Not only the quantity matters: the importance of quality of input in language development

Sharon Unsworth talks about linguistic input in bilingual development

Post by Michela Bonfieni

Last week, the Linguistic Circle at the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences (PPLS) at the University of Edinburgh hosted a talk by Sharon Unsworth, Associate Professor of Second Language Acquisition at the Radboud University, the Netherlands. Born in Lancashire, Unsworth completed her PhD in Utrecht with a dissertation on the differences between adults and children in language acquisition. Aside from teaching, she is now the head of a research project exploring the cognitive and developmental aspects of multilingualism.

Sharon Unsworth’s research is aimed investigating which factors contribute to the successful acquisition of two or more languages in childhood. [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…]

Understanding the enhanced cognitive control in bilinguals

From previous studies, we have seen that bilinguals tend to outperform monolinguals in some tasks requiring subjects to switch between two stimuli; these are known as Cognitive Control tasks. The bilinguals that have taken part in many of these studies are people who speak two languages under the same modality for instance, two spoken languages (unimodal bilinguals). But what happens when a person knows two languages in different modalities, like in the case of bimodal bilinguals, who know a spoken language and a sign language? On this study, there were three groups of participants: unimodal bilinguals, bimodal bilinguals, and people who only knew one language (monolinguals).  Interestingly, all three groups performed equally well in tasks involving ignoring one stimulus in order to respond to another, but the only difference was that unimodal bilinguals were faster than both bimodal bilinguals and even monolinguals. As the authors point out,  bimodal bilinguals can, in fact, produce words simultaneously (one signed, one spoken), whereas unimodal bilinguals have to suppress one language when speaking the other one, because it is impossible to say two words at the same time. Therefore, the faster responses for the unimodal bilinguals could be accounted for by the fact that they are better ‘trained’ at suppressing one language when speaking the other one.

This is a summary of the following published article:

The source of enhanced cognitive control in bilinguals: evidence from bimodal bilinguals. by Emmorey, K., Luk, G., Pyers, J. & Bialystok, E. (2008). Psychological Science 19: 1201-1206.