancement of Science

On 13 February, Bilingualism Matters Director Prof. Antonella Sorace delivered a seminar to the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) – the world’s largest general scientific society. The seminar was titled “Bilingualism Matters” in recognition of the successful engagement programme that Prof. Sorace has helped to develop through the Edinburgh Centre and network of international Bilingualism Matters branches.

During the seminar, Prof. Sorace discussed ongoing research being carried out by experts at the University of Edinburgh’s Psychology and Linguistics departments. The research, focusing on the cognitive benefits of bilingualism, including in older learners – has been widely reported in the UK and international media.





Research participants wanted: Italian-English bilinguals

Scientists working on the EU funded AThEME project are looking to recruit Italian-English bilingual adults for their research into how people process multiple languages.

Participant requirements

  • native speakers of Italian (i.e., since you were born)
  • have lived in Scotland or other English speaking country for at least the past three years
  • aged between 18 – 40 inclusive
  • have no history of hearing or language impairment
  • do not wear contact lenses. If you wear glasses, please specify what type of lenses you use in your contact e-mail.

Take part in the study

In this experiment, participants will take part an eye-tracking experiment at the computer (a small camera will measure your eye movements as you look at the screen), together with a test and a questionnaire.

Testing takes approximately 1 hour 30 minutes and takes place at the University of Edinburgh’s Psychology Building (7 George Square, central campus).

Participants will be paid £12 (cash payment) in return for contributing to this research.

Testing will take place throughout February. For further information or to register your interest in taking part, please contact lead researcher Michela Bonfieni

Edinburgh Exchange on Multilingualism and Business

On 18th January, Bilingualism Matters and the University of Edinburgh Careers Service hosted the second Edinburgh Exchange, on the theme of multilingualism and business. We explored the skills and attributes developed by people with more than one language, identified some of the hidden benefits they can bring to business, and how businesses and the University can learn from each other about the practical opportunities and challenges of working with a multilingual workforce.

The audience welcomed speakers from Iberdrola, Rabbie’s Tours/Edinburgh Tourism Action Group, and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, as well as the Principal of the University, Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea. The outcomes of the roundtable discussions which followed will inform University and industry strategies on supporting multilingualism.

More information: Edinburgh Exchange 2016 – final summary report (pdf)

Sharing a language: bonding with some, excluding others?

Mimo CaenepeelDr. Mimo Caenepeel is the founder of Research Communication Scotland, which supports researchers in articulating their ideas clearly and effectively. Having grown up in Belgium, Mimo has lived in the US, Canada and France as well as Scotland. For more information, visit Mimo’s website.

I can get passionate about the advantages of bilingualism — not just the perceived advantages, but also the less-immediately-obvious advantages that are supported by solid research. Being bilingual feels enriching and has never held me back. Hearing ‘foreign languages’ (i.e. languages other than English) in Scotland or other English-speaking countries gives me a small but very real thrill, irrespective of whether I understand what is being said. Is it a good thing to be able to speak more than one language? The answer to that question feels like a no-brainer to me, if only because bilingualism turns out to be good for – amongst other things – the brain. [Read more…]

Knowing multiple languages can improve recovery from stroke

People who speak more than one language are more likely to recover from a stroke than monolingual patients, research suggests.

Researchers have found that people who speak multiple languages are twice as likely to recover their mental functions after stroke as those who speak one language.

The study, co-authored by Bilingualism Matters Deputy Director Dr. Thomas Bak, gathered data from 608 stroke patients in Hyderabad, India. The patients were assessed on their attention skills and the ability to retrieve and organise information.

The researchers found about 40 per cent of bilingual patients had normal mental function following a stroke, compared with 20 per cent of single language patients. [Read more…]

Språkdagen 2015: Norwegian Language Conference

November 18 2015: Prof. Antonella Sorace was an invited speaker at this year’s Norwegian Language Conference, focusing on the theme of Language Diversity in Tomorrow’s Schools.

Prof Sorace spoke about the importance of multilingualism for business, from a UK perspective. The event was followed up by press coverage in national newspaper Dagbladet. You can read the full Norwegian article here


Lingo Flamingo launches in Glasgow

Lingo Flamingo logoBilingualism Matters Deputy Director Dr. Thomas Bak and PhD student Maddie Long are attending the official launch of Lingo Flamingo on Saturday 12th December in Glasgow.

Lingo Flamingo is a new Scottish social enterprise offering tailored foreign language workshops to older adults and to people with dementia. The language sessions will be lead by refugees and international students, using their language expertise to help vulnerable adults in Scotland. The aim is to counter the stereotype that older adults and those with dementia are incapable of learning new information, whilst also providing a form of cognitive therapy.

Dr Thomas Bak will give a short speech at the sold-out event before Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, delivers the keynote address. After speeches, guests at the launch will take part in two taster language sessions in French and Bulgarian to get first hand experience of how the project works.

Dr. Bak says: “I’m delighted to be a part of this excellent initiative which combines my research interests in bilingualism, cognitive ageing, and neurology. We know from research that language learning seems to be implicated in providing some protection against cognitive decline, so these sessions can only be beneficial to those taking part. It’s a win-win for everyone involved – the students, the teachers, and ultimately Scotland as a whole.”

For more information about Lingo Flamingo visit their website

“The monoglot ceiling”: article in Financial Times

The Financial Times has published an article on multilingualism in business, citing Bilingualism Matters Director Prof. Antonella Sorace. The article follows on from last week’s Business Breakfast, hosted by the Financial Times and Pearson and featuring Prof. Sorace as part of a distinguished panel.

Read the full article here (subscription may be required)

Financial Times 2/12/2015

Pearson English have kindly made the video of Prof. Sorace’s presentation at the Business Breakfast event available online via their youtube chanel. Watch the video here.

The impact of bilingualism on cognitive outcome after stroke

Selection of media reports on research by Dr Thomas Bak on bilingualism and stroke recovery.
Alladi, S., Bak, T. H., Mekala, S., Rajan, A., Chaudhuri, J. R., Mioshi, E., … & Kaul, S. (2015). Impact of Bilingualism on Cognitive Outcome After Stroke. Stroke, STROKEAHA-115.