Bilingualism Matters

To Adventurers, Photographers & Travellers

Taking on the World, One Flight at a Time

Here at Bilingualism Matters, we explore the world and help encourage others to learn a second, third or more language – to help expand the mind and feel confident when travelling the world.

 

Benefits of Bilingualism

Research has shown that bilingualism is beneficial for children’s development and their future. Children exposed to different languages become more aware of different cultures, other people and other points of view. But they also tend to be better than monolinguals at ‘multitasking’ and focusing attention, they often are more precocious readers, and generally find it easier to learn other languages. Bilingualism gives children much more than two languages!

Travel Events

Recent Events
BM talk for Ragged University: Language learning in children and adults, Central Library Edinburgh, 16 March 2013
MFL Conference: One brain, two languages, many advantages: why invest in early language learning, Wellington College, Berkshire, 25 February 2013

More Events

Celebration of Language and Cultures, Drummond Community High School, Edinburgh, 23 February 2013
Innovative Learning Week, University of Edinburgh: Speaking in Tongues – How to Engage Research in Society?, 20 February 2013
A brain, two languages, many advantages: why Gaelic-English bilingualism matters, Isle of Islay, 18 February 2013
Roundtable discussion: The Benefits and Challenges of Multilingual Business, Financial Times HQ, London, 15 February 2013 (see also the article in the Financial Times of 14 March 2013, © Financial Times Ltd)
BM talk for Ragged University: How do children learn two languages?, The Counting House, Edinburgh, 7 February 2013
Our international conference Multilingualism in Scotland and Europe, the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh, 4 February 2013

Branches

Fifth Branch Of Bilingualism Matters In Cagliari, Sardinia

Bilinguismu Creschet

Our fifth branch of Bilingualism Matters opened in Cagliari, Sardinia on 27 November 2012. For more information about the launch click here and for information on the branch click here (in Sardinian).

 

Fourth Branch Of Bilingualism Matters In Trento, Italy

Bilinguismo Conta

Bilingualism Matters opened their latest branch in Trento, Italy called ‘Bilinguismo Conta’ on 18 October 2012. Click here for more information on the launch, and click here to go to the website (in Italian).

Third Branch Of Bilingualism Matters In Thessaloniki, Greece

Bilingualism Matters Thessaloniki

For more information on ‘Me 2 Glosses’, the Greek branch of Bilingualism Matters, visit this website (in Greek). See also the news item under our video resources.

Second Branch Of Bilingualism Matters In The Western Isles, Scotland

Bilingualism Matters Stornoway

The second branch ‘Bilingualism Matters in the Western Isles’ was launched in Stornoway on 20 October 2011. See the invitation and information leaflet. See also the news item under our video resources.

First Branch Of Bilingualism Matters In Tromsø, Norway.

Bilingualism Matters Tromsø

Antonella Sorace and the team of the first branch of Bilingualism Matters, Flere språk
til flere in Tromsø. Information about the launch can be found here.

BILFAM-Let’s Become A BILingual FAMily!

Let's become a BILingual FAMily

Bilingualism Matters is a partner in the ‘Let’s become a BILingual FAMily’ project funded by the European Commission. 125 families have been followed over a period of 16 months where parents and children have been learning a second language together in a fun and innovative way based on the Narrative Format.

Piccolingo

Piccolingo Europe

Bilingualism Matters collaborated with PICCOLINGO, a campaign of the European Union to increase awareness of the importance of early language learning in pre-school children. See the Edinburgh blog here and watch short video presentations of Piccolingo here.

About

We work with a group of researchers at the University of Edinburgh who work on language development and bilingualism in children and adults.

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What Can We Do?
We want to bridge the gap between researchers and the community (bilingual families, educators, and policy makers) in order to enable more and more children to benefit from bilingualism.

What Service Do We Provide?
Do you have a bilingual household and do you want to raise your child bilingual but you are not sure how to do this? Do you worry about how bilingualism might affect your child’s school achievement? Do you want to know more about how the mind of a bilingual child works?

If you need information or advice on these or other issues, you can either consult the resources on this website or you can email us on info@bilingualism-matters.org.uk. Note that we can advise only on typical bilingual language development: we are not qualified to deal with medical or psychological conditions of any kind. If you are concerned about your child’s physical and mental well-being, please consult appropriate experts.

Talks For Parents, Teachers And Educators
We are happy to come to schools, nurseries and other venues to give accessible and informative talks about bilingualism.

Information Sessions
We offer information sessions and consultancies to international organisations and we are also ready to engage with policy makers in an advisory role and contribute to reports and consultations concerned with the promotion of bilingualism and multilingualism in the Scottish society.

Further Information

What Are The Long-Term Aims Of Our Service?
Our primary aim is to disseminate accurate information about bilingualism among bilingual families and educators.

In the longer term, we would like to:

Raise awareness among bilingual families, educators and policy makers of the facts and advantages of bilingualism.
Contribute to the establishment of communication channels and resources for the encouragement of bilingualism in Scotland.
Contribute to shaping public language strategies in Scotland to include specific policies for promoting bilingualism from early childhood.
Identify knowledge gaps where dissemination of research on bilingualism is especially needed.
Scotland As A Multilingual Society
Scotland is a multilingual country where, according to a recent survey, at least 106 different languages are spoken. In a population of over 5 million, this wide range of languages holds significant potential for cultural diversity, economic opportunity, and enriched education. However, are we prepared to celebrate linguistic and cultural diversity?

In many parts of the world it is common for children to be exposed to two or even more languages right from birth, but bilingualism is a relatively new phenomenon in most of Europe. As a consequence, growing up with more than one language is often regarded as ‘special’ and even ‘dangerous’ for a child’s development, and bilingualism is still surrounded by negative beliefs and misunderstandings. This is largely due to lack of information. We are here to help inform the public about the benefits of bilingualism and encourage families, educators, and policy makers in supporting children’s development of multiple languages.

FAQ

Why Want Bilingual Children?
There are many reasons, but the two most common are:

The parents speak different languages (say, an American woman and a Turkish man).
The parents speak the same language, but live in a community where most people speak something else (say, a Korean couple living in the UK).
In the first case, both the mother and father may want to be able to use their own language when talking to their children. This is the bilingual home situation. In the second, the parents may want to be able to use their own language at home even though their children also need to function in the world outside the front door. This is the bilingual setting situation. Our own situation is an Italian/English bilingual home in an English-speaking setting, and some of what we say here is based directly on our experience bringing up bilingual children.

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Don’t Children Get Confused When They Hear Two Languages Spoken Around Them?
The short answer is no. Children are incredibly sensitive to the different ways people speak. Even when they only hear one language, they learn very quickly about differences between the way men and women talk, the difference between polite and impolite ways of talking, and so on. For children, the bilingual situation is just a matter of another difference between people!

Fifty years ago educators throughout North America used to tell immigrant parents that it was better for their children’s schooling if they spoke English at home. Some researchers thought that early exposure to two languages put children at a disadvantage. Newer research tells us that this is not so, and there may be advantages to being bilingual (in addition to knowing more than one language), such as more flexible thinking. The disadvantages that earlier research found were generally economic disadvantages, linked to the hardships of immigrants’ lives.

Bilingual development sometimes results in slightly slower language development than for some monolingual children. Our older child was still saying things like ‘Where you are?’ instead of ‘Where are you?’ in English at four and a half. This is a normal developmental stage for monolingual English children, but they usually figure out that they have to say ‘Where are you?’ by the time they’re three or four. Our older child just took a little longer.

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Don’t Bilingual Children Ever Mix Their Languages Up?
Like adult bilinguals, bilingual children often use words from one language when speaking the other. (This is called code-switching.) But this doesn’t mean they are confused about which language they are speaking. In our Italian-English bilingual home, a lot of our food vocabulary is Italian, and we use this even when we’re speaking English (and when English words are available). So we’ll talk about pollo instead of chicken and sugo instead of sauce. Yet in speaking to monolinguals, bilingual children are careful to use only the relevant language.

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So How Do We Start Teaching Our Children Two Languages?
The main thing to keep in mind is that parents don’t really ‘teach’ children to speak, any more than they teach them to walk or smile. The most important things in language development are exposure and need. If children are exposed to a language in a variety of circumstances with many different people from the time they are born, and if they feel they need the language to interact with the world around them, they will learn it. If they are exposed to two languages in varied circumstances with different people from the moment they are born, and if they need both languages to communicate with the people around them, they will learn both.

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Do You Really Mean That If Our Children Are Exposed To Two Languages From Birth They Will Learn Both, Just Like That?
Many experts recommend the ‘one-parent-one-language’ method for a bilingual home. The idea is that Mommy (or Mamma, or Mutti) always speaks her own language with the children, and Daddy (or Papa, or Vati) always speaks his own language with them. This is a good basis for a successful bilingual home, but it’s not the only one, and even one-parent-one-language can go wrong.

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What Are Some Of The Problems With One-Parent-One-Language?
One problem can be balance. Children need to hear both languages often and in a variety of circumstances. If they never hear the ‘less important’ language except from one parent, they may not get enough exposure for that language to develop naturally. It is especially true that when both parents understand the ‘more important’ language, the children don’t feel they need the ‘less important’ one.

In these cases it is essential to find other sources of exposure and other ways of creating the sense of need. Monolingual grandparents can be especially helpful! Can you enlist a cousin or grandmother or a paid babysitter who speaks the other language to look after the children? Is there a daycare or playgroup where they can hear the other language? Can you get videos and story tapes in the other language? All of these can make a big difference; especially exposure that involves interaction with other people, not just watching TV. When our children were small, we did things like this to reinforce Italian in a largely English-speaking setting.

Another problem is keeping the situation natural. If children feel that they are being forced to do something weird or embarrassing, they will probably resist it. Explicit rules say, speaking one language on some days and the other on others can be very hard to enforce and can help create a negative attitude.

Still another problem is exclusion. If one of the parents doesn’t speak the other’s language (in our example, suppose the American woman doesn’t speak Turkish), the children will know that every time they say something in Turkish to their father they are excluding their mother from the conversation. This may make children reluctant to speak one of the parents’ languages when both parents are present. In our experience, a bilingual home is more likely to succeed if both parents at least understand both languages. That way, nobody is ever excluded from a family conversation.

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What About Siblings?
The arrival of a second child can upset the language balance in a bilingual home, and it’s common for a second child to be less fully bilingual than the first. Usually the first child speaks to the second in the ‘more important’ language, increasing the exposure the second child gets to that language and decreasing the sense of need for the ‘less important’ one. Think about what you want to do about this in advance. Come up with a strategy that fits your own situation, but it’s probably worthwhile to try to enlist the older child or children to promote the ‘less important’ language in your home situation.

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My Children Used To Speak Our Home Language Just Fine, But Now That They’re Going To School, They Mix It Up With English All The Time. What Can I Do?
Relax. Language mixing is normal where everyone speaks both languages. It doesn’t mean that the children will forget one language, and it doesn’t mean that they can’t tell the difference any more between two languages. If you scold them for speaking English it may create a negative attitude about the home language and actually make things worse. Instead, create natural situations where the children really need the home language: like calling on those monolingual grandparents again!

You can understand this kind of language mixing if you keep in mind that simple exposure is an important ingredient of children’s language development. When your children were small, they were probably more exposed to your home language – say Korean – than they were to English. Now that they are going to school, they are exposed only to English for hours a day, and they are learning all kinds of new words and new ways of using language, but only in English. They probably don’t know the Korean word for ‘notebook’ or ‘social studies’ or ‘principal’. When they use an English word in a Korean sentence, tell them what it’s called in Korean rather than worrying that they’re losing their home language. Remember, even if they end up with English as their dominant language, they can still be perfectly competent Korean speakers as well.

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Additional Reading
Baker, Colin. 1995. A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism. Multilingual Matters.

Grosjean, François. 1982. Life with Two Languages. Harvard University Press.

Harding-Esch, Edith, and Philip Riley. 2003. The Bilingual Family: A Handbook for Parents. 2nd edn. Cambridge University Press.

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Our Tips & Tricks For Traveling Cheap

One of the many benefits of bilingualism, is that local people from the countries you visit, tend to respect you more and not overcharge you for services and purchases.

Our Upcoming Trips

These are our upcoming trips, we are learning a little of each language to help us on the way

Switzerland
Zermatt
Austria
Salzburg
United States
Yosemite, CA

Travel Gallery

Gallery of our past travels.