Bilingualism Matters Blog

Welcome to the Bilingualism Matters Edinburgh blog section! We invite a wide range of contributors to get involved and stimulate discussion about bilingualism and language learning. As such, not all opinions given here represent the views of Bilingualism Matters.

Growing Up Multilingual

Post by Miranda Garralda Wong

It’s becoming increasingly common nowadays that children from primary and secondary schools are engaging with and learning to use more than one language. Across the world, policies have been shaped so to encourage the next generation to think outside of the box and  be open to the possibilities of a different linguistic universe, and to therefore be conscious from an early age, of the cross-cultural other.

Whilst volunteering with Bilingualism Matters, I began to understand why. Bilingualism, or multilingualism, is not only cognitively beneficial because of the increased awareness of other linguistic worlds. In fact, research has shown that children who are able to speak more than one language tend to possess advantageous attention-switching skills and be strong communicators, due to their abilities to intuitively shift from one language to another. Bilinguals are also capable of observing other more subtle methods of communication which exist in all languages. For instance, the non-language specific method of reading body language and interpreting a person’s emotions and feelings. It is not to say that monolingual children are at any disadvantage, in fact, as I will expand on my personal experience as a trilingual, being multilingual can be difficult for many reasons. But to be given the abilities and means to become a bilingual should be a choice available to all children, because its benefits are truly life-changing, and understandably useful in the globalised world we live in today.

I myself grew up in a multilingual home. My Mother is Chinese, and she spoke to me in Cantonese. My Father is Spanish, so he spoke to me primarily in Spanish. And I went to an English-speaking international school. Being based in Hong Kong, my school encouraged me to pick up Mandarin too. So all in all, I was writing, reading, speaking and listening to this colourful spectrum of languages, though without ever realising what the term ‘multilingual’ meant, or the fact that I was multilingual.

I’d be walking home with my Father on the streets after school where he could be talking to me in Spanish, but eavesdropping constantly into the conversations of two Cantonese-speaking school girls next to us, then bumping into my English teacher, to whom I address and converse with briefly about our final assignment deadline.

Sometimes, as many other multilinguals experience, the eavesdropping becomes difficult to control. Without consciously realising, I could be focusing too much into the thoughts of others, and forget where I’m going or failing to recall what I was thinking about beforehand. Then, there’s the confused reaction I got sometimes, for sounding perfectly local when speaking Cantonese, and then being pointed out for looking different from native speakers.

It’s not so surprising that I started questioning my identity from the age of 10, or that I struggled to fit in one singular national identity or stereotypical framework. Growing up multilingual had its disadvantages – it was hard to decide who I was, let alone where I wanted to go after high school. Needless to say, for a few years, I became quite introverted. I say now that those years were really important for me to discover where my boundaries were, and observe closely when and where I could say or do certain things that were acceptable in one culture, but not in another.

There was also a phase in teenage-hood when I desperately tried to fit into the group identity of my Cantonese-speaking side. Whether it be with family, friends or strangers, I remember wanting to be liked, and somehow found myself submitting to a more demure, naïve caricature, to maximise their acceptance of my differences.  Only until university did I realise what I had been doing – the saying that language could shape your identity was certainly true, and I felt at that point that for each language I spoke, I had a different identity. Perhaps in some alternate universe I could have become a great actress. But maybe having 4 different roles is enough for now.

As a 21 year old, I can say multilingualism is more than an academic trait. Learning a language requires a kind of determination that can only truly be achieved when you identify with the culture that created it.

If anything, I share my experience to connect with others who feel similarly, and to show others what it meant to me to realise that I was growing up to be multilingual. My experience may be different from others who learn an additional language without being ethnically tied to its culture, but whether a language is learned academically or inevitably due to a child’s multi-cultural upbringing, there is one fact which remains consistently true: The greatest gift of being multilingual is the psychological maturity and personal growth that comes with it. There are moments in life when I realise one thing after another, and it adds up to shape who I am and who I will be as an adult. The realisation that there is a wider world to discover exploded like confetti in my mind and allowed me to see the world through a different lens.

What is the Influence of Bilingualism on Development for Autistic and Non-Autistic Children?

Post by Dr Rachael Davis

Here at the University of Edinburgh, our new research project is underway to find out whether hearing or speaking more than one language influences children’s development, and importantly, whether these effects are different for autistic and non-autistic children.

Why are we doing this research? There are two main reasons. First, although there is general agreement from research that growing up in a bilingual environment does not have a negative influence on skills such as language development (and could even provide an advantage across a range of social and communication areas), there is less clarity around other so-called ‘bilingual advantages’, [Read more…]

From the lab: how artificial grammar systems can help identify speech and language impairments

Dr. Diego Gabriel Krivochen works at the University of Reading on artificial grammars, as part of a group led by Prof. Douglas Saddy. We chatted to him about how they are currently used and how their future development could revolutionise diagnosis of speech and language impairments.

1.      What is an artificial grammar system?

[Read more…]

Learning Foreign Languages (Nearly) Naturally

This article is part of the international bloggers event “Learning foreign languages (nearly) naturally”, organised by the blog ‘Le Français illustré’ (French language illustrated).

As a French creative practitioner based in Scotland for over 20 years and working with children ever since, I can safely say that:
– Constantly juggling between English and French languages, I am bilingual.
– I have a passion for education
– I have an equal passion for sharing my language and culture.
– And I love making things (especially puppets!)

So after qualifying in Childcare and Education, I created my own professional path and set up a bilingual puppet theatre company. The aim: introduce children to my language in the most natural way I could think of – through French talking puppets. [Read more…]

Where Language and Identity Intersect

Post by Elie Abraham (they/them)
Composer, Sound Designer, Voice Actor,
Escape Designer, Comedian, Queer Activist

My experience with language has been quite peculiar. Imagine: I grew up as a first-generation child two to immigrant parents from different countries. They spoke to me in their native tongues, Finnish and Hebrew, but to each other in their common language, English. After a daycare teacher threatened my mother 20+ years ago with “Your child will never learn English” when picking up my younger sister, she decided to quit speaking Finnish to us. My father, a much more stubborn man, did not only refuse to stop speaking to us in his native language, Hebrew, but sent us to a private school where we would continue learning it. [Read more…]

Euskaldun: Language and the Basque Identity

Growing up in the Basque Country, everyone is acutely aware of languages. Whether you speak Basque or not, whether you’re enrolled in Basque medium education or Spanish medium education, whether you choose to talk to your children in Basque or Spanish, or both, there are many decisions involving language that one has to take from early on. From big life decisions such as your children’s schooling to small everyday choices: do you greet in Spanish or Basque when you walk into a shop? That depends. [Read more…]

‘It feels right for us’ – experiences of a multilingual family

Post by Susanne Obenaus, SLP & multilingual mother

As a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP), I always felt confident in advising multilingual parents on how to include all their languages into the family’s everyday life. I followed official guidelines, performed standardized tests and handed out leaflets describing multilingual upbringing of children.

And then we had our children – raised trilingual – and my perception changed. [Read more…]

Our World Is Colourful! A language celebration kindergarten project

Post by Eva-maria Schnelten

St. Agnes Kindergarten in my hometown of Lastrup, Germany, embarked on a 7- week project called “Our World Is Colourful” in April 2016. In the context of growing tensions on a global scale regarding refugees and migration, this project was developed to help the children within the kindergarten understand each other’s backgrounds and everything that goes with that: obvious differences like languages, but also subtle cultural differences like playing games. [Read more…]

Hola! Early years Spanish programme in Glasgow

In February 2018, Antonella Sorace visited Indigo Childcare in Glasgow to give a talk to parents and staff about bilingualism and language learning. They have recently launched a Spanish Programme, which is proving popular with both the children and the parents. We asked them some questions about their programme for our Spring 2018 newsletter.

  1. What are the aims of the Spanish Programme at Indigo Childcare?

At the Indigo group, we aim to offer outstanding quality of learning and play experiences for our children and families. In the geographical areas we operate in, it is particularly important that we are focused on closing the attainment gap. For our part that means ensuring we provide the highest quality of early years’ experience and exploring creative ways to strengthen the development of children. Our programme aims to: [Read more…]

Unlocking the Puzzle of Multilingualism

Project child participation leaflet

Post by Tracey Hughes

Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to express their views freely and for these views to be heard[1].  This may not sound particularly ground-breaking but, following tradition, adults can often find persuasive reasons for not giving children’s views their due weight.  ‘Child voice’ and child participation is often see as optional and a gift which can be bestowed upon children and young people.  In reality, it is a legal obligation which is the right of the child.  Assumptions are often made that children cannot be consulted regarding their views and experiences because they may be unable to articulate them appropriately.  In other words, in the past, research has tended to be on children, rather than with children.  I recently read an interesting comment regarding this issue, and ways to overcome participation, which concluded that if we cannot communicate effectively with children perhaps we should be questioning our own competence (rather than theirs)[2].

Research on bilingualism often focuses on the use of parental questionnaires, as a proxy for children’s experiences, or makes use of cognitive testing and standardised measures of linguistic ability.  [Read more…]