Being able to switch between languages

When I was a 12-year old school pupil, just leaving primary school and continuing my education at a secondary school in the Netherlands, I remember the joyful anticipation of getting to learn two more foreign languages (German and French) besides the one we already started to learn in primary school (English). At the time, I assumed it was quite normal for school going pupils around the world to have to learn more than one foreign language at school. I remember it came to me as quite a shock when I found out that this is not the case for some countries in the world. [Read more…]

Confessions of a late bilingual  

My name is Madeleine and I work for Bilingualism Matters. A large part of my job involves promoting the idea – to parents, teachers, public bodies – that early language learning (during pre-school and primary school years) is a Good Thing. Sadly, I have no personal experience on which to draw.

I grew up in an old salt mining town in north-west England, and it’s fair to say that it wasn’t exactly a hotbed of bilingualism. My first exposure to another language came at the local comprehensive: two hours a week learning the French present tense by rote while the boys (“Greeny”, “Hughsey”, “Clarkey”) drew on each other with chalk. At about the same time, I went to the local library and, for reasons I still can’t remember, requested a set of Teach Yourself Swedish cassettes that had to be ordered in specially from Manchester. I kept at it for months, acquired a Swedish penpal, all the while dreaming of the far off glamour of Nordic winters. Alas, most of the Swedish has long since deserted me, though I will always have a soft spot for Swedish athletes in the Olympics. And for Wallander, of course. [Read more…]

Bilingualism Matters: A Centre of Excellence

1010476 1526113714300868 9174212150178003270 n 187x250 Bilingualism Matters: A Centre of Excellence

Bilingualism Matters has now officially launched as a Centre at the University of Edinburgh. Bilingualism Matters began as a public information service in 2008, in response to a lack of information about bilingualism in the community. Since its inception, the service has delivered hundreds of talks – to parents, educators, health professionals, business leaders, and policy makers – and responded to almost a thousand individual written requests for advice on raising bilingual children.

On Tuesday evening, teachers, speech-language therapists, language policy bodies, consulate staff and business leaders all gathered at the University of Edinburgh to mark a new chapter in the history of Bilingualism Matters.

University Principal Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea urged his audience to ensure that language learning remains a high priority for local and national government in Scotland. He also offered a challenge for those in the audience: “If you don’t have a second language, go and get one. If you have a second language; go and get a third”.

The Principal’s speech was followed by a personal account of bilingualism, as Edinburgh resident Joana Ferrão spoke about raising her young son with both English and Portuguese languages. Joana admitted that she sometimes meets resistance from well meaning parties who worry that her son will simply grow up confused; it is then, explained Joana, that it becomes really useful – and reassuring – to know about the research backing up her hopes. Interestingly, Joana stressed that for her, as for many bilingual parents, the possible cognitive advantages of bilingualism play only a small role in their motivation to raise a bilingual family. Far more important to Joana is her relationship with her child, her sense of passing on a cultural legacy, and valuing linguistic diversity in Scotland.

As Joana said during the launch: “Nothing can be more important than this feeling of love and acceptance in giving our children the best possible start in life”.

The creation of a dedicated new Centre will allow Bilingualism Matters to build on its existing work in our communities, and help make sure that all children grow up valuing their home language.

Bilingualism Matters opens in the Netherlands

P1000736 333x250 Bilingualism Matters opens in the Netherlands

The latest branch of Bilingualism Matters has opened in Amsterdam, as part of the major EU AThEME project.

The new branch of Bilingualism Matters is based in the Language Studio, who already host a successful language information website ( The branch launch was held to coincide with the Drongofestival , an annual festival celebrating the diverse languages and cultures in the Netherlands.

Valuing the home language

Dr Maaike Verrips, the force behind the Drongo festival and the new Director of Bilingualism Matters in the Netherlands, explained why such initiatives are needed.

“In the Netherlands, many ethnic minority parents attribute a low status to their home language. As a result, the families can end up communicating in a restricted mixture of limited home language, and limited Dutch. When parents and children don’t have a word in common, how can they communicate that concept between themselves? other parents, even the most well-educated, often worry (mistakenly) that speaking a second language will result in developmental delays in their child – completely the opposite of what research tells us. The Dutch branch of Bilingualism Matters can help make sure that when people make decisions about the language education of their children, they do so based on what we know from the scientific study of bilingualism.”

Professor Antonella Sorace travelled from Edinburgh to give a keynote address at the opening event, in which she also stressed that promoting bilingualism should not mean that we promote English above all other languages. The full video of her speech can be viewed on this youtube link , courtesy of the Drongo Festival team. An English transcript of the video is available as a pdf file: Bilingualism Matters in the Netherlands launch_Antonella Sorace

For more information about Meertalig and the Dutch branch of Bilingualism Matters, visit their website:
For more information on branches of Bilingualism Matters around Europe, visit our branches page: Bilingualism Matters branches

Explorathon 2014 is almost here

Lapin Tania book30 166x250 Explorathon 2014 is almost here

Bilingual puppet Lapin will be joining Bilingualism Matters at Explorathon 2014

Only one day to go until one of Europe’s largest public engagement events comes to Scotland, and Bilingualism Matters is thrilled to be taking part. Researchers will be putting on a range of events in Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh, in order to bring their work to the public.

Bilingualism Matters will be available throughout the “Meet the Experts” session in the National Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh) from 13:00 – 16:30 on Friday afternoon. Come along to find out about our work in Edinburgh schools, the major new EU-funded AThEME project, or to chat to us about bilingualism or language learning. The team includes a mixture of researchers, teachers and parents of bilingual children, so now is your chance to ask us everything you ever wanted to know! About languages, that is. Particle physics is sadly not our department…

Some of you may know that tomorrow is also European Day of Languages (for those who did not know, you do now!). We are really thrilled that to help us celebrate, Le Petit Monde puppet theatre will be putting on two fantastic puppet shows alongside our stand, featuring their INCREDIBLY cute bilingual puppet Lapin. The shows are in French and English and are completely accessible to all children, whether they know any French or not.

Le Petit Monde puppet shows will take place at 14:00 and 15:00 in the Grand Gallery of the National Museum, next to the Bilingualism Matters stand. Duration 30 minutes; ages 3+.

For for information about le Petit Monde puppet theatre, visit

For the full Explorathon listings and to find an event near you, visit

Spanish film festival in Edinburgh

tad the lost explorer spanish film 468x250 Spanish film festival in Edinburgh

Roll up roll up and a very warm welcome to the 1st ever Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival!

Between 8th – 14th October, Edinburgh Filmhouse will be hosting a series of Spanish-language films to help ward off the autumnal chill.

With subtitles on all films, this festival is open to anyone with an interest in cinema or in Spanish/ Latin American culture (although, we also think it’s a great chance for the more rusty Spanish-speakers amongt us to sneak in a bit of practice).

The programme features films from up and coming directors such as Fernando Franco and Jonás Trueba, as well as more-established names like Icíar Bollaín, Cesc Gay and Gracia Querejeta. There really is something for everyone, from children and young people (have a look at family-friendly animation “Tad, the Lost Explorer”) to the most seasoned cinema buffs (sure-fire hits include the Oscar-nominated “15 Years and One Day”).

Find out more on the Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival’s website Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival 2014

Bilingualism Matters at the BBC

antonella sorace bbc 378x250 Bilingualism Matters at the BBC

Earlier this summer, Bilingualism Matters director Professor Antonella Sorace travelled to BBC studios in London for a recording of world service programme The Forum. Professor Sorace was joined by bilingual writer Gustavo Perez Firmat, and Professor Ellen Bialystok from York University, Toronto. The three panellists discussed the effects of speaking more than one language on a child’s development and identity. The programme was first broadcast on 30 AUgust 2014, and is now available to listen to online.

Listen to the 45 minute discussion with journalist Bridget Kendall on the BBC site: BBC The Forum

While she was at the BBC, Professor Sorace was also asked to give a one minute pitch for an idea that could change the world for the better. Her idea was simple: a a prenatal belt that plays songs and poems in different languages.

Hear Professor Sorace explain more about how the belt would work, and why it would change the world, by listening to the Sixty Second idea to Improve the World podcast: BBC Sixty Second Idea to Improve the World

Bilingual poetry contest comes to Scotland

A multilingual poetry competition backed by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy is being launched by Scotland’s National Centre for Languages (SCILT).

SCILT poetry polish speaking pupils write poems at launch 210x250 Bilingual poetry contest comes to Scotland

Celebrating diversity

Mother Tongue Other Tongue is a poetry competition like no other, using creative learning to celebrate cultural diversity and promote language learning in Scottish schools.

In the Mother Tongue category, children whose first language is not English, or who speak a different language at home, are encouraged to write a poem in their Mother Tongue, or to share a lullaby, poem or song from their Mother Tongue and to explain what it means to them.

In the Other Tongue category, pupils learning another language at school are encouraged to think creatively and write a poem in that language.

The competition began in the North East of England as a joint venture between Routes into Languages and Manchester Metropolitan University, and has been hugely successful. Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy adopted the competition as the Laureate Education Project, with regional competitions and events taking place across England.

Bilingualism Matters is thrilled that this fantastic project has come to Scotland, where it is being coordinated by SCILT.

Encouraging an outward looking society

One aim of the project is to provide pupils with more insight into the different languages and cultures that exist all around them in Scotland’s schools.

SCILT Professional Development Officer, Victoria Henry, said: “This exchange of languages encourages an outward-looking perspective and an awareness of the knowledge and communication skills needed to work and live within a changing world”.

The organisers also hope that the project will allow pupils to explore language learning in a creative environment: “With fewer worries about grammar and the opportunity to play with words and experiment with language, more young people can feel empowered to use languages to express themselves”, says Victoria Henry.

In this way, they hope to open pupils’ eyes to the value of learning another language.

Mother Tongue Other Tongue will be running in Glasgow until the 19 December, with plans to expand across Scotland in 2015. For more information and resources about using the project in the classroom, visit SCILT’s website. Scotland’s National Centre for Languages

“Breed Bilingual!” at the Edinburgh fringe

2014 AUGUST breed bilingual fringe show 2 367x250 Breed Bilingual! at the Edinburgh fringe

What happens when you pack a world expert on bilingualism, a professional comedian and 80 enthusiastic audience members into a wind-battered yurt at the world’s largest arts festival?

We headed to the “Breed Bilingual” show in St. Andrew’s Square to find out.

On 17 August, Professor Antonella Sorace was joined by comedian Susan Morrison to discuss, debate, and disseminate the latest research into what bilingualism can do for us. Professor Sorace began by outlining the research behind the claim that bilingualism, far from confusing a child, can lead to cognitive, linguistic, and social advantages.

For example, did you know that when a baby is exposed to multiple languages during the final trimester of pregnancy, that baby will come into the world already sensitive to the different rhythms of those languages[1]? A far cry from the confusion that some people will arise if the child’s brain is “overloaded” by hearing too many languages too early in life.

“A real dialogue between academics and the public”

Questions from the audience ranged from “what if one parent does not speak the other parent’s language?” (Professor Sorace advises taking the opportunity to learn as much of the language as you can – it looks like there may be cognitive advantages even when you learn a language later in life , and it will definitely help with family dynamics); to “that’s all great for the bilingual households, but what can monolingual families do?” (one possibility is to try and take advantage of any multilingual child care facilities in your area).

The show was part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas in which leading academics lead lively discussions on the controversial and cutting-edge research in their fields. Engaging with the public in this way is hugely beneficial not only for the audience but for the academics presenting their work.

As Professor Sorace commented: “I find events like the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas both enjoyable and rewarding. There is a real dialogue with the audience and a sense in which information is exchanged in both directions – so people learn more about the facts and benefits of bilingualism and I learn more about the many different situations and types of bilingualism in real life.”

Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas was organised by the Beltane Public Engagement Network .
The shows were hosted by stand-up comic Susan Morrison .

A huge thanks to everyone involved!

[1] Byers-Heinlein, K., Burns, T. C., & Werker, J. F. (2010). The roots of bilingualism in newborns. Psychological Science, 21, 343-348

Article: “Bilingualism makes you smart”


13101621725 3980e3dcbb m Article: Bilingualism makes you smartProfessor Antonella Sorace spoke to Sardinian newspaper L’Unione Sarda. The article, published on 1 August, discussed the evidence for cognitive advantages of bilingualism, and Professor Sorace’s work here at Bilingualism Matters.

Readers outside of Italy may not be aware that there is a Sardinian language, which is distinct from Italian. Someone who speaks Sardinian is not simply speaking Italian with a different accent – they are speaking another language. As such, many Sardinians are bilingual, speaking both Italian and Sardinian.

However, this wasn’t always the case. The article touches on something called the “Bregungia generation” –refering to the generations of Sardinians who considered it shameful to speak their own language instead of Italian. Thankfully, modern research is now helping to demonstrate that growing up speaking both Sardinian and Italian is an advantage, not a burden.

You can download an English translation (pdf file): 01-08-14 Bilingualism Makes You Smart translation

Or practice your Italian by downloading the original Italian article (pdf file): 01-08-14 i bilinguismo rende svegli