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…]

Bilingualism and cognitive functions in brain diseases: from dementia to stroke

Dr Thomas BakThomas 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).

Around 50 years ago, when I was growing up in Cracow (Poland) as a son of a Polish-speaking father and German-speaking mother, my parents decided, after a careful consideration, to prevent me from learning German, fearing that being bilingual could lead to negative consequences for my mental development. There were neither practical nor political reasons for this decision: my father was fluent in German and his father had studied in Vienna, as was usual for educated citizens of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Their decision was also not based on ignorance: as doctors, they had consulted what was the dominant academic view of the time. Psychologists, speech and language therapists as well as teachers were convinced that bilingualism diminishes children’s intelligence, confuses them and may even cause schizophrenia. It was also by no means a view confined to the former Soviet Block: I have met many people from all over the world growing up in the same time, whose parents made the same decision and this for very similar reasons. [Read more…]

Could you tell that I was not native when you first heard me speak?

This is a guest post from Hanan Ben Nafa.

Hanan is a 2nd year, PhD candidate in Sociolinguistics at Manchester Metropolitan University. She has been in the UK since 2009 when she moved for the purpose of pursuing her studies. The title of her PhD project is: ‘Code-Switching & Social identity construction among Arabic-English bilinguals’. You can read a recent publication by Hanan here

If you’ve ever spent time in Manchester, you’ll probably have noticed those 2 people sitting on the bus or in the cafe speaking some English, then switching to gibberish (or, in my case, Arabic). Well, they (we) are bilinguals: along with around 50% of the world’s population, we can speak more than one language and even switch languages mid-sentence if the context is right.

I’m a 26 year old, late Arabic-English bilingual (I learnt Arabic first, and English later on). As a speaker of Arabic, I’m far from unique in Manchester: Arabic, it turns out, is the second most spoken community language in Central Manchester, second only to Urdu (Multilingual Manchester, 2013). But every bilingual’s journey is different. And although I feel undoubtedly lucky to be bilingual, it also brings its own challenges – especially around identity.  [Read more…]

Learning My Spouse’s Language through My Children

I am a native speaker of American English married to a native speaker of Greek, raising two Swiss-born children in Scotland–we are a multinational, multilingual family!

Because we met almost two decades ago on American soil, my now-husband and I have always spoken English to each other. Visiting Greece frequently and listening to him speak Greek with friends and on the phone regularly gave me a good grasp of pronunciation and some basic phrases to use. So, for example, I could flawlessly order an iced espresso with no milk and no sugar at a café in Athens, or tell my mother-in-law that her lamb was delicious, or defend myself from relentless offers for second or third portions by my father-in-law at the dinner table.

Over the years, I did attend a few Modern Greek courses at whichever university I was currently attending, but I did not particularly enjoy classroom learning for this language. Nor did we attempt to speak Greek at home on a daily basis, as the path of least [conversational] resistance language was English. Perhaps I also took it for granted that Greek would always be there, when I was ready to fully embrace it. [Read more…]

From Spanish learner to volunteer Spanish teacher

I don’t remember when my love for languages first started, but I do remember the various exchange students my family hosted over the years, and I certainly remember when I myself spent a year as an exchange student in Argentina. During that period, I lived with two host families, attended two different high schools, and became absorbed in the country, its people and its culture. After that year in Argentina, I pretty much considered myself bilingual, although looking back I realise how much I still had to learn. My next adventure brought me to Spain, teaching English in multinational corporations, and of course, drastically improving my Spanish to the point where now I really am bilingual!

I arrived in Edinburgh in August 2014 as a Masters student in Developmental Linguistics. The course is fantastic, but I found that I really missed teaching. So when I heard about the Volunteer Language Assistant program in the City of Edinburgh schools, I jumped at the chance to teach Spanish to young people. [Read more…]

Bilingual siblings

Dr Sharon Unsworth

The following piece was first published as blog of the month in December 2014 on Meertalig.nl, an initiative promoting language learning and bilingualism in the Netherlands. Meertalig also hosts the Dutch branch of Bilingualism Matters as part of the EU-funded AThEME project.

Sharon Unsworth is Associate Professor of Second Language Acquisition at Radboud University Nijmegen where she teaches linguistics and carries out research into the language development of bilingual children (see her website for more information). She is also a member of the editorial board at Meertalig.nl

My daughter started school about a month ago. She’s absolutely loving it and is already making friends with some of the other children in her class. So far, so good then. Whilst the usual sense of trepidation common to most new experiences might be waning, I must admit that there’s a part of the bilingual mum in me that can’t help worry about the effect attending (Dutch only) school might have on my daughter’s English. [Read more…]

New Scots: Integrating Refugees in Scotland’s Communities

new scots coverBilingualism Matters has been chatting to Mandy Watts from Education Scotland, who works as a Development Officer for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). Part of Mandy’s job involves contributing to the “New Scots” strategy for refugees, which has been drawn up by the Scottish Government in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and the Scottish Refugee Council.

With the strategy recently celebrating its first year, and with the Scotland, People, Language forum just days away, we asked Mandy to tell us more about the New Scots strategy and what it means for people living in Scotland.
[Read more…]

Give Your Child the Gift of Bilingualism

Guest post by SANTIAGO MONTERO

Santiago Montero
Santiago is the founder and director of a language school in Washington DC. He has also worked tirelessly to integrate the fields of education and mass media in Europe and Latin America for the last fifteen years. You can read about Santiago, his methods and his school, at Spanish Tutor DC.

Not since some widely discredited studies in the nineteenth century have scientists had a bad word to say about bilingualism. On the contrary, mounting evidence suggests that bilingualism is good for us, and particularly good for our brains. From delaying the onset of Alzheimers to stimulating an increase in brain size, it seems to be now irrefutable that the acquisition of language has an extraordinary and unique role to play in shaping our body’s most enigmatic and complex organ. [Read more…]

Life as a research student of bilingualism

I have always loved languages. In particular, I have always loved French, and I started to learn basic words and phrases during my childhood years. (Famously, my dad tried to make me say thank you in French before I got to blow out the candles on my 4th birthday cake, but before I could, my 2 year old sister came out with a tiny merci and completely stole the limelight.) I originally hail from Australia, so when we moved to the UK in 2002 I was very excited to be surrounded by so many different languages – despite the fact that Australia is home to over 200 indigenous languages, nearly 80% of the population speak only English[1]. Visiting Paris at age 12 left quite an impression on me, as I’d never been somewhere where the street signs weren’t in English. Listening to people chat on the métro with no idea what they were talking about sparked great curiosity within me. Ten years later,  I’ve ended up really quite in love with speaking French (my sister can no longer trump me) and as a postgraduate research student at the University of Edinburgh, the French language now forms a major part of my research. [Read more…]

Being able to switch between languages

When I was a 12-year old school pupil, just leaving primary school and continuing my education at a secondary school in the Netherlands, I remember the joyful anticipation of getting to learn two more foreign languages (German and French) besides the one we already started to learn in primary school (English). At the time, I assumed it was quite normal for school going pupils around the world to have to learn more than one foreign language at school. I remember it came to me as quite a shock when I found out that this is not the case for some countries in the world. [Read more…]