Lost for words? Considering language attrition

Discussions at workshop

Bilingualism Matters is delighted to be involved in ESRC-funded First Language Attrition Seminar Series, which is led by Monika Schmid, University of Essex. As part of the series, we hosted a two-day workshop on “The Selectivity of Native Language Attrition” last week, which delivered interesting new findings in bilingualism research.

The term ‘attrition’ is somewhat controversial, as it refers to the decline in proficiency in one language for bilinguals – their native language. This is a common occurrence for bilinguals who start using their second language more frequently, for instance if they move to another country.

Attrition is often seen as a negative consequence of bilingualism but it is a completely natural phenomenon when frequently using more than one language. Academics from around the world came together last week to discuss research findings from various studies agreeing on how attrition affects not only bilinguals living abroad, but also those intensively studying a new language. Putting aside the negative connotation that might be connected with the word, the message was very clear from the workshop that this is a normal process and nothing to worry about.

If you are interested in learning more about this subject, check out the Language Attrition website. You may also want to consider attending the upcoming Practitioner Day in London on 10th November, which aims to provide useful information for practitioners, teachers, parents, caregivers and policy makers for the importance of the native or home language in professional and personal settings. Find more details here.

(Thanks to Robert Spelorzi, Eva-Maria Schnelten and Andrea Padovan for contributing to this post)

The Importance of the Native Language – Practitioner Day (Birkbeck, University of London, November 10th 2017)

Photo: iStock

Bilingualism Matters is excited to be involved in this final event in  a series of academic conferences and workshops funded by the ESRC.

The Importance of the Native Language – Practitioner Day is on November 10th 2017 from 9:00-5:00 pm at Birkbeck, University of London. This event is part of the 2017 ESRC Festival of Social Science and will be hosted by Birkbeck’s Centre for Multilingual and Multicultural Research and organised in collaboration between the Centre for Research in Language Development throughout the Lifespan at the University of Essex (LaDeLi), the Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication at Birkbeck College, Mothertongue and Bilingualism Matters. The event is part of an ESRC-funded seminar series on language attrition, awarded to Prof. Monika Schmid (University of Essex, grant ES/M001776/1)

Participation is free, but for catering and planning purposes, please register here.

Please email languageattrition@essex.ac.uk in case of any questions.

What are the challenges, benefits and opportunities in being able to use several languages?

The economic and personal benefits of acquiring a second language are well known but the fact that learning new languages has ramifications for the existing ones – first language attrition – is usually ignored. This Practitioner Day will bring together experts on the importance of the native language and will explore problems and opportunities which a multilingual society and a multilingual life entails, in both a professional and a personal context. It is intended to provide useful information for practitioners, teachers, parents, caregivers and policy makers for the importance of the native or home language in professional and personal settings.

During the day, we will address topics including:

  • Multilingual children and language brokering
  • Multilingual children in foster care
  • Language, emotion and therapy
  • Citizenship, language and identity
  • Language attrition and problems of intergenerational transmission of the minority language

(a full programme is available here)

We look forward to seeing you in London!

In the news: article in Italian magazine

Professor Antonella Sorace, Founder and Director of Bilingualism Matters, had an article published yesterday in ‘Sette’, the weekly magazine of major Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. In the article ‘Smontiamo tutti i pregiudizi sul bilinguismo’ (loosely translated ‘Removing Prejudice Against Bilingualism’), she confronts some of the myths surrounding bilingualism with facts from science.

You can read the article online here.

You can see a pdf  of the print version here.


Explorathon 2017 @ Leith Labs 29th Sept

Friday 29th September 2017 is European Researchers’ Night – an opportunity for the general public to discover science, meet researchers and have fun!

We’ll be joining Explorathon 2017 at Leith Labs in Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre, Edinburgh, from 12 noon to 6pm with researchers from Bilingualism Matters and our European partner project AThEME.

We’re going to have lots of fun, language-related activities for all the family, so come along and join us, along with many other researchers, at Leith Labs!

Questions for Bilingualism Matters experts?

Following the success of Antonella Sorace’s and Thomas Bak’s Edinburgh Fringe shows in the last week, we are offering everyone who was unable to attend the opportunity to put their questions directly to Antonella and Thomas on Twitter.

Our live Twitter Q&A session will take place today, Friday 25th August, from 4pm to 5pm (BST). Use #askbiling to ask your questions, and follow the discussion!

Check out the videos below to get an idea of some of the questions they were asked by the enthusiastic audiences at their packed shows.

Follow Bilingualism Matters on Twitter: @BilingMatters
Follow Thomas Bak on Twitter: @thbaketal

Is monolingualism making us ill?

Post by Thomas Bak, Co-director of Bilingualism Matters Edinburgh

Last Thursday I had a chance to see and listen to what might become one of the highlights of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival: the performance of Monteverdi’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea” by English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir, directed by Sir John Eliot Gardiner. For me, one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written, but also one of the most unsettling ones. It raises the question whether beauty can be equally perceived (and enjoyed), whether it is truthful or deceitful. Is the final, tantalisingly beautiful love duet between Nero and Poppea equally moving when we know that the feelings expressed there are not genuine, but rather reflect deceit and manipulation? This opera has been puzzling me since I had first heard it many years ago, but I believe it is exactly one of the things that great art should do: not only to please us, but also to make us think. [Read more…]

Celebrate Bilingualism & Languages at Edinburgh Fringe

The largest arts festival in the world is kicking off this weekend here in Edinburgh!

We’re excited that two of our directors at Bilingualism Matters have fantastic shows as part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas that will challenge some commonly held notions about languages in modern society. Catch Antonella Sorace on 14th August ‘In Praise of Useless Languages‘ and Thomas Bak on 23rd August, ‘Is Monolingualism Making Us Ill?’.

For those of you looking for even more language treats, we’ve also been through the Fringe Programme in search of more shows that aim to celebrate languages and bilingualism, although be aware that inclusion doesn’t imply endorsement – so take a chance or check reviews! [Read more…]

Twitter Q&A Session – 25 Aug

If you think monolingualism might be making you ill or you need to know about the hidden talents of minority languages, but can’t make along to our fantastic Edinburgh Fringe Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas shows this year, you can join our live Twitter chat on Friday 25th August 2017 from 4pm to 5pm (BST).

Professor Antonella Sorace and Dr Thomas Bak will be on hand to answer your questions. Use the hashtag #askbilingual to leave your questions.

Follow Bilingualism Matters on Twitter: @bilingmatters
Follow Thomas Bak on Twitter: @thbaketal



Bilingualism Matters at Edinburgh Fringe 2017

We are delighted that our Director, Professor Antonella Sorace, and our Deputy Director, Dr Thomas Bak, are both challenging Edinburgh Fringe audiences this August with surprising findings from research, as part of the 2017 Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, organised by Beltane Public Engagement Network. [Read more…]

Our Annual Event 2017

By: Mariana Vega-Mendoza & Madeleine Long

On Friday 12 May 2017, Bilingualism Matters hosted its Annual Event at the University of Edinburgh’s Informatics Forum. The event brought together professionals and researchers from areas such as education, neuroscience, and policy as well as members of the public.

The programme kicked off with registration and networking followed by a wonderful schedule of short talks hosted by Àdhamh Ó Broin. The first talk was by the Centre Director, Prof Antonella Sorace, [Read more…]