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.

Multilingual Encounters: Bilingual Performer Marion Geoffray

1.  Who are you and where are you based?

My name is Marion Geoffray, originally from South of France, I’ve been living in the UK for over 10 years. I’m a performer, creative practitioner and the artistic director of “Theatre Sans Accents” a bilingual theatre company based in Edinburgh that promotes language learning through the arts and produces original pieces of theatre by multilingual and multicultural artists living in Scotland.

2.  What languages do you know and use?

I use French and English on a daily basis, can speak Italian, Spanish and have some knowledge of Gaelic and Occitan.

3. Summarise your area of work.

My work both as an artist and a creative practitioner is to widen our linguistic horizon through the use of drama. I work both in school and community settings, encouraging children and adults alike to shift their perspective of language learning from a strict academic assessment based approach to a more playful, sensory and physical experience. By combining my own personal experience of bilingualism and professional theatre training, I developed methods to build confidence, develop vocabulary and improve elocution through drama games.

As a production company, we want to offer a platform for other bilingual artists to express themselves and show their work. The performances we create include diverse cast and creative teams, sometimes several languages and tend to explore and challenge our conceptions of communication in the theatre space.

Scotland is a rich diverse nation that many call home and it is paramount for us to reflect this in our work.

4. The ‘so what?’ question – how can we learn or benefit from your work?

I originally set up Theatre Sans Accents in a bid to create my own work as I felt I was constantly typecast as an actor as “the foreigner”. I wanted to show that I was more than an hybrid accent at a cultural crossroad while also reflecting on this cultural and linguistic hybridity. I see now more and more artists “like me” in the British theatrical landscape but there’s still work to be done. Whenever I run workshops where participants want to learn or practice their linguistic skills through drama and I see them coming out feeling more confident, using even just a couple of words they’ve learnt on the day or with new tools to experience their target language then I know this is working. Likewise when I put on a show and audience members come afterwards to share their own experience and tell me that they could relate to what i was saying or that regardless of the language spoken on stage, they “get it” then it comforts me in the idea that we are all inherently multi-lingual individuals in some ways and that theatre is one of the mediums that allow effective and successful communication between us all. I’m interested in further developing my practice especially from a psychological point of view and explore how bilingual people can “see” and understand the world differently, can be different individuals in different languages. For me, this is an intriguing point of tension between performance and languages.

Find out more about Marion’s work on the Theatre Sans Accents website. And read about the first Edinburgh Multilingual Stories Festival in 2018, which was co-directed by Marion with Bilingualism Matters Edinburgh and other community partners.

A lockdown silver lining? Home languages

By Christy Brewster, BM Edinburgh Centre Adminstrator

As the global coronavirus health crisis goes on, many of us are confined to our homes with children who are unable to attend school. For those of us in multilingual households, this is an opportunity to increase our children’s exposure to their second, third or even fourth languages, boosting their fluency and confidence. As well as children spending more time speaking home languages with their parents and other household members, there are easy ways to further increase exposure in this age of digital technology.

Several online companies are offering their multilingual products for free during the lockdown (Audible has audio books in several languages and MantraLingua has nice range of children’s books for free in the UK until 31st August). Others that have always been free are worth exploring now that there’s more time (Global Storybooks and World Stories are both excellent sites).

A fantastic resource that my own children benefit from is their bored grandparents in lockdown, on the other side of the world in Argentina. They now video chat most days for at least an hour, send audio file bedtime stories and even sometimes watch TV together. Here are a few video chat activities to try with extended family or friends who speak your home languages.

  • Games: there are so many games that can be played on video chats. One of the simplest that is fun for all ages and a good vocabulary builder is called ‘Stop the Bus’ (or Tutti Frutti in Argentina). Players agree on four or five categories like colours, food, countries etc., and then list as many as they can for randomly selected letters.
  • Family tree: this gives the extended family something to research – memories and photos to dig out, and children love hearing stories about their ancestors (even if it is only to laugh at the weird names!). Websites like Ancestry are free with options for language choice and shared access, or keep it simple with one of many free templates available online.
  • Drawing tutorials: there are loads of video drawing tutorials in multiple languages. Just search “how to draw” on YouTube in your home language. As well as all the new vocabulary that can be learned from following the instructions in the video, both sides can pause together and discuss what they’re doing, then compare drawings at the end.
  • Children’s TV: tune into the children’s TV or video channels from other countries, there are loads on YouTube. Argentinian channel PakaPaka is a treasure trove of interesting programmes, from science and history, to animals and cartoons. It’s great content for children to watch and discuss in their home language.

One word of caution is to keep it fun and natural for the children. My idea of requesting little maths problems set by my children’s grandmother seemed perfect in my head, but the kids found it frustrating and refused to connect with her for a couple of days. If something doesn’t work out, move on – the last thing you want to do is disrupt existing bonds by introducing a forced element that has unhappy associations.

In these unusual and often difficult times, multilingual families can at least benefit from the increased exposure to home languages and, with a little luck, might get the added bonus of virtual childminders. It’s also the perfect opportunity to build stronger online connections with extended family and friends around the world who can continue to support the development of children’s home language skills well beyond the lockdown.

We would love to hear suggestions of other activities and strategies that have worked in your homes! Please leave them in the comments or connect with us on our social media platforms. 
Twitter: @bilingmatters
Facebook: bilingmatters

Other sites listing resources to help families with languages during lockdown:
SCILT (Scotland’s National Centre for Languages)
EAL Journal from the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum

A Language Learner’s Guide to Lockdown

By Talia Bagnall

We are living in strange and scary times.  The Covid-19 pandemic has affected every part of the world and every part of our lives, so it’s no wonder that we’re struggling to adjust.  It certainly doesn’t help when celebrities, influencers, or Susan-next-door tells us they’re using the time off to become fluent in Norwegian.  Between working or studying from home, looking after children, checking up on neighbours, searching for loo roll, watching the news, and general worrying, most of us don’t have the time nor the desire to pick up a textbook.

It’s important to know that we don’t have to “use” this time at all – staying at home and looking after our loved ones is enough.  That being said, if you are beginning to get bored of the TV or you’re missing your conversation class, learning a language from home can be a welcome distraction and a fun way to pass the time – no textbook needed.   

[Read more…]

Happy Autism Awareness Week!

By Bérengère Digard, with the support of Sonny and Fergus from AMASE

Autism is a developmental condition, meaning that it is about how the brain and the mind develop, before birth and all the way to adulthood. During this development phase, the autistic brain will sometimes wire things up differently, and compute things differently, to other brains. This is why autistic people experience certain things very differently from non-autistic people: they can have difficulties with social activities, be puzzled by unspoken social rules, and they can also feel things in a unique way. Sounds, smells, touch, movements, can sometimes be felt by people with autism in a way that non-autistic people cannot even imagine!

Because of all of these, parents, practitioners, and teachers, have long been thinking that autism and bilingualism could not work together. If a child already finds communication challenging, why make things even more confusing by adding another language? Unfortunately, for decades, people believed this, but never actually checked whether bilingualism would indeed make things worse for autistic people.

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Research on Bilingual Listening: Is Bulgarian-accented English easier to understand for Bulgarian-English bilinguals?

By Maria Dokovova

1. Why did I start this?

It is widely perceived that second language listeners are better at understanding second-language accents rather than first-language accents. For example, as a Bulgarian whose second language is English, I am expected to be better at understanding Bulgarian-accented or foreign-accented English, rather than native English accents. Other people have put a name to this belief, calling it the Interspeech Intelligibility Benefit Hypothesis.

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Multilingual Encounters: Sign Language Researcher Helen Koulidobrova

1.  Who are you and where are you based?

I am Helen Koulidobrova, PhD, Associate Professor in Applied Linguistics in the Department of English and Director of CT Bilingualism and English Language Learning Research Lab at Central Connecticut State University. Respectfully acknowledging that l live and work on the ancestral lands of Mahican (including the Potomuc), Minisink (Muncee), Moheg (including the Niantic), Pequot, Nupnuc, and Quiripi (Mattabesic, Pugusett, and Schaghticoke) people.

2.  What languages do you know and use?

Russian, Ukrainian (Heritage), English, Spanish, American Sign Language (ASL)

3. Summarise your area of work in 100 words.

I research what it means to know sign languages and how people acquire them. [Read more…]

The Northern Neighbours: the Catalan language in France

Post by Talia Bagnall

For many years, Catalan was the main language of the region, and French was the official language of the state.  But after the Revolution, the new government tried to unify their country by enforcing French throughout the country.  When education became compulsory, French became the only language taught in schools, and it was the lingua franca for French troops in the First World War.  These days, just over 35% of the population of Northern Catalonia speak Catalan, although 61% understand the language. [Read more…]

Is bilingual education harmful?

Post by Dr Thomas Bak, Bilingualism Matters Programme Director (Bilingualism in later life, healthy ageing & dementia)

The recent article in The Scotsman, in which the Conservative education spokesperson Liz Smith described Gaelic-medium education as a “deeply troubling step” has already generated, as could be expected, a lively and passionate discussion. Much of the ensuing debate has been based on political, ideological and indeed, emotional arguments. So maybe it’s time to bring in some scientific evidence.

Liz Smith’s critique of Gaelic medium education contradicts a huge and growing body of evidence suggesting exactly the opposite of what she was claiming [Read more…]

Broadening the Horizons of Applied Linguistics Beyond Language

Elina Karadzhova Languages: Time Dreams Avatars | https://www.elinakaradzhova.com/languages

Post by Dobrochna Futro

On 31st of August 2019 the AILA Creative Inquiry in Applied Linguistics Research Network will convene a colloquium entitled ‘Broadening the Horizons Beyond Language’ as part of the British Association for Applied Linguistics Conference 2019 ‘Broadening the Horizons of Applied Linguistics’. The colloquium will be co-convened by myself, Dobrochna Futro, (Bilingualism Matters Edinburgh and University of Glasgow) and Marta Nitecka Barche (University of Aberdeen).

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Art speaks all languages

By Eva-Maria Schnelten

As part of this year’s Refugee Festival Scotland, Bilingualism Matters teamed up with colleagues from the University of Edinburgh Alwaleed Centre and on Friday 28th June 2019 presented an exhibition of art works created by members of the refugee community in Edinburgh, with a special poetry reading, all on the Festival theme of “Making Art, Making Home”.

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