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.

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. There is a lot more to multilingual families and life than we professionals are aware of. For instance, there are cultural differences (imagine a punctual Austrian faced with Chilean time management), values and traditions we ourselves have been brought up with (like who will bring the Christmas presents: Santa or Christkind), religious beliefs and of course different parenting models.

At first we did great, according to the books. When we stuck to OPOL (one-person-one-language) rigorously, we got lots of positive comments from my colleagues on how well we followed this method. Some time later, we moved to the UK and a second child had joined our journey; suddenly our language management went berserk. We started to mix languages, OPOL was not on our radar any more. I found myself being affected by language attrition (a decline in native language proficiency), not having a lot of German speakers around me any more. Whenever I was lost for German words I would fill the gaps with any other language that came into my mind.

When my son told me “Mama, du musst wirklich dein aleman practisen”(“Mommy, you should really practice your German!”  where ‘aleman’ is the Spanish word for German, and ‘practisen’ is from the English word ‘to practice’ but conjugated as you would in German), I felt guilty. Had we messed up, was this what I had always warned multilingual parents about? I struggled with juggling two languages, whereas my husband stuck to Spanish. We had to rethink our language usage as a family. We decided to stick to our native languages at home but would switch to the family language as soon as everybody was in the same room.

This is our way, and it feels right for us. Does it always work out? No! There are times we mix languages, either for fun or for practical purposes. Our language switching also gives my children space and freedom for metalanguage discussions like: Why do Spanish people use a tongue-tip /r/ and why doesn’t it matter how to produce an /r/ in German? Is there an equivalent for the word “Verschlimmbesserung”? (No, there isn’t.) My children became very aware of any foreign languages they hear, learning new words from my husband’s colleagues at the university and even sharing some words of their native languages with other children at nursery. My son’s desire is to learn Mandarin, just for the sake of speaking all 3 of the most-spoken-languages in the world (and to become a famous football player, but that’s not the topic).

I am glad that there is more of a public discussion around the myths surrounding the topic of multilingualism, and multilingual families and professionals connect through these discussions. I am certain that some of the debates generated in this context will help me to improve the treatment of my young patients and avoid missed and mistaken identities in the field of speech language therapy. The more we talk about it, the more people will become aware, including professionals working with multilingual families.

Has my personal experience changed or influenced my work as an SLP? It certainly has made me realize that patient history and a multilingual profile are not getting enough attention. We focus on things like standardized tests and their outcome, the patient’s medical history etc. but the importance of details like language usage in the family, social values of languages and cultural standpoints are often overlooked as significant sources of information for our work with multilingual families.

 

 

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…]

A’ cumail taic ri cloinn ann am foghlam tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig le mi-rianan cànain. An tèid agaibh air cuideachadh?

Tha pròiseact rannsachaidh ùr a’ dol an-dràsta aig Oilthigh Dhùn Èideann a tha ag amas air goireasan measaidh a chruthachadh a chuidicheas tidsearan agus leasaichean cànain is cainnt (SLTs) ann a bhith a’ tomhas na sgilean cànain aig clann a tha am Foghlam tro Mheadhan na Gàidhlig (FTMG).  ’S e bhith a’ cruthachadh goireasan a bheireas taic do chloinn le mi-rianan cànain ann am FTMG amas fad-ùine a’ phròiseact.

Bu chòir cuimhneachadh nach eil a bhith a’ cleachdadh barrachd is aon chànan le do phàiste ag adhbharachadh mi-rianan le cànan is cainnt.  Ma ’s e ’s gu bheilear a’ measadh no a’ toirt seachad cobhair do phàiste a tha dà-chànanach, tha e cudromach gun tèid sgrùdadh a dhèanamh air, agus spèis a thoirt seachad dhan dà chànan. [Read more…]

Supporting Children with Language Disorders who are in Gaelic-medium Education. Can you help?

A new research project is underway at Edinburgh University, aiming to develop materials for teachers and Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) to assess the language abilities of children who are in the early stages of Gaelic-medium primary Education (GME).    The long-term goal is to create resources to help support children who have language disorders in GME.

It is important to remember that speaking and using more than one language with your child will not cause speech or language disorders.  If a bilingual child is being assessed or treated for a speech or language disorder, both their languages should be assessed and respected. [Read more…]

Celebrating International Mother Language Day: Refugee Languages Welcome!

©iStock.com/Professor25

Post by Eva Hanna & Eva-maria Schnelten

Imagine you are forced to leave your country with only what you can carry. You leave extended family, friends, and community behind, not knowing when you will see them again – if ever. You travel a perilous and uncertain journey, stalled along the way in refugee camps, waiting to learn where you and your children will be settled.

Now imagine you arrive in new country with a completely different culture and climate. The locals are mostly warm and welcoming and help you to learn their language. Your children begin school and receive support in learning to speak, read, and write; however, you notice that they are beginning to respond to you in the new language. One day at pick-up, the nursery teacher mentions that it might be better for you to use the school’s language at home. Though you are not very confident in the new language yourself, you want to do the best for your children. But the suggestion still pains you. [Read more…]

Language Loss and Maintenance in Migrant Families

Thomas Bak & Dina Mehmedbegovic

When I first met Dina Mehmedbegovic in September 2016 at the multilingualism panel of the European Commission in Brussels, I was impressed with her energy, expertise and enthusiasm. Since then we have been working together, integrating our respective fields of education and cognitive science. With time, I learned how her family and personal story, including different types of voluntary as well as forced migration, shaped her deep understanding of the psychological, cultural and linguistic challenges facing migrants. I cannot think of a better person to write a language-related blog for International Migrants Day.
Thomas H Bak, Co-Director Bilingualism Matters


‘Don’t speak to me in our language, when you pick me up from school’: Language loss and maintenance in migrant families

By Dina Mehmedbegovic, UCL

Today, 18th December is the UN Day of Migrants. On this day in 1990 UN signed the International Migrant Convention protecting the rights of migrants and their families. It took another 13 years for the Convention to reach the threshold needed for its implementation – acceptance by 20 countries. Its main aim is to protect human rights of currently around 250 million people identified as migrants world-wide. Not many are aware of this date and not many are aware that UNESCO rights of children include a right to education in mother tongue/home language. [Read more…]

Myths and Misconceptions in Multilingualism

©iStock.com/Giii

Post by Dr Thomas Bak, Co-director of Bilingualism Matters

In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and lifting of travel restrictions, Vienna become a favourite destination for Eastern Europeans keen to buy hitherto unavailable Western goods. My West German friend Wilhelm recalled a conversation with an East German colleague while looking at the frantic markets. “Poor Viennese”, said the East German, “those Eastern Europeans will buy everything and leave them with nothing”. “Lucky Viennese”, answered Wilhelm, “they are doing the business of their lifetime”. Obviously, their comments reflected different economic reality under which they grew up, but they illustrate rather well the general contrast between “limited resource” and “added value” models. [Read more…]