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…]

Radio Linguistika interview

Antonella Sorace was interviewed about bilingualism research, Bilingualism Matters and the EU funded project AThEME, by Radio Linguistika on the streaming service of the European Commission. Listen to the full interview:

https://webcast.ec.europa.eu/radio-linguistika-bilingual-matters

10th Anniversary Celebrations – 7th September 2018

In 2018, Bilingualism Matters celebrates 10 years of public engagement activities helping people to make decisions about bilingualism and language learning based on the best available evidence. Founded in 2008 by Prof Antonella Sorace at the University of Edinburgh, it has grown from a one-person local service to an international network of over 20 branches based in 13 countries around the world.

To mark this special occasion, we organised the first Bilingualism Matters Research Symposium, which aimed to provide an opportunity for researchers in and around Edinburgh and from across the Bilingualism Matters international network to come together to share and exchange ideas on any aspect of bilingualism, with a focus on dissemination potential beyond the academic world.

Following on from the Symposium, we invited our stakeholders from the community to join us for our special 10th Anniversary Annual Event. The event was launched by the Principal of the University of Edinburgh, Professor Peter Mathieson, and featured a range of informative talks covering topics such as Gaelic medium education, British Sign Language, a history of Bilingualism Matters, and an overview of research into bilingualism over the last 10 years.

All the photos from both events and the full programmes are available to see at the links below.

10th Anniversary Events Facebook Photo Album  BM Research Symposium Full Programme (pdf)  BM 10th Anniversary Annual Event Full Programme (pdf)

New website for Bilingualism Matters

Bilingualism Matters is currently looking for proposals to help us build a brand new website. We’re accepting proposals until 5pm on Friday 20th July 2018. Full details can be found here.

 

Is there a ‘cut-off age’ for learning languages?

© iStock.com/pixelfit

By Antonella Sorace & Thomas Bak

The idea that there is a critical period for language learning has been around for a long time, at least since Eric Lenneberg’s 1967 book “Biological Foundations of Language”, which proposed that the acquisition of a first language can be successful only if children are exposed to it in early infancy. The concept was then naturally extended to second language (L2) acquisition, given the much greater variation in outcomes among adult language learners. However, conclusive evidence for the biological nature of child-adult differences and for a well-defined cut-off point has not been found.

At the University of Edinburgh, we study speakers at the very upper end of the L2 proficiency range, who can pass for native speakers at least at some levels: the very existence of these speakers shows that it is possible for adults to be very successful at learning a second language later in life. But why do we find so much more variation? There are many different factors contributing to this, including a shorter time scale and the fact that full immersion in the L2 environment can’t be taken for granted for adults in the same way as it can for children. There is evidence that multilingualism helps: the more languages are known, the easier it becomes to learn more. And recent research also shows that the brain of much older adults responds very well to the challenge of learning a new language, even if high proficiency levels are not reached.

Also, the “critical period” might be different for different aspects of language. It is difficult for an adult to learn new sounds to a level of being perceived as a “native speaker”, in fact, this is the case even within the same language in terms of dialects and local accents. In contrast, the rules of grammar can be learned later and we continue to learn new vocabulary throughout our lives, as new words emerge in all languages. Importantly, the fact that with age it might get more difficult to learn some aspects of language (as is the case with many other activities, such as engaging in sports or playing musical instruments) should not discourage us from doing it. On the contrary, learning languages might be one of the best ways of keeping our mind agile in later life!

Useful links

Here’s when it gets more difficult to learn a new language, according to science

Students should learn second language to prevent dementia in later life

Bilingualism Matters Research Symposium 2018

 BMRS2018 Information (pdf) Register for Symposium

Our 2018 inaugural research symposium aims to provide an opportunity for researchers in Edinburgh and from across our Bilingualism Matters international network to come together to share and exchange ideas on any aspect of bilingualism, with a focus on dissemination potential beyond the academic world.  

Important Dates
April 2018                       Oral presentations confirmed
4th July 2018                 Registration open (free to first 30 students; £30 others)
August 2018                   Posters confirmed
7th September 2018     Symposium (9am to 3.30pm)

Programme (draft)

Contacts
If you have any questions or require further details please contact us by email or phone.
Email: bilingualism-matters@ed.ac.uk
Phone: (44) (0)131 650 2884

 

Bilingualism Matters with ‘Little Linguists’ at Heathrow Airport

This Easter, we worked with Heathrow Airport to promote language learning for children, as part of their ‘Little Linguists’ scheme. Our Director, Professor Antonella Sorace, advised in the development of packs of fun flashcards in different languages, designed to spark an interest in language learning for the thousand of families passing through the airport over the Easter 2017 weekend. [Read more…]

Irish Gaelic: political football or treasure?

Post by Dr. Mimo Caenepeel

A few weeks ago, a sideways reference in a larger news item about the current crisis in Northern Ireland caught my attention: the newsreader reported that  ‘support for the Irish language’ was one factor in the complex breakdown of relations between Sinn Féin and the DUP. A quick online check gave me a bit more information. Just before Christmas, the DUP’s community minister Paul Givan decided to withdraw £ 50,000 in funding for an Irish Language (or ‘Irish Gaelic’) bursary scheme. Although that decision has since been reversed, Sinn Féin at the time called it ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’.

While arguably small fish in an ocean of news, this struck me as an interesting example of the impact of community language issues, not just on daily life but also on political processes. A ‘community language’ is a language used as their primary language by a community of people on a daily basis. While the number of people in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland who claim to have some knowledge of Irish is increasing (especially in urban areas like Dublin), the use of Irish as a community language is contracting; in fact, Irish is expected to disappear as a primary language by 2025. That puts Irish Gaelic (together with Scottish Gaelic) on the list of UK languages that are ‘definitely endangered’. [Read more…]

Workshop: The selectivity of native language attrition

Venue: University of Edinburgh
Date: 13-14 October 2017

Bilingualism Matters at the University of Edinburgh is pleased to host this two-day workshop “The selectivity of native language attrition” as part of the ESRC-funded First Language Attrition Seminar Series (ES/M001776/1) led by Monika Schmid (University of Essex).

Meeting Description

Very broadly, language attrition can be defined as changes in a speaker’s native  language (L1) as a result of increased use of another language (L2). Among the most intriguing questions in research on bilingualism is the selectivity of L1 attrition in first-generation speakers. What exactly changes in the L1?  Why are some linguistic properties more vulnerable than others to change under conditions of diminished exposure and use? Are these the same properties that are variable in heritage speakers, who may have experienced language attrition at an earlier age? An understanding of the relationship between L1 attrition and L2 acquisition in late bilinguals can advance our understanding of language and cognition in multilingualism.

Invited Speakers

Kinsey Bice (Penn State University)
Laura Dominguez (University of Southampton)
Janet Grijzenhout (Leiden University)

Dates

Registration open:                   4 August – 10 October 2017
Seminar:                                    13–14 October 2017

Programme

Download programme (pdf)

Registration

Registration is open via the University of Edinburgh ePay system.
Standard rate: £100.00  Student rate: £50.00
Registration includes lunch and refreshment breaks on both days. Dinner is optional and not included in registration price. Please indicate if you plan to attend the dinner when registering, and further booking details will be sent by email in the coming weeks.

Travel and Accomodation Guide

Download travel and accommodation guide (pdf)

Organising committee

Antonella Sorace (University of Edinburgh, Bilingualism Matters)
Roumyana Slabakova (University of Southampton)

Questions

Please email bilingualism-matters@ed.ac.uk if you have any questions about registration.

Bilingualism Matters Network Dissemination Meeting in Trento, September 2016

 

Trento_Group

On the 13th and 14th of September 2016, researchers from Bilingualism Matters branches around the world came together in Trento, Italy, for the dissemination network meeting ‘Engaging in research on bilingualism’. [Read more…]