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AThEME project newsletter

Winter 2014


to our first newsletter, and thank you for your interest in AThEME

Over the next 5 years, the AThEME researchers will work together using a range of techniques - from interviews to measuring brain activity - to investigate what happens when someone speaks more than one language. You can read about the work that is already underway in the Work in Progress section.

Dissemination is a crucial part of AThEME - we want to make sure that our findings make real differences in people's lives. To help make sure that people know about AThEME, branches of the public engagement initiative "Bilingualism Matters" are being set up in each participating country. You can find out more about the different branches and their activities in the
Communication Network section.

You'll find a list of major Upcoming Events for various audiences, but remember to check with your local branch of Bilingualism Matters for any other events they may be organising. The dissemination team are also keen for your input on our first Policy Brief, so please do get in touch with your thoughts.

Finally, in each newsletter, we'll be including a short interview with an AThEME researcher from one of the eight participating countries. In our first Meet the Researcher section, we speak to Professor Holly Branigan from the United Kingdom.

Multilingualism plays a role in the lives of many Europeans and it will increasingly do so in the coming years. Despite this, many deeply rooted misconceptions remain. AThEME is committed to investigating the science of multilingualism, and to helping people make evidence-based decisions about language. We want our results to reach a large audience of practitioners, researchers, policy makers and families. Our wish for 2015 is to deepen our relationships with you, our current readers, in order to build a range of new relationships with people across Europe who take an interest in our results. We look forward to sharing our results with you and to having your feedback. For now, we send you our season's greetings, and wish you all a pleasant and prosperous new year.

Best Wishes, 

The AThEME dissemination team


Image of Dr Verrips                    Image of Prof SoraceImage of Dr Beveridge

Dr Maaike Verrips                  Prof Antonella Sorace           Dr Madeleine Beveridge


Work in Progress

There are four AThEME research groups, each tackling different types of questions.
Regional Languages in Multilingual Europe

The EU recognises over 60 regional languages, and up to 40 million speakers of those languages across the EU. Regional languages are therefore a key element of multilingualism in Europe.

The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Rijeka University of Rijeka logo
have secured partial funding from the Croatian Science Foundation for an additional PhD student to work on AThEME. Under the supervision of Dr Tihana Kraš and Dr Branka Drljača Margić, the student will focus on language attitudes towards standard and non-standard varieties of Italian and Croatian, and how these attitudes affect the way in which people use those varieties. The results will be used to evaluate language and educational policies, and develop future policy recommendations.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh are investigating whether the type of sentence that Gaelic speakers use in English (e.g. an active sentence like "the man kicked the ball" versus a passive sentence like "the ball was kicked by the man") might be affected by the type of sentences they hear in Gaelic. In other words, can the grammar we hear in one language affect the grammar that we use in a very different language? The study is being conducted by PhD students Catriona Gibb, Ellise Suffill, and supervised by Professor Antonella Sorace, Professor Holly Branigan, and Professor Martin Pickering.

Heritage Languages and Language Users in the EU

A heritage language is one that families bring with them when they move to a different country. Speakers of heritage languages often face particular barriers relating to perceptions of immigration and ethnic diversity across Europe.


University of Konstanz logo
Researchers at the University of Konstanz are conducting a pilot study investigating whether linguistic mistakes of different heritage speakers influence the degree of ethnic discrimination, and if so, how this happens. The study is being run by Professor of Sociology Claudia Diehl, Professor of Linguistics Janet Grijzenhout, and  Monika Lindauer, who will begin her PhD in April 2015. Monika's PhD will look specifically at sociolinguistic factors that impact the maintenance or loss of French and Turkish as heritage languages in Germany. 

The sociologist Anne Gresser has also joined the team at Konstanz, where she is analysing existing data sets on migrants' maintenance of heritage languages.

Multilingualism and Communicative Impairment

Many people experience a form of communicative impairment - from stammering, dyslexia and Specific Language Impairment in children, to aphasia following a stroke or traumatic brain injury later in life. But what happens when someone with communicative impairment speaks more than one language?

At Reading two PhD candidates have been appointed,  David Miller and Diego Krivochen, who are working on language impairments in multilinguals.  Work has started in conjunction with the University of Verona on establishing the basic protocols for University of Reading logoSpecific Language Impairments (SLI) and developmental dyslexia assessment and artificial grammar paradigms. The AThEME project at Reading is supported by the Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism (CeLM) and the Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics (CINN) where additional work on multilingualism, SLI as well as Williams Syndrome and aphasia is carried out. The newly appointed PhD candidates are currently being trained by partners in CeLM and CINN in the behavioural and brain imaging methods that will be used in this research area.  

Work has started in the Meertens Institute in the Netherlands looking at how elderly citizens might use their knowledge of different languages (in this case, Dutch and linguistically distinct dialects) to construct a sense of belonging.
KNAW logoPhD student Jolien Clijsten's project will place particular emphasis on the role of language on maintaining well-being following a change of living environment - for example, to a nursing home in later life. Jolien's PhD is also partially financed by Maastricht University.

In Konstanz, PhD student Constantin Freitag has begun work studying how native speakers might process German sentences differently to second language learners. He'll be paying close attention to how these different groups process German verbs, which can either come second in the sentence, or move to the end of the sentence, depending on the type of structure being used. The research will lead to insights into the relationship between grammatical competency and language processing.

Being Multilingual

This research theme will focus on the cognitive aspects of multilingualism. Researchers will look at the possible relationship between language and other mental operations like attention and memory, and try to find which factors can best predict how well someone learns a second language.

Siniša Smiljanić began work on his PhD at the University of Rijeka at the start of November. His work will contribute to two research trajectories in this group: (1) the possible advantages of multilingualism on the cognitive system; and (2) the impact of how similar two languages are, and at what age learning began, on how successfully the second language is learnt.

PhD student Michela Bonfieni has joined the University of Edinburgh to study what happens when two languages touch each other in highly proficient bilinguals. Speaking or listening to a language involves integrating information at several levels  Michela will
University of Edinburgh logo
use Italian-Sardinian bilinguals to study how people manage to integrate these types of information across two different languages.


Policy Brief: Consulation

As well as academic outputs like publications and conference talks, AThEME will also produce annual objective policy briefs, for distribution across Europe.

The first brief will review the current state of 
multilingualism and education.

Consultation for this policy brief is now open.

We want to hear from practitioners, policy makers and parents in all eight participating AThEME countries - your input can help us create a relevant, accurate, and above all, useful policy brief.

What we want to know:
  • What do you think are the key issues in multilingualism and education?
  • How does your local education system deal with multilingual children?
  • What sort of resources are available to parents, teachers and children?
  • Have you seen any examples of good (or bad) practice in this area?
To take part in the consultation, contact your national branch of Bilingualism Matters or email Dr Maaike Verrips by 23 January 2015

front cover of AThEME leaflet
AThEME leaflets are available to download now by clicking on the image above. For paper copies, contact your national Bilingualism Matters branch.

A Communication Network

Bilingualism Matters logo

AThEME project logo

By Spring 2015, there will be a branch of Bilingualism Matters in each of the AThEME countries (Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, United Kingdom). 

All branches share a central aim: to raise awareness and promote evidence-based 
information about bilingualism and language learning across Europe. As the AThEME project develops, branches of Bilingualism Matters will be able to communicate the AThEME findings and policy recommendations in all sectors of European society.

Bilingualism Matters staff at an event in KonstanzGERMANY Staff at the Konstanz branch of Bilingualism Matters - 'Zentrum für Mehrsprachigkeit' - organised a hugely sucessful series of multilingualism workshops for parents and teachers. The success of these workshops has resulted in an ongoing series of weekly lectures on multilingualism. For more details or to get in touch, please visit their website


President of University of Edinburgh at Bilingualism Matters event

UNITED KINGDOM Bilingualism Matters in Edinburgh celebrated becoming a fully-fledged Centre at the University of Edinburgh - AThEME leaflets were distributed to all guests including teachers, health workers, and policy makers. As well as public talks, the Centre is actively building partnerships with the "New Scots" Refugee Strategy, English as an Additional Language practitioners, and speech-language therapists. Follow @BilingMatters or visit their website for more info.

Launch of Rijeka branch of Bilingualism MattersCROATIA The Rijeka branch opened in June, and has recently launched a Tandem language learning programme in addition to supporting language classes for vulnerable social groups. Recent events include a panel discussion on preserving the Grobnik dialect, a workshop for psychologists & educationalists, and a presentation to the Croatian Association of Teachers of English. Find out more on their website or follow them on twitter @BMRijeka

ITALY Staff at the Trento branch of Bilingualism Matters have been developing a series of workshops for parents and teachers of children with a minority language. These workshops will complement ongoing work exploring educational attainment of immigrant children in relation to the amount of linguistic input they receive. The newly launched branch in Milan is also the first branch to provide signed information - visit their youtube channel for videos in Italian Sign Language. Information on Bilingualism Matters in Italy, and the AThEME project, is available on the Bilinguismo Conta website

NETHERLANDS The Amsterdam branch launched in September as part of Drongo Festival, an annual celebration of linguistic diversity in the Netherlands. You can view some of the speeches from the branch's opening ceremony by visiting the Drongo Festival's youtube channel. On the website, the Dutch branch presents a weekly tip for raising children with more than one language, a monthly blog in collaboration with AThEME researchers and a presentation of the language of the month. Since the launch of their branch, staff of the Dutch branch have been involved in various workshops and conferences about multilingualism for parents and teachers.

For more information about bilingualism - including their tip of the week - visit the meertalig website or follow @BilingMattersNL on twitter.


SLOVENIA The most recent branch -  'Večjezičnost Velja' - opened in Nova Gorica, at the end of November. As well as the launch itself, staff there organised a public lecture on bilingualism which was hosted by the Slovenia Educational Consortium "Slov.I.K". You can find out more on their website.

Upcoming events

24th January (Konstanz, Germany)
One year anniversary event of Bilingualism Matters in Germany
More information: email Dr Tanja Rinker

30 January 2015 (Leeuwarden, Netherlands)
Public lecture: "Do minority languages have added value" in collaboration with Fryske Akademy and University College Fryslan. Keynote speaker: professor Antonella Sorace. 
More information and to register: email event organisers

26-27 February 2015  (Nantes, France)
Launch of Bilingualism Matters in France
More information: email Dr Hamide Demirdache

14-15 May 2015 (Edinburgh, United Kingdom)
AThEME researchers' consortium 
More information: email Dr Madeleine Beveridge

10-12 September 2015 (Nantes, France)
Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition with special session on heritage language acquisition 
More information: email GALA 2015 organisers

Meet the Researcher

Professor Holly Branigan
Holly Branigan is Professor of Psychology of Language at the University of Edinburgh (one of three British universities named on the AThEME grant).

Her main interests are language production in monolingual and bilingual speakers - in particular people's choice of sentence structure - dialogue, and language production in children.

How would you define "bilingual"?
I usually think of 'bilingual' as meaning able to use more than one language reasonably fluently

How did you first become interested in bilingualism?
I've been interested in it ever since I was young - my mother is bilingual, and as a child I was fascinated watching her switch between languages mid-conversation
Can you tell us about any recent bilingualism research you have been involved in?
We've been looking at the way in which bilinguals' experiences of grammar in one language can affect how they use their other language; our study so far suggests that in proficient bilinguals, experiences and preferences in one language don't seem to affect how they use their other language. It will be interesting to see if the AThEME research on Gaelic and English backs these findings up.
And what are you looking at as part of AThEME?
At Edinburgh we are very lucky to have received three fantastic AThEME-funded PhD students! Martin Pickering, Antonella Sorace and I are co-supervising all three students. Their projects will look at Gaelic-English and Italian-Sardinian bilinguals. It's still early days now to say exactly what lines of investigation they will take, but at least part of the project will involve looking at the extent to which the grammatical system in one language affects the grammatical system in the other language.
Do you speak any other languages?
I used to speak fluent French, though I am now very rusty! I have also studied and forgotten (to varying extents) German, Chinese and Italian. And thanks to my mum, I can speak a little Thai.
What have you found to be the hardest thing about researching bilingualism?
That there is no such thing as a 'typical' bilingual! Everyone's experience of how they have learnt and use their languages is very different. That is one reason why AThEME is so important - it's a chance for researchers to look at all different kinds of speakers across a whle range of contexts, and try to asess which factors have the biggest influence on how we learn and maintain languages.
Complete the sentence: speaking another language is.... amazing - and very useful! - skill.

What do you think is the most important issue in bilingualism research right now?
There's a great deal of interest in how being bilingual affects other aspects of cognition, but for me, the most interesting questions are the linguistic ones - for example, how bilinguals are able to manage and use two grammatical systems when they speak.
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