Workshop on Bilingualism and Executive Function: An Interdisciplinary Approach

18-19 May 2015, New York

Bilingualism Matters researchers Dr. Thomas Bak and Prof. Antonella Sorace joined language scientists and cognitive psychologists from around the world to discuss the relationship between speaking more than one language, and other mental skills such as the ability to focus attention or switch between tasks. These skills are often referred to as “executive function”.

There are many different ways of testing this sort of ability. For example, one common task for children involves asking them to sort cards first by the picture they show, and then by the colour of that picture – ignoring the picture itself. A common task for adults involves asking them to imagine they are in a lift, or elevator. When they hear a high pitch tone they count down one floor, and when they hear a low pitch tone they count up one floor – this forces people to ignore the usual association between high pitch tones and moving or counting upwards. [Read more…]

Two languages on the tip of your tongue

We’ve all had the experience of being sure that we know a word but struggling to remember it, no matter how hard we try. This sensation is called a ‘tip-of-the tongue state’, and researchers are interested in it because it can tell us more about how people bring to mind (or ‘retrieve’) words.

Research on bilingualism has looked at tip-of-the-tongue states, and one of the things that emerged from these studies is that bilingual speakers are more likely to experience such states than monolinguals. This is not due to a lack of vocabulary: bilinguals truly know the right word – they just find it harder to retrieve it. Why is that?

[Read more…]

Code-switching in Italian-English bilingual children

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh are looking for children aged 7 – 11 years and who speak both English and Italian on a daily basis. The children will take part in games to shed light on the process of code-switching, or swapping between languages, in primary school aged children.

In recent years, a lot of work has been done to investigate what happens when bilinguals alternate between languages in a conversation (a phenomenon known as “code-switching”. But research so far has mostly been limited to adults. This study will be one of the first to gather data on how children use and perceive code-switching in conversations.

Take part in the study

Bilingual Italian and English children will be asked to play two games in a familiar setting.

In the first activity, children will look at cartoons while listening to conversations in Italian and English; in the second activity, children will describe a series of pictures.

Parents or carers will also be asked to complete a short questionnaire about their child’s language experiences.

If your family would be interested in taking part, or simply finding out more about the study, please contact the lead researcher on the study Dino Selvaggi

Testing will take place in Edinburgh from 27th April to 19th May. Please note that participation in this study is voluntary and unpaid.

From Spanish learner to volunteer Spanish teacher

I don’t remember when my love for languages first started, but I do remember the various exchange students my family hosted over the years, and I certainly remember when I myself spent a year as an exchange student in Argentina. During that period, I lived with two host families, attended two different high schools, and became absorbed in the country, its people and its culture. After that year in Argentina, I pretty much considered myself bilingual, although looking back I realise how much I still had to learn. My next adventure brought me to Spain, teaching English in multinational corporations, and of course, drastically improving my Spanish to the point where now I really am bilingual!

I arrived in Edinburgh in August 2014 as a Masters student in Developmental Linguistics. The course is fantastic, but I found that I really missed teaching. So when I heard about the Volunteer Language Assistant program in the City of Edinburgh schools, I jumped at the chance to teach Spanish to young people. [Read more…]

Japan Foundation Supports Stromness Academy Students Learning Japanese

Over the past six months, high school students in Orkney have been learning about Japan, its language and its culture with support from the Japan Foundation. The project was the brainchild of Stromness Academy’s Deputy Head Teacher Mark Colson, with help from Bilingualism Matters support Ruta Noreika (who divides her time between Edinburgh and Orkney) and Yuka Johnston (an Orkney resident, originally from Tokyo).

stromness academy students study Japanese language and culture The project began in response to a visit by Japanese students from Kamaishi, on Japan’s East coast, to Orkney last August. Following the visit, a group of S4, S5 and S5 students at Stromness Academy took part in Japanese language and culture sessions from October 2014 until the end of March 2015. They have learnt simple greetings, how to introduce themselves, a bit about the politeness system, basic numbers and counting, how to describe their families (you can’t just say my brother or sister, you have to say whether they are older or younger) and of course how to say please and thank you. [Read more…]

Growing up bilingual: quality of exposure, not just quantity, matters!

The amount of time that children spend listening to each of their languages, be it their parents’ two languages in bilingual families, or the family and the community language, has a huge influence on how quickly they develop their language skills. So, quantity matters!

Does quality matter, too? This is less clear. Partly this is because less research has been conducted on this topic, and partly because of the huge range of experiences that children face when growing up bilingual. Quantity is easy to define and measure. By contrast, measuring quality is hard: there are many different factors that could make the language experience of one bilingual child qualitatively different from the language experience of another. [Read more…]

Bilingual siblings

Dr Sharon Unsworth

The following piece was first published as blog of the month in December 2014 on Meertalig.nl, an initiative promoting language learning and bilingualism in the Netherlands. Meertalig also hosts the Dutch branch of Bilingualism Matters as part of the EU-funded AThEME project.

Sharon Unsworth is Associate Professor of Second Language Acquisition at Radboud University Nijmegen where she teaches linguistics and carries out research into the language development of bilingual children (see her website for more information). She is also a member of the editorial board at Meertalig.nl

My daughter started school about a month ago. She’s absolutely loving it and is already making friends with some of the other children in her class. So far, so good then. Whilst the usual sense of trepidation common to most new experiences might be waning, I must admit that there’s a part of the bilingual mum in me that can’t help worry about the effect attending (Dutch only) school might have on my daughter’s English. [Read more…]

Bilingualism Matters in the Guardian’s Case for Language Learning

Piece on multilingual families with advice from Bilingualism Matters’ director Prof. Antonella Sorace

The case for language learning

Do young children know that people can understand more than one language?

Can infants understand that people might be able speak more than one language, and are bilingual infants more likely to understand this than a monolingual ones? These are interesting questions, because understanding that people may speak more than one language is likely to help infants adapt more easily to their linguistic environments, and help them interact more easily with other people.

Researchers at New York University and McGill University recently explored these questions by observing how bilingual and monolingual 20 month-olds reacted to communicative situations. [Read more…]

Prof Antonella Sorace sur EURadioNantes

French language radio interview on bilingualism

antonella EURadioNantes