Connecting New Scots – The Importance of Languages

Post by Eva Hanna

With the recent launch of the New Scots Connect, which establishes a Scotland-wide network of local communities, groups, and organisations to enhance the welcoming environment for refugees, we had an opportunity to reflect on the Bilingualism Matters event that was part of the Scottish Refugee Festival in June 2018.

The event, entitled “Are Refugee Languages Welcome? The Critical Role of Refugee Languages in Integration“, explored how we can enhance the welcoming environment for refugees, specifically in relation to issues around languages. Professor Antonella Sorace, Founding Director of Bilingualism Matters, opened with a talk on the importance of supporting bilingualism in communities in general, and in refugee communities in particular. This was followed by several refugee speakers who shared testimonials regarding the role their home/first languages have played in supporting them to learn English and to integrate into Scottish society.

As an example of good practice in Edinburgh’s community, the event showcased the Teenage Syrian Refugee Tutoring Project, co-founded by Dr Amer Masri and Nadin Akta, and hosted by the Edinburgh University Chaplaincy. The speakers described how university student volunteers were recruited to tutor local Syrian teens, often using the students’ first language, Arabic. Nadin Akta explained the advantages of using the familiar language as a bridge to learning normal high school subjects in English and Dr Masri pointed out the mutual benefit to the tutors themselves in using their first language with tutees. Another speaker, a refugee mother and MSc TESOL student, described the importance of being able to find books in Arabic at local libraries to read with her young daughter, as well as the nursery’s efforts to acknowledge and celebrate their and other’s families’ home languages, e.g. through displaying signs saying ‘hello’, ‘welcome’, and other familiar words around for children and their parents to see. 

Following on from this, Dr Katerina Strani from Heriot-Watt University introduced the Moving Languages App, which has been designed to help new migrants learn the host language(s), and also aims to encourage people to learn other languages and promote understanding between cultures.

The work of the Refugee Survival Trust was introduced by Agatha KaiKai. The volunteer-led charity provides grants to asylum claimants and refugees living in Scotland.

Many event attendees and speakers highlighted the very urgent need for a local Arabic school for children to maintain speaking, reading, and writing in the home language. This school, they said, should be mostly secular and not affiliated with a particular Arabic-speaking country, i.e. similar to other existing schools around Edinburgh teaching Mandarin, Spanish, Greek, etc. Furthermore, Dr Masri emphasised that trained educators should be recruited and that their teaching should reflect and parallel the pedagogy of Scottish primary and secondary schools. The Refugee Working Group reiterated their happiness to support the efforts to establish such a school by helping to connect the interested parties within its networks.

Another interesting theme that arose from comments from the audience was that not all home languages are equally welcome in public, with several people pointing out that a mother speaking Arabic or Swahili to her children on the bus is not received in the same way as a mother speaking a higher prestige language. One mother described being told off by an English speaker for speaking to her child in Arabic.  

We hope the New Scots Connect network will provide a way to share experiences and knowledge across organisations and communities, to help shape an environment where all languages are welcomed and respected for the value they bring to families and communities. Bilingualism Matters looks forward to being a part of this important initiative.

The next Scottish Refugee Festival dates are Thursday 20th to Sunday 30th June 2019. Submissions are OPEN until 17th March 2019! This year’s theme is ‘Making Art, Making Home’. Get creating! #RefugeeFestScot More info: http://refugeefestivalscotland.co.uk/about 

Related post: Celebrating International Mother Language Day: Refugee Languages Welcome!

Where Language and Identity Intersect

Post by Elie Abraham (they/them)
Composer, Sound Designer, Voice Actor,
Escape Designer, Comedian, Queer Activist

My experience with language has been quite peculiar. Imagine: I grew up as a first-generation child two to immigrant parents from different countries. They spoke to me in their native tongues, Finnish and Hebrew, but to each other in their common language, English. After a daycare teacher threatened my mother 20+ years ago with “Your child will never learn English” when picking up my younger sister, she decided to quit speaking Finnish to us. My father, a much more stubborn man, did not only refuse to stop speaking to us in his native language, Hebrew, but sent us to a private school where we would continue learning it. [Read more…]

Euskaldun: Language and the Basque Identity

Growing up in the Basque Country, everyone is acutely aware of languages. Whether you speak Basque or not, whether you’re enrolled in Basque medium education or Spanish medium education, whether you choose to talk to your children in Basque or Spanish, or both, there are many decisions involving language that one has to take from early on. From big life decisions such as your children’s schooling to small everyday choices: do you greet in Spanish or Basque when you walk into a shop? That depends. [Read more…]

‘It feels right for us’ – experiences of a multilingual family

Post by Susanne Obenaus, SLP & multilingual mother

As a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP), I always felt confident in advising multilingual parents on how to include all their languages into the family’s everyday life. I followed official guidelines, performed standardized tests and handed out leaflets describing multilingual upbringing of children.

And then we had our children – raised trilingual – and my perception changed. [Read more…]

Our World Is Colourful! A language celebration kindergarten project

Post by Eva-maria Schnelten

St. Agnes Kindergarten in my hometown of Lastrup, Germany, embarked on a 7- week project called “Our World Is Colourful” in April 2016. In the context of growing tensions on a global scale regarding refugees and migration, this project was developed to help the children within the kindergarten understand each other’s backgrounds and everything that goes with that: obvious differences like languages, but also subtle cultural differences like playing games. [Read more…]

Hola! Early years Spanish programme in Glasgow

In February 2018, Antonella Sorace visited Indigo Childcare in Glasgow to give a talk to parents and staff about bilingualism and language learning. They have recently launched a Spanish Programme, which is proving popular with both the children and the parents. We asked them some questions about their programme for our Spring 2018 newsletter.

  1. What are the aims of the Spanish Programme at Indigo Childcare?

At the Indigo group, we aim to offer outstanding quality of learning and play experiences for our children and families. In the geographical areas we operate in, it is particularly important that we are focused on closing the attainment gap. For our part that means ensuring we provide the highest quality of early years’ experience and exploring creative ways to strengthen the development of children. Our programme aims to: [Read more…]

Unlocking the Puzzle of Multilingualism

Project child participation leaflet

Post by Tracey Hughes

Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to express their views freely and for these views to be heard[1].  This may not sound particularly ground-breaking but, following tradition, adults can often find persuasive reasons for not giving children’s views their due weight.  ‘Child voice’ and child participation is often see as optional and a gift which can be bestowed upon children and young people.  In reality, it is a legal obligation which is the right of the child.  Assumptions are often made that children cannot be consulted regarding their views and experiences because they may be unable to articulate them appropriately.  In other words, in the past, research has tended to be on children, rather than with children.  I recently read an interesting comment regarding this issue, and ways to overcome participation, which concluded that if we cannot communicate effectively with children perhaps we should be questioning our own competence (rather than theirs)[2].

Research on bilingualism often focuses on the use of parental questionnaires, as a proxy for children’s experiences, or makes use of cognitive testing and standardised measures of linguistic ability.  [Read more…]

A’ cumail taic ri cloinn ann am foghlam tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig le mi-rianan cànain. An tèid agaibh air cuideachadh?

Tha pròiseact rannsachaidh ùr a’ dol an-dràsta aig Oilthigh Dhùn Èideann a tha ag amas air goireasan measaidh a chruthachadh a chuidicheas tidsearan agus leasaichean cànain is cainnt (SLTs) ann a bhith a’ tomhas na sgilean cànain aig clann a tha am Foghlam tro Mheadhan na Gàidhlig (FTMG).  ’S e bhith a’ cruthachadh goireasan a bheireas taic do chloinn le mi-rianan cànain ann am FTMG amas fad-ùine a’ phròiseact.

Bu chòir cuimhneachadh nach eil a bhith a’ cleachdadh barrachd is aon chànan le do phàiste ag adhbharachadh mi-rianan le cànan is cainnt.  Ma ’s e ’s gu bheilear a’ measadh no a’ toirt seachad cobhair do phàiste a tha dà-chànanach, tha e cudromach gun tèid sgrùdadh a dhèanamh air, agus spèis a thoirt seachad dhan dà chànan. [Read more…]

Supporting Children with Language Disorders who are in Gaelic-medium Education. Can you help?

A new research project is underway at Edinburgh University, aiming to develop materials for teachers and Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) to assess the language abilities of children who are in the early stages of Gaelic-medium primary Education (GME).    The long-term goal is to create resources to help support children who have language disorders in GME.

It is important to remember that speaking and using more than one language with your child will not cause speech or language disorders.  If a bilingual child is being assessed or treated for a speech or language disorder, both their languages should be assessed and respected. [Read more…]

Celebrating International Mother Language Day: Refugee Languages Welcome!

©iStock.com/Professor25

Post by Eva Hanna & Eva-maria Schnelten

Imagine you are forced to leave your country with only what you can carry. You leave extended family, friends, and community behind, not knowing when you will see them again – if ever. You travel a perilous and uncertain journey, stalled along the way in refugee camps, waiting to learn where you and your children will be settled.

Now imagine you arrive in new country with a completely different culture and climate. The locals are mostly warm and welcoming and help you to learn their language. Your children begin school and receive support in learning to speak, read, and write; however, you notice that they are beginning to respond to you in the new language. One day at pick-up, the nursery teacher mentions that it might be better for you to use the school’s language at home. Though you are not very confident in the new language yourself, you want to do the best for your children. But the suggestion still pains you. [Read more…]

Language Loss and Maintenance in Migrant Families

Thomas Bak & Dina Mehmedbegovic

When I first met Dina Mehmedbegovic in September 2016 at the multilingualism panel of the European Commission in Brussels, I was impressed with her energy, expertise and enthusiasm. Since then we have been working together, integrating our respective fields of education and cognitive science. With time, I learned how her family and personal story, including different types of voluntary as well as forced migration, shaped her deep understanding of the psychological, cultural and linguistic challenges facing migrants. I cannot think of a better person to write a language-related blog for International Migrants Day.
Thomas H Bak, Co-Director Bilingualism Matters


‘Don’t speak to me in our language, when you pick me up from school’: Language loss and maintenance in migrant families

By Dina Mehmedbegovic, UCL

Today, 18th December is the UN Day of Migrants. On this day in 1990 UN signed the International Migrant Convention protecting the rights of migrants and their families. It took another 13 years for the Convention to reach the threshold needed for its implementation – acceptance by 20 countries. Its main aim is to protect human rights of currently around 250 million people identified as migrants world-wide. Not many are aware of this date and not many are aware that UNESCO rights of children include a right to education in mother tongue/home language. [Read more…]