“Breed Bilingual!” at the Edinburgh fringe

Antonella Sorace and Susan Morrison at the "Breed Bilingual" Edinburgh fringe show

What happens when you pack a world expert on bilingualism, a professional comedian and 80 enthusiastic audience members into a wind-battered yurt at the world’s largest arts festival?

We headed to the “Breed Bilingual” show in St. Andrew’s Square to find out.

On 17 August, Professor Antonella Sorace was joined by comedian Susan Morrison to discuss, debate, and disseminate the latest research into what bilingualism can do for us. Professor Sorace began by outlining the research behind the claim that bilingualism, far from confusing a child, can lead to cognitive, linguistic, and social advantages.

For example, did you know that when a baby is exposed to multiple languages during the final trimester of pregnancy, that baby will come into the world already sensitive to the different rhythms of those languages[1]? A far cry from the confusion that some people will arise if the child’s brain is “overloaded” by hearing too many languages too early in life.

“A real dialogue between academics and the public”

Questions from the audience ranged from “what if one parent does not speak the other parent’s language?” (Professor Sorace advises taking the opportunity to learn as much of the language as you can – it looks like there may be cognitive advantages even when you learn a language later in life , and it will definitely help with family dynamics); to “that’s all great for the bilingual households, but what can monolingual families do?” (one possibility is to try and take advantage of any multilingual child care facilities in your area).

The show was part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas in which leading academics lead lively discussions on the controversial and cutting-edge research in their fields. Engaging with the public in this way is hugely beneficial not only for the audience but for the academics presenting their work.

As Professor Sorace commented: “I find events like the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas both enjoyable and rewarding. There is a real dialogue with the audience and a sense in which information is exchanged in both directions – so people learn more about the facts and benefits of bilingualism and I learn more about the many different situations and types of bilingualism in real life.”

Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas was organised by the Beltane Public Engagement Network .
The shows were hosted by stand-up comic Susan Morrison .

A huge thanks to everyone involved!

[1] Byers-Heinlein, K., Burns, T. C., & Werker, J. F. (2010). The roots of bilingualism in newborns. Psychological Science, 21, 343-348