Message from the Centre’s director

Welcome to the Bilingualism Matters website!

Prof Antonella Sorace

I established Bilingualism Matters in September 2008 as a local research-based information service for parents and teachers focusing on the facts, benefits and challenges of early bilingualism. As a researcher and parent of bilingual children, I had long been struck by the lack of information on bilingualism in all sectors of the community. We began with myself and a handful of volunteers working out of kitchens, living rooms and our favourite coffee shops. The demand for our services means Bilingualism Matters is now a fully supported Centre at the University of Edinburgh, with office premises and permanent staff (though we still make regular appearances at the local coffee shops!). We will soon have a network of 15 branches carrying out similar work across Europe and the US. We have numerous partnerships and outreach projects in the public sector, collaborating with a wide range of partners including policy makers, education authorities and health professionals; we also have an increasing presence in the private sector.

I am immensely grateful to the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences at University of Edinburgh, and the University Principal, Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, for their huge support over the years. We are also indebted to the many volunteers, from within and outside the university, who have enthusiastically contributed their time and skills to Bilingualism Matters. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are now.

We are very proud of this success story, but let’s not forget that there is much more work to do. Bilingualism Matters aims to provide people with the right tools to make informed decisions about bilingualism and language learning. In Scotland, and in the UK more generally, we face a lack of interest in language learning as a consequence of the ‘privileged monolingualism’ of this country. In Europe, we face an almost exclusive interest in English as a foreign language, at the expense of many other languages introduced by immigration or spoken only in local regions.

In addition, many of the negative myths about bilingualism are still alive and well, so we can already regard ourselves as successful if we persuade people that bilingualism is not damaging: there is plenty of research that backs this simple and yet very powerful conclusion. Current research allows us to go beyond this and show people that language learning, at least in some contexts, can be beneficial in social, linguistic and cognitive terms. Of course no answers or results are definitive in research: so we must continue to carry on our research and update the ways in which we inform the general public, constantly maintaining and modernising the bridges between what we knew, what has just been discovered, and what we communicate to the general public. At the same time, we also have to counteract misinterpretations of current research, which is generating new myths such as ‘bilingual children are more intelligent’ or ‘bilinguals don’t get Alzheimer’s’. In all cases, the aim of Bilingualism Matters is to provide information that is based on current scientific research as objectively as possible, without following any particular scientific agenda.

Bilingualism Matters doesn’t have a political agenda either, but this doesn’t mean that what we do is apolitical. On the contrary, what we do is political in the etymological sense of ‘relating to citizens’. In connecting research and communities outside academia, we learn as much from them as they learn from us: we obtain first-hand knowledge of situations that often challenge our usual ways of doing research; and we contribute to changing attitudes, perceptions, and ultimately practices with respect to language learning. Not because we think that language skills and multilingualism are ‘special’ – rather, because we would like them to become the ‘new normal’ in Scotland and elsewhere.

Professor Antonella Sorace
Founder and Director of Bilingualism Matters