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Bilingualism Matters: A Centre of Excellence

 

On 14 October 2014, Bilingualism Matters officially became a fully supported Centre at the University of Edinburgh. This important recognition celebrates six years of remarkable achievements.  I established Bilingualism Matters in September 2008 as a local research-based information service for parents and teachers focused on the facts, benefits and challenges of early bilingualism.

Bilingualism Matters will soon have a network of 15 branches in the UK, in the rest of Europe and in the USA; it has numerous partnerships and outreach projects in the public sector, where it collaborates with a wide range of partners including policy makers, education authorities and health professionals. It also has an increasing presence in the private sector. Moreover, Bilingualism Matters provides many students and visiting researchers with training and volunteering opportunities, which directly support academic skills in teaching and research and are valued by potential employers.

 

Image: Professor Antonella Sorace

Being a supported Centre will allow us to aim even higher in terms of changing attitudes towards multilingualism on the basis of current research, constantly maintaining and modernising the bridges between what we knew, what has just been discovered, and what we communicate to the general public. Here's to the next six years!

 

Professor Antonella Sorace 

Founder and Director of Bilingualism Matters



Image: University of Edinburgh logoImage: Bilingualism Matters logo
Edinburgh International Science Festival
 

We are thrilled to announce that Bilingualism Matters and the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology are joining forces for the 2015 Edinburgh International Science Festival.

More details coming soon

 

Staff news

 

New AThEME PhD students:
Catrìona Gibb
Ellise Suffil
Michela Bonfieni                                                        

 

Three new PhD students began their research projects at the University of Edinburgh earlier this autumn. The students make up part of a team of over 60 researchers who will spend the next five years investigating multilingualism in Europe as part of the major EU funded AThEME project. You can find out more about the AThEME project and Bilingualism Matters' role as a project partner on our website.

Here, Catrìona, Ellise and Michela explain why they chose to work on the AThEME project.

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Catrìona


Growing up in a Gaelic-English bilingual community on the Isle of Skye meant that in my formative years I took for granted the fact that I could speak two languages. It was during my undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of Glasgow that I began to realise the educational and social benefits bilingualism offered. I also realised that it is when researching bilingualism that my strengths are best utilised as my academic interest combines with my personal experience and passion for encouraging and developing bilingualism in Scotland.

My main research interests lie in the relationship between bilingualism, cognition and language processing. I hope that during this PhD we can improve our understanding of cognitive processing in bilinguals and how certain factors can influence the ultimate attainment of a second language.

 
 
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Ellise


Bilingualism does more than simply increase our opportunities in communication: it can change the very way in which we conceptualise our world and experiences. I am interested in how such concepts are represented within the bilingual mind and how these representations may interact with other cognitive functions, such as the interplay between language structure and visual attention. I am especially interested in what the relatively rare language structure of Gàidhlig can tell us about language representations, in contrast to the more common structures found in English.

I also plan to investigate more interactive elements of cross-linguistic communication, such as on what level bilingual speakers truly align on internal concepts, or ideas, when speaking to each other. I hope that such research will help us better understand how multiple languages are represented in bilingual and multilingual individuals and to improve methods used to support second language acquisition. 

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Michela


Before starting my PhD, I studied Linguistics and Cognitive Neuroscience in my native Italy. My main interest is the relation between the faculty of language and other more general cognitive functions, such as perception, memory and attention. Multilingualism is fascinating because it magnifies the effects of this relation: speaking more than one language affects the way people interact and learn, as well as the languages that they speak.

At the same time, multilingualism is not a simple thing: multilingual speakers use language in different ways, in different contexts, with varying degrees of proficiency. I hope that my work on the AThEME project will help to disentangle these dimensions of language use, and contribute to our understanding of how contextual and pragmatic factors in language interact with other cognitive functions.
 

Public events


4 December 19:00 - 20:00

One Brain, Two Languages: Bringing up a Bilingual Child


Public talk on the myths, challenges and benefits of bringing up a bilingual child.

Hosted by Ragged University at the Counting House, West Nicolson Street, Edinburgh

More information: visit Ragged University 



6 December 12:00 - 13:30

Growing up bilingual is good for you!


Information session for parents on bilingualism and Gaelic Medium Education. Creche provided.

Hosted by the Highland Council at Kilmallie Free Church, Caol, Fort William.

More information: email Margaret Mulholland
 

Research updates



 

Bilingualism and Autism


Work has begun looking at the experiences of bilingual families with children with autism. The project is being run jointly by Dr Sue Fletcher-Watson (school of clinical sciences), developmental psychologist Dr Hugh Rabagliati, and Bilingualism Matters Director Prof. Antonella Sorace.

The researchers are looking to interview families in order to increase our understanding of how bilingualism and autism interact.


"We’re looking for any families who speak more than one language and have a child with autism. We are equally keen to hear both from families who are bringing up their child to speak one language and those who are bringing up their child to speak more than one language. Likewise, we welcome families who have not yet made a decision about this. The interviews are informal and non-judgemental and provide an opportunity for families to teach us about their particular experiences."                        

For more information or to take part, please contact research assistant Sarah Hampton
 
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Recent events

 

North East Edinburgh Early Years Neighbourhood Forum
 

September 2014                       Edinburgh

 



Dr. Martha Robinson showcased the SOFT (School and Family Together for the Integration of Immigrant Children) project at an event for local authority staff working with young children and their families. The SOFT project, now in its second year, uses the same story-telling methodology as the successful "Let's become a Bilingual Family" project, to encourage children to explore another language together in a narrative setting. Hocus and Lotus, the intrepid dinocrocs around whom the project's stories, songs, and dance routines are centred, can be seen on the glamourous T-Shirt modelled by Martha, above. Martha is currently coordinating the project in four Edinburgh locations: Fort early years centre, St Mary's RC primary, Tollcross primary, and Castleview primary.

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Meet the Experts at the National Museum of Scotland

 

September 2014                                                       Edinburgh




Bilingualism Matters teamed up with Le Petit Monde bilingual puppet theatre as part of Explorathon 2014, one of Europe's largest public engagement events, which saw experts from across the University of Edinburgh descend on the National Museum of Scotland to bring their knowledge to the general public. As well as giving out advice on raising bilingual families, and testing the public's brain power with our fiendish modern languages quiz, we were thrilled to be entrusted with the museum's legendary magic carpet to keep the kids comfy while they watched puppet shows with French-speaking rabbit Lapin and his good friend Oiseau. Thanks so much to everyone who came along to chat with us. It was wonderful to meet you all!

For more information about Le Petit Monde, see their website or facebook page.



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Bilingualism Matters opens in Netherlands

 

September 2014                                          Amsterdam, Netherlands




The latest branch of Bilingualism Matters has opened in the Netherlands branch as part of the EU-funded AThEME project. The launch was part of Netherland's Drongo Festival, celebrating linguistic and cultural diversity, and was attended by parents, teachers, and local community group leaders. You can find more details about the launch, as well as links to a video of Professor Antonella Sorace's speech, on our website. More branches of Bilingualism Matters will be opening in Nova Gorica (Slovenia) and Milan (Italy) at the end of November.
 

         

Information leaflets for familiesteachers and policy makers now available to download from our website.

                                                                                 

         

    

 
To request paper copies, please email bilingualism-matters@ed.ac.uk

Bilingual parent

Eva Hanna grew up in the United States; she and her Greek husband spent several years living in Switzerland, where their two children were born. The family have since relocated to Edinburgh, where the children are growing up bilingual in English and Greek.
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Why do you want your child to grow up bilingual?
I studied bilingualism as an undergraduate and graduate student, so I had always planned to raise my children bilingually. Once my children were born, the reasons became more personal than academic. It was obvious to me that we should speak our first languages to our children, because this is what felt natural. One very important reason for the children to speak Greek in addition to English is that my in-laws are monolingual Greek speakers. Therefore, I could not imagine cutting the line of communication between grandparents and grandchildren. 


What has been the biggest challenge so far?
The biggest challenge so far has been trying to achieve a realistic balance between English and Greek in our family. When we lived in Geneva, the children were hearing more English than Greek simply because they spent more time with me than with my husband, but in the street and at nursery, it was French. Now that we live in the UK, English has taken an even more dominant role in their lives. 

Have you found any solutions or ways of overcoming that challenge?
Since the children were born, I have relied on one very successful and practical strategy to increase my children’s exposure to Greek. Wherever we have lived, I have been able to find Greek-speaking university students who were happy to make extra money by “babysitting” my children. In reality, they were doing more playing, singing and reading with my children than actual childcare. In this way, my kids were able to hear female voices speaking Greek, and they formed extremely affective relationships with these young women, which I also think reinforced their positive associations with the Greek language.

Of course, they have also attended “Greek School” with either the local Hellenic community or the Greek Church. The classes are a bit more structured, and if nothing else, attending the classes helps them to realize that they are not the only Greek speaking children in town! 

What advice would you give to other parents?
My best advice is for parents to do everything they can to give their children the opportunity to be bilingual, but at the same time, to not fret over the failure to achieve a perfect balance of the two languages. I think even some well-informed parents give up prematurely (or gradually) because they see it as an all-or-nothing venture. 

Contact us 

 
Bilingualism Matters, 
School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences
University of Edinburgh
Dugald Stewart Building
3 Charles Street
Edinburgh EH8 9AD
bilingualism-matters@ed.ac.uk 
0131 650 2884
Copyright © 2014 Bilingualism Matters Centre, All rights reserved.


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