Latest News

A selection of language-related news. Does not claim to be comprehensive or represent the views of SCILT.


Scots and bilingualism

27 March 2024 (Scottish Book Trust)

According to the 2011 census, 1.5 million people in Scotland identified as Scots speakers, with a further 267,000 reporting that they could understand the language. After English, Scots was the most widely spoken and understood language across Scotland. UK-wide, more people self-reported as speaking Scots than either Gaelic (57,000) or Welsh (562,000), making Scots the UK’s most widely spoken minority language.

Despite this, there is often misunderstanding about the status of Scots as a language. 


How can a baby learn two languages at the same time?

27 March 2024 (The Conversation)

Language acquisition in children is one of the most fascinating features of the human species, as well as one of the most difficult problems in linguistics and cognitive science. What are the processes that enable a child to completely master its native language in just a few years, and to a degree of competence that adult learners of a second language can almost never match?

[..] If it’s so impressive that a baby can learn even just one language, then how do we explain that it can go on to learn two, three or even more?


'A wonderful opportunity': The adventure of raising bilingual children

11 March 2024 (BBC Future)

Isabelle Gerretsen, who grew up speaking Dutch and English, investigates the latest science on helping children become fluent in two or more languages – including advice for parents who speak one language but would like their children to be multilingual.

When I was seven years old, I went away to a school camp for the first time. While there, we were all encouraged to write letters back home. I wrote a detailed letter in English to my mum, telling her about all the activities we'd been doing. I then translated the letter word-for-word into Dutch for my dad, a native Dutch speaker. This story still makes my dad, who is fluent in both Dutch and English, laugh.

My parents raised my sisters and I bilingually from birth. They sought advice and were told to only speak their respective languages to us. They stuck to this so strictly that for an embarrassingly long time we did not realise that they both spoke Dutch and English fluently. Nowadays, we speak a Dutch-English blend at home, often switching between languages mid-sentence. However, there is still a common idea that the model my parents followed is the best guarantee of raising truly bilingual children: start at birth, with each parent strictly sticking to their native language. Among language experts, it's known as the OPOL strategy, short for "one parent, one language". But is that really the only way of achieving bilingualism? And do you need to already have two languages in your life when you start the process, or can you raise a bilingual child even if you and others around you only speak one language?


New resource PALINGUI - making language learning pathways visible in young children

19 December 2023 (ECML)

This resource website supports teachers and educators working with children aged 3 to 12 in making all language learning visible in the education system through observation, documentation, and assessment.

PALINGUI offers essential information about early language learning as well as tools and tasks that will help to observe, document, and assess young children's language learning pathways in a multilingual context.

There are also reflective tools for teachers and educators which invite you to reflect on different aspects of your professional practice and the educational context in which you work. 


Branching out with languages – workshop series for mainstream and complementary school teachers

7 December 2023 (Bilingualism Matters / SCILT)

Bilingualism Matters and SCILT, Scotland’s National Centre for Languages are offering a series of free, online professional learning workshops for teachers in complementary and heritage language schools, based in the UK and beyond.

Workshop 1 - The Bigger Picture: The basics of bilingual language development and the role of teachers, parents and communities. This session is run by Prof Antonella Sorace and Katarzyna Przybycien from Bilingualism Matters and the University of Edinburgh.

Workshop 2 - The Language Learning Buzz: Strategies to engage and motivate learners, both online and in the classroom. This session is run by Karen Faulds and Suzanne Ritchie from SCILT. 

Workshop 3 - The Supportive Classroom: Strategies to support learning and encourage positive mindsets within a group of mixed ability learners. This session is run by Karen Faulds and Suzanne Ritchie from SCILT. 

See the attached flyer for more information. You can book a place at these workshops via the Bilingualism Matters website.


Related Files

Bilingual Learners - Postgraduate Diploma

27 November 2023 (University of Edinburgh)

This specialist pathway is designed for teachers who are currently teaching bilingual or multilingual children in contemporary classrooms.

The University of Edinburgh is the only provider in Scotland of a Postgraduate Diploma in this area. Local authorities in Scotland regard this specialist Postgraduate Diploma as a benchmark for practitioners specialising in working with learners who have English as an Additional Language (EAL).

Visit the university website for more information about the programme and to apply.


The bilingual brain may be better at ignoring irrelevant information

21 November 2023 (EurekAlert / University of Florida)

People who speak two languages may be better at shifting their attention from one thing to another compared to those who speak one, according to a study published this month in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

The study examined differences between bilingual and monolingual individuals when it comes to attentional control and ignoring information that isn’t important at the time, said its authors Grace deMeurisse, a University of Florida Ph.D. candidate studying linguistics, and Edith Kaan, a UF professor in the department of linguistics.  

“Our results showed that bilinguals seem to be more efficient at ignoring information that's irrelevant, rather than suppressing — or inhibiting information,” deMeurisse said. “One explanation for this is that bilinguals are constantly switching between two languages and need to shift their attention away from the language not in use.” 


Daniella Theis: It’s sad to see fewer people learning languages

30 October 2023 (The Herald)

Apart from life itself (and the fact she loves me so much still, despite me pushing her buttons for so many of my younger years) it is probably the greatest gift my mum gave me: her language.

Those that have read more of what I write will have seen me talk of my roots before. I was born and raised in Germany to a German father and an American mother, and moved to the UK in my late teens. Born into this setup, I was blessed with not learning one, but two languages from day one. Part of it was a necessity: my mother didn't speak much German when I arrived, although she is fully fluent now.

However, there was another reason I was pushed towards languages growing up: pure pragmatism. I had a teacher in Germany that warned us that unless we wanted to spend our whole life holidaying on Sylt, an island on the north coast of Germany, we would have to learn to speak a language that wasn’t German. Obviously, learning languages isn’t just to make holidays go more smoothly, but what they said holds true: most people outside of Germany do not speak German and, if we wanted to communicate, we would have to adapt.

It is common for most Germans to learn at least two foreign languages while at school. We learned English in school from when we were about eight or nine, followed by French when I was about 12.

Knowing English was a big part of me moving to the UK and staying here. Growing up bilingual, I took comfort in the knowledge that the culture shock a move to a new country would bring, would at least not be paired with a language barrier, and I was right. That is something I see as a gift, and I’m forever grateful for.


Why bilinguals may have a memory advantage – new research

16 August 2023 (The Conversation)

Think about being in a conversation with your best friend or partner. How often do you finish each other’s words and sentences? How do you know what they are going to say before they have said it? We like to think it is romantic intuition, but it’s just down to how the human brain works.


Multilingual Approaches through Art - online exhibition is now live!

16 June 2023 (SCILT / University partners)

On Thursday 8 June 2023 SCILT hosted the Multilingual Approaches through Art online exhibition launch event. The event provided the opportunity to hear from pupils, teachers and partners who participated in the project. Parents and families were invited to come along, and we were delighted to welcome those who could us in celebrating the project and the launch of the pupils’ artwork.

The launch commenced with opening remarks from SCILT and CISS Director Fhiona Mackay. Professor Antonella Sorace, Founder of Bilingualism Matters, spoke about the multilingual approach behind the project, and we heard from project partners Dr Lavinia Hirsu from the University of Glasgow, and Jane Catlin from the University of Strathclyde. Following this, the showcase video was shared where attendees had the opportunity to see a snapshot of some of the artworks the children had created. At this point we were blown away by the creativity on view! Here we had a selection of art that included language portraits, exquisite corpse collaborations, calligrams and work inspired by Chagallian idioms.

Attendees then had the chance to hear from participating teachers about their experience taking part in the project. Teachers from Antonine Primary, Bowhouse Primary, Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Loch Abar, Mile End School, St Maria Goretti Primary, and Williamston Primary provided feedback with one teacher commenting:

"Despite my love of languages, art and my excitement for the project, I wasn’t initially sure of the impact it could have in my school as the vast majority of pupils have English as their home language. However, the impact that it had was making multilingualism more visible and giving it more value in the eyes of the pupils."

Another teacher commented on combining art and languages saying:

"It was interesting to look at languages in a different way and the project gave me lots of ideas about how to open up languages that we already have in the classroom. It has been great to give the children a chance to use and share their native languages and make connections with them through the medium of art."

For more information about the project, please visit the Multilingual Approaches through Art webpage on the SCILT website via the link below. Here you will be able to access the showcase video, teacher feedback video and of course the wonderful online exhibition. Happy browsing!



Complex Languages May Shape Bilingual Brains Differently

24 May 2023 (Language Magazine)

In a recent study published in the journal Science Advances, French researchers examined how bilingual people neurologically process their respective languages in written form.

The study carried out by a team of clinical neurologists, neuropsychologists and researchers, and funded by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche, found that a part of the brain called the Visual Word Form Area (VWFA) behaves differently for English-Chinese speakers compared to English-French speakers. It has also shed light on specific research towards different forms of bilingualism, with most accredited research comparing monolingualism and bilingualism. 

There is much scientific evidence to credit bilingualism beyond its cultural and communication benefits. Being able to speak more than one language is proven to physically change the brain, including increased neuroplasticity and fighting cognitive decline. 


Glasgow Gaelic School appoints new head Gillian Campbell-Thow

17 March 2023 (The Herald)

Glasgow Gaelic School’s first ‘learner’ head teacher has been appointed to lead the flagship campus as record numbers of pupils are expected to enroll this year.

In common with more than 90% of pupils at the school, Gillian Campbell-Thow is not a native speaker of the ancient Scots language. 

When the city’s first primary opened in 1999 the roll was predominantly made up of pupils whose parents had ‘heritage’ Gaelic.

While the Ayrshire-born teacher’s appointment might have raised eyebrows in the early days of the school, she says “for the most part” the reaction from the community has been positive.

The 44-year-old is working towards an additional teaching qualification in Gaelic at Strathclyde University and has her own homework to do this evening.

Da chanan, da chultar, iomadh cothrom, is written on her coffee mug: two languages, two cultures, many opportunities.

The new head certainly practices what she preaches. She is fluent in Spanish and French, competent in German and could comfortably chat in Mandarin.


How dyslexia changes in other languages

10 March 2023 (BBC)

Alex loved books and languages. His parents were native English speakers, and the family lived in Japan, so Alex spoke English at home, and Japanese at school. At the age of 13, however, Alex was diagnosed with dyslexia, a learning difficulty that affects reading and writing. According to test results, his English reading level was that of a six-year-old.

The results were a shock. "This test came along and they were like, actually, your writing is horrible," Alex recalls. "I thought I was doing ok. Yes, there was a bit of a struggle, but I assumed everyone else was struggling. In fact, the numbers that came out were quite devastating from my perspective."

To researchers, the even bigger surprise was his performance in the other language he used. When he was tested in Japanese at the age of 16, his literacy was not just good. It was excellent.


New study reveals UK ‘hubs’ set to raise next multilingual generation

23 February 2023 (FE News)

Global learning platform Preply takes a look at some of the most nurturing factors to encourage multilingualism, revealing the UK hubs set to raise the next multilingual generation.

Over half of the world’s population can speak more than one language, with 43% classifying as bilingual and a further 17% identifying as multilingual. Although a respectable one-third of Brits (36%) speak more than one language, the world’s topmost bilingual nation is Indonesia, where ¾ of the population speak a second language.

Taking over 110 UK towns and cities, Preply’s latest research reveals the UK ‘hubs’ set to raise the next multilingual generation. The study considers bilingual/international schools, the demand for learning a language and the size of the bilingual community (bilingual population), to reveal the country’s top locations for nurturing multilingualism in children.

Ranking as the UK's top ten are:

  • Cambridge
  • Reading
  • Ipswich
  • Manchester
  • London
  • Oxford
  • Bristol
  • Derby / Leicester (joint 8th)
  • Nottingham
  • Edinburgh / Exeter (joint 10th)


My children don’t speak my mother tongue – as a second-generation migrant, it fills me with sadness

21 February 2023 (The Guardian)

Which language immigrant parents should speak at home has been endlessly debated. For now, we have not passed Urdu onto our children.

As a second-generation British Pakistani growing up in Bradford, I was surrounded by Urdu and smatterings of Punjabi. English came later, and I can remember not being able to understand my teacher on the first day of nursery. This was all part of my parents’ plan: to speak in Urdu to my siblings and I because they knew we would learn English at school. They were right.

There have been countless debates over the years about which language immigrant parents should speak to their children, and the impact of that on their studies. I’ve never been convinced of the benefit of dropping one language in favour of the other. Because of my parents’ decision, I’m able to speak both languages fluently. I write for a living and worked as a journalist for the BBC, and my multilingualism has only enhanced my life. 


Related Links

Speaking a mother tongue fosters a sense of cultural identity (The Guardian, 27 February 2023)

Why we can dream in more than one language

17 February 2023 (BBC)

Sleep has a more powerful role in language-learning than was previously thought. What does this reveal about our night-time brain?

Just after I began work on this article, I had a very fitting dream. I was hosting a party in a hotel suite, with guests from the US, Pakistan, and other countries. Most of the guests were chatting away in English; one or two spoke German, my mother tongue. At one point I couldn't find my son, and panicked. When I spotted him, I sighed a relieved "Ach, da bist du ja!" – "There you are!", in German – and gave him a hug.

If you speak more than one language, you may have had similar experiences of them mingling in your sleep. My own dreams often feature English, which I speak in daily life here in London, as well as German, my childhood language. But how and why do our brains come up with these multilingual dreams – and could they have an impact on our real-life language skills?


Your native tongue holds a special place in your brain, even if you speak 10 languages

3 February 2023 (Science Daily)

Most people will learn one or two languages in their lives. But Vaughn Smith, a 47-year-old carpet cleaner from Washington, D.C., speaks 24. Smith is a hyperpolyglot—a rare individual who speaks more than 10 languages.

In a new brain imaging study, researchers peered inside the minds of polyglots like Smith to tease out how language-specific regions in their brains respond to hearing different languages. Familiar languages elicited a stronger reaction than unfamiliar ones, they found, with one important exception: native languages, which provoked relatively little brain activity. This, the authors note, suggests there’s something special about the languages we learn early in life.


Why being bilingual can open doors for children with developmental disabilities, not close them

10 January 2023 (The Conversation)

When parents learn their child has a developmental disability, they often have questions about what their child may or may not be able to do.

Children with developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome, often have challenges and delays in language development. And for some families, one of these questions may be: “Will speaking two languages be detrimental to their development?”

However, studies consistently demonstrate exposure to an additional language, including a minority language, does not impact language outcomes negatively. This highlights the importance of giving children the opportunity to become bilingual.

Many parents feel speaking one language would be easier than two. Some may feel bilingualism would be too confusing for a child with a developmental disability. This is a belief which is also sometimes held by teachers and clinicians who may be consulted on their view towards bilingual exposure.

With good intentions, paediatricians, speech–language therapists, teachers or social workers may advise parents to avoid using a heritage or minority language in the home, as children will also be exposed to the majority community language.

Research also shows children with disabilities may have fewer opportunities to access services in a second language.

However, bilingualism is possible for children with developmental disabilities, as our research on children learning both Welsh and English shows. 


Bilingual MPs explain the importance of speaking another language

11 November 2022 (BBC)

Bilingual MPs have told the BBC about the importance to them of their cultural languages in politics.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle says language diversity in Parliament is something that “brings the House alive” and should be encouraged.

MPs can use their mother tongue language when swearing into Parliament, but under the rules, they should use English when speaking in debates.


The future’s bright, the future’s bilingual: Meet the north-east children speaking multiple languages

26 September 2022 (Press and Journal)

We all want our children to grow up to be open-minded citizens of the world.

One of the best ways to broaden our horizons is to learn another language – and the younger the better.

To mark today’s European Day of Languages, the P&J spoke to five multilingual families living in Aberdeen.

The Granite City has long been a multicultural place, particularly since the oil industry took off in the 1970s.

As an example, Hanover Street School pupils speak a whopping 19 different languages at home.

Juliette Kinn Valdelievre doesn’t exaggerate when she says hers is an “international family”.

The fact that Arthur, seven, and five-year-old twins Hadrien and Thomas speak French at home tells barely half the story.


Bilingualism in Autism: Evidence and Recommendations for Education Practice

29 August 2022 (University of Edinburgh)

A guidance document summarising the latest findings in the field of bilingualism in autism research is available to download. This summary focuses on the information needed by educators to provide up-to-date and adapted advice to bilingual families of autistic children and young people and includes links to additional resources.


Rebecca Baird: What language do you dream in? Why every Scottish pupil deserves the chance to be bilingual

26 August 2022 (The Courier)

Scotland has always been bilingual, but never formally.

The national identity is caught somewhere between a renaissance and an existential crisis, and nowhere is that more apparent than on our tongues.

So much of the discourse around Scotland’s languages centres on our native ones – English, Gaelic and Scots.

And there’s no doubt that each has become ever more heavily politicised as debates over Brexit and independence boil on.

To push romantic-sounding Gaelic is seen to be naïve and clinging to an outdated, pastoral vision of Scotland.

Let’s be honest, when non-speakers see all those vowels on road signs, they’re picturing will o’ the wisps leading unicorns through misty old glens.

Or BBC Alba.

Meanwhile Scots has that whole trendy, mildly cringe but lovably sincere thing going on in its current resurgence among forward-thinking young indy activists.

And mumsy old English is cast in the role of the staid, conservative Karen of Scotland’s tongues.

Reliable, sure, but a bit behind the times.

I’m being glib of course – I think all three languages are gorgeous.

But I do reckon each has enough cultural weight to inflame debates about national identity.

Suddenly it’s not just what you say, but the language you say it in, which tells others where you stand politically.

And using these languages (or any languages) as political virtue signals is doing a disservice to our nation – its identity, and more importantly, its children.


10 benefits of bilingualism, according to science

10 May 2022 (Big Think)

Bilingual people are incredibly attractive. If you don’t agree with me, I’m afraid you’re in the minority. Being able to speak two or more languages comes with a whole host of benefits (not least for your love life). A great and growing body of research has focused on the psychological, economic, and health benefits of being bilingual. Speaking many languages improves a host of cognitive functions, across all stages of life, and it affects our emotional and social attitudes, as well. The scientific world is starting to take seriously the life-changing advantages to speaking multiple languages.

That’s great, but what benefits are we talking about exactly? What specific advantages would learning French or Spanish give you?


Multimind Project - Final conference and resources

9 May 2022 (Bilingualism Matters)

Bilingualism Matters is delighted to be a dissemination partner on the Multimind Project, a multidisciplinary and multisectorial training network on multilingualism. 

Visit the website to find out about the MultiMind Project Final Conference, taking place in a hybrid format from Konstanz, Germany, from 27 to 29 June 2022, and how to access free resources on multilingualism, including a fun quiz, flyers and videos on multilingualism and developmental language disorders, and policy reports for professionals.


We launch a Storytelling Month to celebrate multilingualism and your stories

31 January 2022 (National Literacy Trust)

Today we kick off Storytelling Week by launching the brand-new Storytelling Month to celebrate the value and skill of speaking multiple languages and the ways that these voices and stories shape our community.

The virtual initiative, which forms part of the National Literacy Trust’s Connecting Stories campaign, is to run until International Mother Language Day on February 21 and promote community literacies – with an equal focus on speaking and reading.

Across the month various activities and resources will be made available. With free videos ranging from a reading of Enormous Turnip in Czechthe Little Turtle and Little Rabbit Have a Race in Mandarin Chinese and Romanian fairy stories, Storytelling Month is packed with weekly activities and resources that will help young people and parents build new skills and improve their literacy.


The two Roses

18 January 2021 (SCILT/Twinkl)

SCILT has worked in partnership with Twinkl Scotland and Nil By Mouth to produce a new eBook with accompanying resources. The Two Roses is a tale about friendship, inclusion and tolerance available in English and Gaelic. This First Level resource gives educators the opportunity to talk about similarities and differences, friendship and kindness, teasing and bullying, through the lens of the two central characters.

Further, the resource discusses the ways rural and urban lifestyles can be vastly different for young children and how to be considerate of these different lifestyles. There are opportunities for cultural learning that challenge the notion that some ways of living are better than others. The light-hearted approach allows teachers and learners to tackle problematic beliefs in a kind way.


TRANSLA - New resources for parents and educators

8 December 2021 (Bilingualism Matters)

Bilingualism Matters Luxembourg launches TRANSLA, a new program for multilingual children, with resources for teachers and parents in English, French and German.

The programme contains 8 sessions on multilingual classroom, home-school collaboration, multilingual brain and cross-linguistic transfer, oracy, literacy, and teachers’ own experience with translanguaging pedagogy.


New resources to support bilingualism

30 November 2021 (Twinkl/SCILT/Bilingualism Matters)

What does it mean to be bilingual? Bilingualism is knowing more than one language and the way it affects us is far from simple! Find out all about the different ways we can be bilingual, the effects of bilingualism and some of the benefits to us all with our amazing resources developed for use at First Level alongside the experts at Bilingualism Matters, Scotland’s National Centre for Languages, and our teacher team here at Twinkl. The resources are available in English and Gaelic for use in GME contexts and are an ideal way to start celebrating the linguistic landscape in your school.


Speaking multiple languages: The benefits of a bilingual brain

23 November 2021 (France 24)

60% of the world's population is considered bilingual. According to scientists, these are people who use two or more languages regularly in their daily lives, even if the level is not perfect. FRANCE 24's Health Editor Julia Sieger explains the benefits of a bilingual brain.


Why mixing languages can improve students’ academic performance

26 October 2021 (The Conversation)

Multilingual skills that allow people to switch from one language to another or mix languages are often considered more as a problem rather than an asset.

Thus, there is no surprise that these multilingual speakers are often condemned using pejorative terms like bahasa gado-gado (“mixed-up language”) in Indonesia for mixing Indonesian language and English in a conversation.

Much research has documented the use of similar pejorative terms elsewhere. This includes bahasa rojak (salad language) in Malaysia, amulumala (verbal salad) in Nigeria, and tuti futi (broken-up) in the Panjabi-speaking community in India.

There are also more neutral-sounding terms like Singlish (Singapore), Japlish (Japan), Franglais (France/Canada), Taglish (the Philippines) and Hinglish (India) to label those who mix multiple languages.

Some argue that such multilingual practices reflect one’s inability to think in a structured and systematic way.

Formal education systems share a similar view, looking at them as a hindrance to students’ academic success as they are believed to delay the process of learning school subjects.

However, many studies have proven otherwise.

Contrary to popular opinion, this research shows multilingual practices do not have any adverse effect on students’ academic achievement. Adopting a multilingual approach in classrooms has proven to be important in increasing students’ academic performance and even closing the achievement gap between students living in cities and those in villages.

It has also been reported that multilingual students’ academic progress, particularly in reading and maths, are two to three times greater than that of their monolingual counterparts.

There are at least three main reasons why multilingual skills give students an academic edge.


Creative Puppetry with French in the Early Years

7 October 2021 (SCILT)

Calling all P1 teachers and Early Years Practitioners! Would you like to be involved in developing language learning in your school through storytelling and creative puppetry? This new project could be something for you! 

SCILT, in collaboration with Tania Czajka, is looking to recruit P1 teachers and EYPs to take part in an exciting project which explores French in the Early Years with puppet making. Tania, an experienced Early Years Practitioner, author of bilingual book 'Lapin is Hungry', teaching artist and creator of Le Petit Monde theatre has devised this creative approach to support teachers and EYPs in teaching languages at Early Level. This approach is based on the bilingual book ‘Lapin is Hungry’ with the creative puppetry element integrated throughout. Pupils will have the opportunity to create their own puppets based on the characters in the book and develop their French language skills through play. Please note that all art and craft resources will be provided free of charge to all participating schools.

If you would like to register your interest, please follow the link below.


Bilingual people with language loss due to stroke can pose a treatment challenge

31 August 2021 (The Conversation)

New research shows that computational modeling can predict how bilingual stroke patients will respond to language treatment – and that could help clinicians identify which language to focus treatment on and increase chances for improvement in both.

Aphasia is a speech and language disorder often caused by stroke. Bilingual people with aphasia typically experience difficulty retrieving words in both of their languages. While language therapy can help them improve their ability to communicate, it’s not often clear to clinicians which language to target in treatment.


Global Britain needs to improve its language learning

17 August 2021 (Financial Times)

In a classroom this summer at Azbuka, a London bilingual primary school of which I am a governor, the children switched easily between English and Russian as they designed colourful posters in the two languages to help learn about coronavirus, climate change and mental health. Not all have a Russian parent, including my son, who attended its Saturday complementary school some years ago. But their ability to absorb languages and cultures in a creative and engaging way is impressive and provides a lesson for Britain’s global ambitions. 


What makes someone bilingual? There’s no easy answer

9 June 2021 (The Conversation)

It’s estimated that half the world’s population is bilingual, and two-thirds of the world’s children grow up in an environment where several languages intersect. But while bilingualism is common, its definitions are varied. They are often based on people’s experiences or feelings about language – what they convey and what they represent.

The question also divides linguists. While some emphasise cultural integration as the most important factor, others say that only an individual with equivalent mastery of both languages can truly be considered bilingual.

In 1930, linguist Leonard Bloomfield defined bilingualism as the complete control of two languages, as if each were a mother tongue. This is an idealised vision of a perfect, balanced bilingualism, assuming equivalent written and oral skills in both languages. According to this definition, a bilingual speaker is the sum of two monolinguals. However, this type of bilingualism is extremely rare, and in reality, bilingual people have varied language profiles. Each is unique in their relationship to language.

There are other theories of bilingualism. The Canadian linguist William F Mackey defines it as the alternating use of two or more languages, while Swiss scholar François Grosjean argues that people who are bilingual use two or more languages in their everyday activities. Vivian Cook, from the UK, defines a bilingual person as a multi-skilled individual who develops language skills consistent with the context of acquisition and use of the second language. Thus, an individual may be considered bilingual even if he or she has only a partial command of the second language.

Where does that leave us? Today, a working definition of bilingualism would correspond to the regular and alternating use of at least two languages by an individual – a category that applies to several million speakers.


Stornoway Primary School Boy Wins Gaelic Award Four Years After Arriving From Syria

26 April 2021 (Stornoway Gazette)

A Stornoway Primary School Pupil, whose family moved to Lewis from war-torn Syria, has gone viral this week after receiving an award for the progress he has made in learning Gaelic.

Ten year old Abdullah Al Nakeeb moved to Stornoway from Homs, four years ago. Now in Primary Six, Abdullah has a good grasp of the local language.

The Al Nakeeb family said: “We are really proud of Abdullah, he loves going to school here and Gaelic has become one of his favourite subjects.

"Addullah always works really hard and it is nice to see him get praise for all his efforts.

“We never expected our son to learn the language but since moving here he has managed to pick up Gaelic very quickly.

"His younger brother Majd has also got a good grasp of the language and received a certificate for his progress in December.

“Hopefully Abdullah’s brothers will continue to follow in his footsteps, it would be great to have them all speaking a new language.”


10-Minute Talks: More than one language – why bilingualism matters

21 April 2021 (British Academy)

Research shows that multilingualism in any languages, regardless of prestige or worldwide diffusion, can provide a range of linguistic, cognitive, and social benefits at all ages. It enables communication with international partners and understanding of local cultures as well as enhancing metalinguistic awareness, focusing, seeing both sides of an argument, and flexibly adapting to changing circumstances. However, as Antonella Sorace outlines in this talk, there are still many misconceptions about multilingualism and this contributes to the lack of language skills in countries, like the UK, that rely on ‘privileged monolingualism’ in English, which can undermine social cohesion and economic growth.


Learning in Gaelic helps improve English

26 October 2020 (The Herald)

It is the secret to learning good English – go to a Gaelic school.

Research has shown that learning in a minority language makes you better at speaking a global one.

Scientists have long known that being bilingual in two major languages – such as Spanish and French or German and Russian – helps develop cognitive abilities.

A study led by Heriot-Watt associate professor Maria Garraffa has now compared the English of monolingual children with those who were immersed in Gaelic Medium Education (GME).

Ms Garraffa, a native Italian, and her team found the GME youngsters outperformed those taught in English – in English.

Writing in the Times Educational Supplement, Ms Garraffa said: “The research revealed that speaking Gaelic does not affect the ability to speak well in English and that being bilingual actually improves competency. We found bilingual pupils are better in complex language in English and also have better concentration, as reported in other studies on bilingualism.

“We clearly proved the positive effects of bilingualism are not contingent upon learning a global, widely spoken language, like French or Spanish, but are also true when it comes to a small heritage language like Gaelic.”


How a Gaelic education brings bilingual benefits

21 October 2020 (TES)

Being educated in Gaelic – even if you don’t speak it outside school – delivers the benefits of bilingualism, study shows.

Gaelic is not my first or second language – I’m from Italy originally and my second language is English – but for the past 10 years I have been researching the effects of learning Gaelic, a language that is not dominant in the community in Scotland.

Why? Because I wanted to know if the positive effects on the brain of bilingualism, as shown in past research, are apparent even if the language is a minority language and one that is only spoken – by some pupils – in school.

Crucially, we have found that they are.

We have now finalised the first study on cognition and language abilities in secondary school students attending Gaelic medium education. In this first piece of research, just published, we found significant benefits of speaking Gaelic alongside a global language such as English.

(Note - subscription required to access full article).


Secondary school Gaelic immersion study reports positive effects of bilingualism on language and cognition

20 October 2020 (Bòrd na Gàidhlig)

A ground-breaking study into how Gaelic is perceived by secondary school pupils and how it develops their linguistic and cognitive skills found significant benefits of speaking the language alongside a global language such as English.

The immersion study, funded by Bord na Gàidhlig, was led by Dr Maria Garraffa and a team from Heriot-Watt University, together with Prof Bernadette O’Rourke from University of Glasgow and Prof Antonella Sorace from the University of Edinburgh.

They worked together with senior pupils from The Glasgow Gaelic School, the largest provider of Gaelic medium education in Scotland, to find out how our younger generation of Gaelic speakers view and use the language. It examined for the first time particularly whether older teenagers, after 15 years of education in Gaelic, continued to speak Gaelic or what might lead them to stop.

The research revealed that speaking Gaelic does not affect the ability to speak well in English – and that being bilingual provides more opportunities for those fluent in both.


How does being bilingual affect your brain? It depends on how you use language

6 October 2020 (The Conversation)

Depending on what you read, speaking more than one language may or may not make you smarter. These mixed messages are understandably confusing, and they’re due to the fact that nothing is quite as simple as it’s typically portrayed when it comes to neuroscience.

We can’t give a simple “yes” or “no” to the question of whether being bilingual benefits your brain. Instead, it is becoming increasingly evident that whether and how your brain adapts to using multiple languages depends on what they are and how you use them.

Research suggests that as you learn or regularly use a second language, it becomes constantly “active” alongside your native language in your brain. To enable communication, your brain has to select one language and inhibit the other.

This process takes effort and the brain adapts to do this more effectively. It is altered both structurally (through changes in the size or shape of specific regions, and the integrity of white matter pathways that connect them) and functionally (through changes how much specific regions are used).

These adaptations usually occur in brain regions and pathways that are also used for other cognitive processes known as “executive functions”. These include things like working memory and attentional control (for example, the ability to ignore competing, irrelevant information and focus on a target).

Researchers measure these cognitive processes with specifically designed tasks. One example of such tests is the flanker task, in which participants have to indicate the direction of a specific arrow that is surrounded by other arrows that face in the same or opposite direction. Being bilingual can potentially improve performance on tasks like these, typically in either faster reaction times or higher accuracy.


Bilingual education in Wales: despite lockdown difficulties, parents should persevere

3 September 2020 (The Conversation)

Bilingualism can result in changes in the brains of children, potentially offering increased problem-solving skills. Pupils who are competent in two or more languages may have academic advantages over monolingual children.

In Wales, children have the opportunity to become bilingual by attending Welsh-medium primary and secondary schools, where the sole or main language of instruction is Welsh.

However, parents who do not speak Welsh but send their children to be educated in the language have reported finding home schooling challenging during the lockdown. Some may even be considering moving their children to English schools in order to be better able to support them at home – perhaps because of fears of future lockdowns or quarantines.

Nevertheless, where they can, parents should keep the faith. The benefits of a bilingual education are huge, and turning their backs on Welsh-medium education might be detrimental to increasing the number of young Welsh speakers.

[..] Increasing numbers of parents around the world are giving their children access to education not only in two languages but in three or more languages. Where a minority language exists in the community, trilingual education is gaining in popularity. Pupils receive their education in the minority language and the majority language of the region as well as taking lessons in a foreign language.

One example is the Basque country, where pupils receive their education in Euskara (the Basque language) and Castilian (Spanish) and also learn English as a foreign language.


Coronavirus: Homeschooling in a language you don't speak

18 April 2020 (BBC)

Until a few weeks ago, non-Welsh speaking parents who had chosen Welsh-medium education assumed their children would spend about 30 hours a week immersed in the language - at school. Now attempting to "home school" in a language they don't speak, they face an extra layer of challenge.

In Cardiff, for example, about 63% of pupils in Welsh-medium schools come from homes where no Welsh is spoken. On top of anxiety about coronavirus and general concern about education, some parents are worried their children's Welsh language skills will suffer.


Being bilingual at any age is an advantage because of how it changes the brain

27 February 2020 (i News)

Here’s a moral dilemma: a train is speeding towards five people. You’re standing next to a large man wearing a heavy backpack. If you push this man on to the tracks below, he will die, but he and his heavy backpack will stop the train, thus saving the five workmen. Do you push him?

You might rationally know it makes sense to kill one person to save five others, but it’s an emotionally horrible choice to make. Scientists have found that someone who speaks two languages is more likely to make a utilitarian, less emotional choice when asked this moral dilemma in their second language. A bilingual person will probably kill one to save five.

This is one of the most interesting findings in The Bilingual Brain, a new book by neuropsychologist Albert Costa. All humans make choices based on some element of emotion – perhaps a fear of loss, fear of risk, or a sense of morality. The decision you make will depend on the way it has been phrased to you, which words have been used that will trigger different emotions. Costa’s research shows that if you make a decision in your second language, it is more likely to be more rational than emotive.


More Evidence that Bilingualism Delays Symptoms of Alzheimer’s

19 February 2020 (Language Magazine)

These results contribute to the growing body of evidence showing that bilinguals are more resilient in dealing with neurodegeneration than monolinguals.

A new study published in Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders provides new evidence that bilingualism can delay symptoms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Led by famed researcher of the effects of bilingualism, Ellen Bialystok, with other psychology researchers from Canada’s York University, distinguished research professor in York’s Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health, the study is believed to be the first to investigate conversion times from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease in monolingual and bilingual patients. Although bilingualism delays the onset of symptoms, Bialystok says, once diagnosed, the decline to full-blown Alzheimer’s disease is much faster in bilingual people than in monolingual people because the disease is probably more developed even through the symptoms are less apparent.


Book review: The Bilingual Brain

2 February 2020 (TES)

Almost a quarter of pupils in English primary schools are bilingual. Their teachers need to understand the implications of this, says Victoria Murphy.

Bilingualism is now the norm globally, which means that bilingual language development is the default for most of the world’s population. 

Despite this, many countries (notably, English-speaking ones such as the UK) tend to adopt a monolingual mindset in thinking about educational provision. 

In England, just under 22 per cent of the primary-school population has English as an additional language, meaning they come to school with knowledge of another language, but at the same time learn English through their educational experiences.

It makes a lot of sense then for educators (and others) to familiarise themselves with the basic science underpinning what we know about bilingual language development. Albert Costa’s book is an excellent place to start. 

Costa was a talented researcher, whose work addressed key questions in bilingualism. But, sadly, this English version of the Spanish volume (2017) is posthumous. 

It makes it all the more poignant, then, that we have such a wonderful legacy from him of some of the major findings in bilingualism research of the past few decades, humanely and humorously presented. 

Bilingualism is an active field and growing all the time, which means that Costa has made decisions about what to include and what not to include. 

Because the book is written in a clear and companionable way, it feels like a conversation with Costa, in which he enthusiastically regales us with tales from the world of bilingualism.

This is a huge accomplishment, because language is, in and of itself, an incredibly complicated beast, with multiple layers just describing the “what” of language. 

When talking about two languages, and some of the key findings in the research field addressing multiple languages, we’re in a really complex world. 

Luckily, Costa has written the book in such a way that one does not need a degree in a cognate discipline, nor a good understanding of research design and methodology, to engage with the content. 

The content predictably begins at the start of human experience: explaining how bilingual babies (that is, babies who are set on the path towards bilingualism from birth) process and come to learn two different linguistic systems. 

He reviews very cool neuro-imaging studies, which illustrate that the same areas of the brain and activation patterns in monolinguals are evident in bilinguals.

Yet, at the same time, there are some interesting differences, which might relate to a whole host of variables (such as how competent the individual is in their respective languages). 

Costa uses the metaphor of juggling to describe how bilinguals manage their two linguistic systems, sometimes inhibiting one in favour of the other (for example, cognitive control).

He describes some evidence that speaks to the issue of whether and why bilinguals might be better language learners (that is: knowing two languages might mean that learning a third is easier for them than for the monolingual to learn a second). 

And he also discusses the evidence suggesting that bilinguals might have certain cognitive advantages over monolinguals.

(Note - subscription required to access full article)


The cost of Britain’s language problem

31 January 2020 (The New Statesman)

As chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne thought he had found a key to boosting British competitiveness: teaching more children Mandarin. In September 2015, he announced a £10m investment in the Mandarin Excellence Programme, which aimed for an extra 5,000 children in the UK to be learning the language by 2020. Two years later, the country’s first entirely bilingual English-Chinese school opened its doors in London. At Kensington Wade, founded in 2017, children shout out answers in Mandarin in one classroom, practice calligraphy in another, and sing English songs in the next. Pinned to the wall of the school’s waiting room is a quote from businessman Sir Martin Sorrell: “Chinese and computer code are the only two languages the next generation should need”.

But the 61 pupils at the £17,000-a-year establishment, expected to be fluent in Mandarin by the age of 11, will be in the minority of young Brits who speak a second language. According to Eurobarometer, only 32 per cent of Britons aged 15-30 can read and write in more than one language. The EU average is 80 per cent. Given that it is compulsory for children in Wales to take Welsh until GCSE, fluency in non-UK languages is likely to be even lower.


MSPs demand apology for 'highly offensive' Tory comments on Gaelic education

23 January 2020 (The Scotsman)

Children's education could suffer by a move which will see Gaelic as the main teaching language for all primary one pupils in the Western Isles from next year, the Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary has said. Liz Smith, MSP, described the new policy which will see Gaelic become the "default" language for P1 pupils as a "deeply troubling step".

Alasdair Allan, SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands, is demanding that Ms Smith withdraw her “highly offensive” remarks and apologise.

John Finnie, Scottish Greens MSP for the Highlands and Island, also said Ms Smith's comments were "offensive and inaccurate".

Pupils starting lessons in Gaelic will learn English from P4 onwards. Parents who want to opt out of the new system can have their children taught in English from P1.

However, Ms Smith, said Gaelic should not be promoted over English: “This is a deeply troubling step and one that could put children in the Western Isles at a distinct disadvantage to their peers."


The relationship between dementia and bilingualism

4 December 2019 (BBC Alba)

Listen to BBC Alba's interview (in Gaelic) with Dr Ingeborg Birnie, Education, on the bilingual and dementia project (1:19). 


Bilingualism and dementia: how some patients lose their second language and rediscover their first

18 November 2019 (Irish Examiner)

For many people with dementia, memories of early childhood appear more vivid than their fragile sense of the present. But what happens when the present is experienced through a different language than the one spoken in childhood? And how might carers and care homes cope with the additional level of complexity in looking after bilingual people living with dementia?

This is not just relevant for people living with dementia and those who care for them. It can provide insights into the human mind that are equally important to brain researchers, social scientists and even artists.

This relationship between dementia and bilingualism was the focus of a workshop we held recently in Glasgow. Bringing together healthcare professionals, volunteers, community activists, dementia researchers, translation experts, writers and actors, the workshop was organised around a reading of a new play performed by the Gaelic language group, Theatre Tog-ì.

The play, Five to Midnight, centres on a native Gaelic speaker from the Outer Hebrides whose English begins to fade as her dementia develops. Her English-speaking husband increasingly finds himself cut off from his wife as she retreats into the past and to a language he does not understand. The couple’s pain and frustration at their inability to communicate is harrowing.


Bilingualism and dementia: how some patients lose their second language and rediscover their first

11 November 2019 (The Conversation)

For many people with dementia, memories of early childhood appear more vivid than their fragile sense of the present. But what happens when the present is experienced through a different language than the one spoken in childhood? And how might carers and care homes cope with the additional level of complexity in looking after bilingual people living with dementia?


Languages: We can do better for our bilingual students

7 November 2019 (TES)

The UK is famously bad when it comes to learning languages, but this means we’re missing out on an amazing resource already in our schools, says Sameena Choudry.

One language, one person; two languages, two persons” – Turkish proverb

The lack of a coherent languages policy is evident in England. 

Our learning of languages is quite poor compared to many other countries (in 2016, we were voted the worst country in Europe for learning other languages).

This is despite calls from industry (and others) to increase the number of pupils learning languages. 

There is, however, a possible part-solution to this dire situation that needs to be drawn to the attention of policymakers: approximately 1.5 million young people in schools in England are either bilingual or multilingual in more than 300 different languages. 

This extremely valuable and rich resource is largely untapped and little attention, if any, has been given to how their linguistics skills could be nurtured and developed to support the individual, the community and the country as a whole. 

(Note - subscription required to access full article)


Spanish-speaking children learn English faster when parents read to them in their native language

17 October 2019 (Consumer Affairs)

Researchers from the University of Delaware have found that reading to Spanish-speaking children in their native language can help them better understand the English language. Their study shows that these children are more likely to excel in reading and writing in English when exposed to their native tongue at an early age.

“This suggests that well-developed Spanish reading proficiency early on likely plays a greater role in English reading development than a student’s proficiency in speaking English,” said researcher Steven Amendum.

Amendum and his team evaluated students from the time they were in kindergarten until they were in the fourth grade. All participants were read to by their parents in Spanish and were reading on their own to try to master English. 

Ultimately, the study revealed that early exposure to Spanish was crucial to children developing sharper English reading and speaking skills. This came as a surprise to the researchers because of how young the children were at the beginning of the study. 


Try the Unuhi iPad app for FREE! Read bilingual books to your kids in any 2 languages of your choice

16 October 2018 (Unuhi)

No matter what languages you speak in your family, Unuhi wants to help your children learn. Unuhi claims to be the most comprehensive bilingual book platform in the world and includes 4 launch books in almost 200 different language combinations.

Unuhi is offering a free trial of its bilingual book app for kids, free to any schools that have iPads (Android version out by Christmas) in return for feedback and spreading the word!

The app currently contains 4 original books in 20 languages, beautifully illustrated with interactive sound and flashcards to support learning.

Visit Unuhi and find out more

Find out how to trial the app for free

Bilingual pupils outperform native English

15 October 2018 (The Times)

Pupils who speak English fluently as a second language do better than native speakers throughout their whole time at school, according to a study.

The researchers found that bilingual children performed better than their monolingual classmates — and the national average — at the ages of five, seven, eleven and in GCSEs. Teenagers speaking English as a foreign language pulled ahead of native speakers in GCSEs for the first time this summer.


Mother Tongue Other Tongue (MTOT) multilingual poetry competition 2018-19

14 September 2018 (SCILT)

Today we're launching the 2018-19 Mother Tongue Other Tongue (MTOT) multilingual poetry competition in Scotland.

All students who are learning a language at school, college or university, or who speak a native language at home, can get involved in celebrating their linguistic and cultural diversity through creative poetry writing as there are options to enter in either the Mother Tongue or Other Tongue category. All entries must be the students' own, original work.

For more information about this year's competition and previous events, visit our MTOT website and register to take part! The closing date for registrations is 26 October 2018.


A Bilingual Brain Solves Problems Faster

12 September 2018 (Newsy)

Language allows us to share thoughts and feelings with somebody else. It's our cultural glue. Otherwise, we'd live in a world of babel. But there's much more to language, including elements that affect the structure and functioning of the brain. 

While the first words spoken may have been 250,000 years ago, now more than half of the people around the world – estimates vary from 60 to 75 percent – speak at least two languages. 

Eighty percent of primary and secondary students in 24 European countries are learning a foreign language, usually English. Across the United States the number is closer to 20 percent, but this varies by state. In New Jersey, 51 percent of students have a second language course included as part of the school day.

Learning those languages impacts our noggins. Brain scans show that people who speak more than one language have more gray matter in their anterior cingulate cortex, the area linked to everything from learning to social behavior to resolving conflicts. 


EAL: Working with new arrivals

12 September 2018 (SecEd)

This September, many secondary schools will have new arrivals from abroad who have English as an additional language. Continuing our series on EAL, Dr Ruth Wilson gives some practical advice for you and your schools in meeting the needs of this diverse group of learners

New arrivals with English as an additional language (EAL) are a very diverse group. Their language proficiency can range from “new to English” to “fluent”. The young person can arrive at any age and with widely different socio-economic and educational backgrounds. Some students may come from an advantaged context with a high standard of education; others may have had little or interrupted schooling or experienced traumatic events. A new arrival could for example be a refugee from a war-torn country or a child of a German banker working in the City of London.

Data show that, on average, pupils arriving late into the English school system do less well in external exams than their first language English peers, and that the older the pupils are when they arrive the less likely they are to achieve good results in year 11 (Hutchinson, 2018).

This article gives some practical advice for you and your schools in meeting the needs of EAL learners who are newly arrived from abroad. 


Bilingual Brain: Here's what happens when you flip between languages

10 September 2018 (Newsweek)

A study has shed light on the brain mechanisms which allow bilingual people to switch effortlessly from one language to another.

Neurolinguistics researchers already believe parts of the brain in charge of decision-making, the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices, light up when we toggle between languages. Now, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presents a potential new piece to the puzzle.

Esti Blanco-Elorrieta, graduate student at the NYU neurolinguistics lab, told Newsweek, “The process of switching languages entails [minimally] disengaging from the language that was being used until that point, and engaging in a new language. This study showed that it is turning off the previous language, and not ‘turning on’ a new language, that is effortful.”

And while those who swap between languages may make it seem easy, it is in fact “a remarkably complicated process that involves the successful coordination of two independent language systems,” he explained.

Article includes a video of polyglot, Alex Rawlings, providing 10 tips for learning a new language.


Cognitive science is changing language learning

3 September 2018 (School Education Gateway)

In this article, Professor Jon Andoni Duñabeitia from the Universidad Nebrija in Madrid, Spain, talks about inclusive and scientifically validated approaches to language learning.

While my one-and-a-half-year-old son, who is growing up in a Basque-Spanish bilingual environment, shows a surprising ability to process things in either language, his mother still struggles with English when we go abroad, and his Spanish-speaking grandmother devotes considerable time and effort to learning Basque in a classroom environment. Obviously, the process of native language acquisition for toddlers, which naturally occurs at a very early age, is markedly different from the process of language acquisition for a multilingual older adult enrolled in a formal learning programme.

One could easily draw up an endless list of language learning scenarios between these two extremes – and cognitive scientists are working hard to uncover the role played by their respective factors.


Can you raise an autistic child to be bilingual – and should you try?

5 July 2018 (The Conversation)

Diagnosed with autism and delayed language development, five-year-old Jose lives with his bilingual English-Spanish family in the UK. In addition to all the important decisions that a family with an autistic child has to take, Jose’s parents must also consider what languages to teach him and how. They would like Jose to learn English so he can make friends and do well at school. But they also value Spanish – the native language of Jose’s mother.

The family’s tricky situation was described in a study from 2013, and illustrates a problem that affects many families around the world. But is it possible to raise a child with autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders to be bilingual? And, if so, does it help or hinder the autistic experience? Let’s take a look at the evidence.


Bilinguals use inter-language transfer to deal with dyslexia

13 June 2018 (Eurekalert)

Dyslexic children learning both a language that is pronounced as written -like Spanish- and a second language in which the same letter can have several sounds -such as English- are less affected by this alteration when reading or writing in the latter language. The authors of the Basque research centre BCBL warn that this is less a cure than a reduction of some of the symptoms.

Dyslexia or dsxyliea? Anyone without reading disorders could read the first word without any problem. But if read by someone who suffers from this alteration, he or she will see something similar to the second word.  

Dyslexia is a deficit of reading ability that hinders learning and affects between 3 and 10% of the population. Its transmission is partly genetic, and its diagnosis is made in children of between 8 and 9, although the symptoms appear before. So far, the only way to combat this disorder has been through early treatments adapted to the patient's age and symptoms. 

Now, however, research developed by the University of Bangor (Wales) and the Basque Centre on Cognition, Brain and Language (BCBL) of San Sebastian has shown that some combinations of bilingualism, transmitted from very early ages, contribute to reducing its symptoms.  

The main goal here was to verify if bilingualism acquired by children who learn to read in English and Welsh at the same time could benefit those suffering from dyslexia assessed in the English language. "And the answer is yes," as bluntly stated by Marie Lallier, a BCBL scientist and one of the authors of the study, published in Scientific Studies of Reading.


Supporting your EAL learners

6 June 2018 (SecEd)

In a new series focused on supporting pupils with English as an additional language, Nic Kidston and Katherine Solomon discuss how schools can learn more about who their EAL learners are and how they can be empowered and supported to fulfil their potential

This article, the first in a series of articles on supporting EAL learners that will appear in the coming year, examines the recent research report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI), with the Bell Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy – entitled Educational Outcomes of Children with English as an Additional Language.

The series will provide insights into, and best practice on, how to support individual learners through a whole school approach.


Why teachers shouldn’t be afraid of other languages being spoken in the classroom

21 May 2018 (The Conversation)

More than 20% of all primary school and 16% of secondary school children in the UK speak languages other than English. And there are now more than 360 languages spoken in British classrooms.

But more often than not, in mainstream schools in the UK, the “home languages” of children can be sidelined at best, and prohibited at worst. English is the language of the classroom – this is despite the fact that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is clear that children from linguistic minorities should not be “denied the right” to use their own languages.

In my recent research, I found there was often a lot of fear associated with the use of “home” languages among the typically white, monolingual demographic of the teaching profession.


MTOT celebration event - webpage now live!

20 April 2018 (SCILT)

The celebration event for this year's Mother Tongue Other Tongue multilingual poetry competition took place on Saturday 17 March at the University of Strathclyde. 

Visit the SCILT website to see the full list of winners and to view the anthology of winning poems. You can also find photos from the event and read some of the feedback received from pupils, parents and teachers. 


The English language is the world’s Achilles heel

3 April 2018 (The Conversation)

English has achieved prime status by becoming the most widely spoken language in the world – if one disregards proficiency – ahead of Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. English is spoken in 101 countries, while Arabic is spoken in 60, French in 51, Chinese in 33, and Spanish in 31. From one small island, English has gone on to acquire lingua franca status in international business, worldwide diplomacy, and science.

But the success of English – or indeed any language – as a “universal” language comes with a hefty price, in terms of vulnerability. Problems arise when English is a second language to either speakers, listeners, or both. No matter how proficient they are, their own understanding of English, and their first (or “native”) language can change what they believe is being said.

When someone uses their second language, they seem to operate slightly differently than when they function in their native language. This phenomenon has been referred to as the “foreign language effect”. Research from our group has shown that native speakers of Chinese, for example, tended to take more risks in a gambling game when they received positive feedback in their native language (wins), when compared to negative feedback (losses). But this trend disappeared – that is, they became less impulsive – when the same positive feedback was given to them in English. It was as if they are more rational in their second language.

While reduced impulsiveness when dealing in a second language can be seen as a positive thing, the picture is potentially much darker when it comes to human interactions. In a second language, research has found that speakers are also likely to be less emotional and show less empathy and consideration for the emotional state of others.

For instance, we showed that Chinese-English bilinguals exposed to negative words in English unconsciously filtered out the mental impact of these words. And Polish-English bilinguals who are normally affected by sad statements in their native Polish appeared to be much less disturbed by the same statements in English.

In another recent study by our group, we found that second language use can even affect one’s inclination to believe the truth. Especially when conversations touch on culture and intimate beliefs.
Since second language speakers of English are a huge majority in the world today, native English speakers will frequently interact with non-native speakers in English, more so than any other language. And in an exchange between a native and a foreign speaker, the research suggests that the foreign speaker is more likely to be emotionally detached and can even show different moral judgements.

And there is more. While English provides a phenomenal opportunity for global communication, its prominence means that native speakers of English have low awareness of language diversity. This is a problem because there is good evidence that differences between languages go hand-in-hand with differences in conceptualisation of the world and even perception of it.


Bilingual benefits: why two tongues are better than one

27 March 2018 (Irish Times)

Ireland is speaking more languages than ever before with Polish, French, Romanian, Lithuanian and Spanish all echoing through our family homes.

For years, there was a belief that bilingual children lagged behind academically and intellectually.

More recent studies, however, comprehensively show this is untrue: switching between two or more languages gives the brain a dexterousness and improves our attention, planning, memory and problem-solving skills.

Evidence shows bilingual children score better across a range of cognitive tests than their monolingual classmates.

In an Irish context, speakers of a second language have an advantage in a jobs market that places significant value on both their linguistic and cognitive skills. And bilingual children who sit minority language subjects in the Leaving Cert consistently get top grades.

In spite of the clear benefits, many newcomer parents have concerns about bilingualism.  

Dr Francesca La Morgia is assistant professor in clinical speech and language studies at Trinity College Dublin and the founder and director of an organisation called Mother Tongues, which supports parents in passing on their native language.


Bilingualism Matters Newsletter Spring 2018

26 March 2018 (Bilingualism Matters)

The latest news, events and information from Bilingualism Matters can be found online in their Spring 2018 newsletter.


Young poets’ multilingual talents celebrated

26 March 2018 (SCILT)

The multilingual talents of young poets from across Scotland were celebrated at a prestigious award ceremony at University of Strathclyde on 17 March 2018.

Children and young people from primary, secondary and early years used their language skills to create and share poetry as part of this year’s Mother Tongue Other Tongue competition. In addition, for the first time this year the competition was open to Scotland’s Further and Higher Education sectors.

Mother Tongue Other Tongue is an exciting competition that celebrates linguistic and cultural diversity through creative writing and showcases the many languages used by children and young people across Scotland, in education and at home. The competition is organised by SCILT, Scotland’s National Centre for Languages, based at University of Strathclyde. Jackie Kay is the patron of the competition.

This year, over 100 entries were submitted from across Scotland. Winning and Highly Commended entries came from schools in Renfrewshire, Glasgow, East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Edinburgh, North Ayrshire, East Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire and West Lothian as well as from the University of West of Scotland, University of Dundee, University of Edinburgh, and City of Glasgow College.

One teacher said of the competition: “I am extremely proud of all our pupils. It was a wonderful chance to hear so many beautiful languages being celebrated. Thank you for this opportunity.”

Another teacher added: "Mother Tongue Other Tongue gives my quieter pupils confidence and self-worth."

One of the young competitors commented: “It has been an amazing experience.”

Fhiona Mackay, Director of SCILT, said: “Mother Tongue Other Tongue is a celebration of the many languages that are spoken and learned by young people across Scotland. The collection of their poems weaves a rich tapestry of voices that honours cultural diversity and pays testament to the wealth of Scotland’s many languages and cultures. We were delighted to see such a high calibre of entries this year, submitted in 29 different languages. Our congratulations go to the winners and to all who took part in the competition.”

Mother Tongue invites competitors who do not speak English as a first language to write a poem, rap or song in their mother tongue and share their inspiration. Other Tongue encourages competitors learning another language to use that language creatively with an original poem, rap or song in that other tongue. Prizes are awarded in both categories.

Mother Tongue Other Tongue is supported by creative writer Juliette Lee, the University Council for Modern Languages Scotland, Languages in Colleges and the Scottish Poetry Library.

Mother Tongue Other Tongue supports the Scottish Government initiative, ‘Language Learning in Scotland: A 1+2 approach’ by allowing pupils to apply their language learning in a creative way and by providing children who do not have English as their first language with an opportunity to celebrate their mother tongue.

The targets laid out in the Scottish Attainment Challenge are about achieving equity in educational outcomes, with a particular focus on closing the poverty-related attainment gap. One of the key drivers is improved literacy. Through reflecting on poetry in their mother tongue and creating poetry in another tongue, learners are developing their literacy skills.


The article that changed my view…of how bilingualism can improve society

17 February 2018 (The Guardian)

Guardian supporter Emilio Battaglia explains how an opinion piece by Tobias Jones clarified his view of bilingualism’s power to build bridges:

As someone who has dedicated so much of his life to the study and exploration of languages, Tobias Jones’s article 'The joys and benefits of bilingualism' immediately caught my eye. The Guardian is not a paper I know well but it is quite popular in Toronto, and becoming increasingly so. And this piece, written with a huge amount of research and an openness of spirit, seems to sum up so much of what the publication stands for. It made me gain a better understanding of how bilingualism can effect positive change, but it also sparked my appreciation of the Guardian’s journalism more widely.


Keep Your Brain And Body Active: Bilingual Training!

6 February 2018 (Bilingualism Matters)

Want to try learning languages creatively? What about learning a language with exercise and theatre? Join Bilingualism Matters for three exciting workshops in February! Free and open to all.


Brainwaves: Dr Thomas Bak

28 January 2018 (BBC Radio Sotland)

Should we offer language classes on the NHS? Could bilingualism be more beneficial than medication when it comes to a strong, healthy brain and is monolingualism making us ill? In this Brainwaves, Pennie Latin meets the man behind those bold ideas, Dr Thomas Bak.

Available until 2 March 2018


The joys and benefits of bilingualism

21 January 2018 (The Guardian)

More than half the world’s population is now bilingual. Now thought to encourage flexibility of mind and empathy, bilingualism is also transforming societies.


Being bilingual may help autistic children

16 January 2018 (EurekAlert)

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often have a hard time switching gears from one task to another. But being bilingual may actually make it a bit easier for them to do so, according to a new study which was recently published in Child Development.


'Don’t speak to me in our language, when you pick me up from school’: Language loss and maintenance in migrant families

18 December 2017 (Bilingualism Matters)

Today, 18th December is the UN Day of Migrants. On this day in 1990 UN signed the International Migrant Convention protecting the rights of migrants and their families. It took another 13 years for the Convention to reach the threshold needed for its implementation – acceptance by 20 countries. Its main aim is to protect human rights of currently around 250 million people identified as migrants world-wide. Not many are aware of this date and not many are aware that UNESCO rights of children include a right to education in mother tongue/home language.


#ToYouFromTes: Why schools need to speak the same language on EAL support

11 December 2017 (TES)

Despite one in five pupils now speaking English as an additional language, Sameena Choudry says schools are still not doing enough to support EAL pupils. She sets out seven steps to put that right.

Across the globe, being bilingual is the norm. It is estimated that more than half of the world’s population can speak at least two languages. Yet in the UK, primarily as a result of the dominance of English in the world, a child that converses in more than one tongue is still viewed as being “different”, particularly within education.

This is despite the number of bilingual pupils in our schools increasing. Over 1 in 5 (1.25 million) of our pupils are recorded as having English as an additional language (EAL), according to 2016 government figures.

Have schools adapted to this? Not enough, in my view. For example, EAL pupils tend to be seen as a homogenous group, a remnant of that view of bilingualism as being a deviation from the norm, not the standard. But they are nothing of the sort.


Barcelona summer school on bilingualism and multilingualism

4 December 2017 (Bilingualism Matters)

In September, the University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona hosted the Barcelona Summer School on Bilingualism and Multilingualism, a renowned school for postgraduate students and researchers to gather, present and discuss the newest developments in their respective fields.

A few members of Bilingualism Matters Edinburgh were able to attend this year, promoting their research either in an oral presentation or a poster session.

The overarching theme was, as the name suggests, research concerning bilingualism and multilingualism: ranging from neuro-cognitive factors and the implications for ageing and health to the sociolinguistic development in bilingual children. The talks and posters provided an interesting and broad overview of the work that has been conducted in the field.


English as a second language? Schools need to stop treating it as an obstacle to success

21 November 2017 (The Telegraph)

When columnist Andrew Pierce tweeted earlier this year that 1.3 million children “do not speak English as a first language, underlining strain immigration puts on schools”  he understandably caused something of a social media stir.

Alongside some tweets of support, others were quick to point out that not having English as a mother tongue need not correlate to a student’s ability to learn in their second, or third language. Even the author JK Rowling, a former teacher herself, joined the argument to point out that “second and third languages can be fluent”.   

With over 300 languages spoken in classrooms across the UK, and many schools in big towns and cities such as London and Birmingham, it is understandable that many will wonder how schools will be able to cater to all pupils and students equally.    

However, as an educator who has taught in international schools across Europe, I strongly believe that such language issues needn’t be a problem. In fact, if embraced they can stand to benefit all students, and by extension aid in supporting better understanding in areas with culturally diverse populations.    


University explores benefits of speaking Gaelic in business

14 November 2017 (The Scotsman)

A university is to discuss whether speaking one of Scotland’s mother tongues could offer an advantage to businesses. 

International business expert Seonaidh MacDonald will talk about his experiences of using Gaelic in a global business context at a lunchtime seminar offered by the University of the Highlands and Islands.


Dundee Dialect is ‘as good as second language’, say researchers

3 November 2017 (The Scotsman)

To those from outside Dundee, the bakery order “twa pehs, a plehn bridie an’ an inyin in an’ a” (Two pies, a plain bridie and an onion one as well) might be mistaken for a foreign language. Now, international research shows that the human brain treats the distinctive Dundonian brogue - and regional dialects in Britain and abroad - in exactly the same way as a second language.

The study at Abertay University in Dundee, and by researchers in Germany, suggests that while people from the city who converse in dialect may not be regarded generally as bilingual, cognitively there is little difference.


Bilingual toddlers have incredible advantage over other children, finds study

2 November 2017 (The Independent)

Bilingual children have an advantage over others who speak only one language, a study has shown. 

Children aged four and younger who speak two languages or are learning a second have more rapid improvements in inhibitory control, a study by the University of Oregon has said. 

Inhibitory control is the ability to stop a hasty reflexive response in behaviour or decision-making and use higher control to react in a more adaptive way. 


Early Bilingualism Helps With Learning Languages Later in Life, Study Shows

2 October 2017 (Education Week)

Bilingual people may be better equipped to learn new languages than those who only speak one language, according to a study published in the academic journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition.

The research points to a distinct language-learning benefit for people who grow up bilingual or learn another language at an early age.

A team of researchers paired 13 bilingual college students who grew up in the United States with Mandarin-speaking parents, and learned both English and Mandarin at an early age, against a group of 16 monolingual college students, who spoke only English.

The researchers studied Mandarin-English bilinguals because both of these languages differ structurally from the new language being learned.


Bilingual people process maths differently depending on the language

18 September 2017 (The Independent)

People who speak more than one language fluently will process maths differently when they switch between languages, a new study has found.

Intuition enables the brain to recognise numbers up to four. However, when calculating mathematical problems, we depend on language.

This fact led researchers at the University of Luxembourg to explore just how the arithmetic skills are affected when bilingual people use different languages.

The study’s authors recruited students for whom Luxembourgish was their mother tongue and had carried on studying in Belgium and were therefore fluent in both German and French.

In two distinct tasks, participants were asked to solve a mixture of simple and complex maths problems in both languages.

While they were able to solve the simple tasks with equal proficiency, they took longer to calculate the complex task in French and made more errors than they did when doing the identical task in German.


Related Links

The bilingual brain calculates differently depending on the language used (Science Daily, 14 September 2017)

Hundreds of languages are spoken in the UK, but this isn’t always reflected in the classroom

21 August 2017 (The Conversation)

More than 300 different languages are now spoken in British schools. And in England, over 20% of primary school children use English as an additional language.

This equates to over 900,000 children for whom English is not their first language. These children might have been born in another country, their parents might speak another language to them at home, or they might just know a few words of another language because their grandparents immigrated to England a long time ago. But just like any other pupil, they attend schools across the country, speak (or learn to speak) in English and participate in the national curriculum. Yet the fact these children also bring with them a rich understanding of another language and culture can often go unnoticed.

Bilingualism is something we usually celebrate in adults yet not always in the classroom, where English is usually prioritised. This is despite the fact that many communities in Britain, speak more than one language.

In the 2011 British Census, for example, 4.2m people reported having a main language other than English. And just over half of all Europeans claim to speak at least one other language in addition to their mother tongue.

Research shows that some children never have the opportunity to use their home language at school. And in some cases, their teachers might not even know they speak another language.

In the absence of school or community support, these children can sometimes end up losing their home languages. This is something that may be particularly true in highly monolingual areas which experience less immigration.

The problem then is that these areas – where English is the only language spoken – become even more monolingual. All while other areas of the country grow and celebrate their linguistic diversity.


Bilingual babies can distinguish between languages before they are two, study reveals

9 August 2017 (The Independent)

Ever dreamed of raising a bilingual baby?

It might be easier than you think, as a new study reveals that babies can differentiate between words from different languages at just 20 months old.

The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences determined infants’ propensity to monitor and control language through a series of experiments.

24 French-English children were shown pairs of photographs of familiar objects and listened to sentences in both a single language (“Find the dog!”) and a mixture of two languages (“Find the chien!”).

In a second test, they heard language switches that crossed sentences, named code switches, which are regularly spoken by children in bilingual households i.e. “That one looks fun! Le Chien!”

Through eye-tracking measures, the researchers were able to determine the infants’ cognitive efforts, in other words, how hard their brains were working to understand what was in the photographs being shown to them.

When they heard the language switches, their pupils dilated, proving immediate comprehension.


Why schools need to speak the same language on EAL support

21 July 2017 (TESS)

Across the globe, being bilingual is the norm. It is estimated that more than half of the world’s population can speak at least two languages. Yet in the UK, primarily as a result of the dominance of English in the world, a child that converses in more than one tongue is still viewed as being “different”, particularly within education.

This is despite the number of bilingual pupils in our schools increasing. Over 1 in 5 (1.25 million) of our pupils are recorded as having English as an additional language (EAL), according to 2016 government figures.

Have schools adapted to this? Not enough, in my view. For example, EAL pupils tend to be seen as a homogenous group, a remnant of that view of bilingualism as being a deviation from the norm, not the standard. But they are nothing of the sort.

The definition of EAL used by the Department for Education is if a child is exposed to a language at home that is known or believed to be one other than English (1). This definition covers pupils who may have recently arrived in the country, as well as families that have been here for many generations.

Each EAL pupil will also vary in their level of proficiency in their mother tongue, as well as in English, across the four language skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Quite simply, teachers are not being prepared well enough to support EAL students’ range of needs. Many newly qualified teachers, in particular, cite low levels of preparedness for meeting the needs of this group (2).

Sure, there are success stories. The attainment of EAL pupils is often cited as a key narrative in attainment improvements in England. This is certainly worthy of praise, with schools and communities deserving recognition for their hard work in this area. However, attainment of EAL pupils is extremely variable across regions and cities outside of London and its surrounding areas.

In addition, recent research (3) has shown that attainment varies considerably by the language spoken by pupils, with Japanese speakers being the highest-performing and Czech speakers the lowest.

So what can schools do to effectively support their EAL pupils and ensure they attain high standards?

Read the full article in TESS online, 21 July 2017 (subscription required).


Related Links

TES talks to...Madeleine Arnot (TES, 28 July 2017) - Migrant children are lumped together in the ‘English as additional language’ category, with no systemic understanding of their unique cultural and social needs. It’s about time we had a joined-up education strategy, the academic tells Simon Creasey.

Speaking with Smaller Tongues

7 July 2017 (BBC Radio 4)

Penzance-born Rory McGrath writes and performs a Cornish song at the SUNS International Festival - a multilingual alternative to the Eurovision song contest, where English is banned.

Rory talks with fellow performers, and to academics, about how the internet and the spread of English as a lingua franca is threatening to smother small languages. The United Nations predicts that 90% of Europe's 200 minority languages will have ceased to exist by the end of the 21st century.


Language alters our experience of time

13 June 2017 (The Conversation)

It turns out, Hollywood got it half right. In the film Arrival, Amy Adams plays linguist Louise Banks who is trying to decipher an alien language. She discovers the way the aliens talk about time gives them the power to see into the future – so as Banks learns their language, she also begins to see through time. As one character in the movie says: “Learning a foreign language rewires your brain.”

My new study – which I worked on with linguist Emanuel Bylund – shows that bilinguals do indeed think about time differently, depending on the language context in which they are estimating the duration of events. But unlike Hollywood, bilinguals sadly can’t see into the future. However, this study does show that learning a new way to talk about time really does rewire the brain. Our findings are the first psycho-physical evidence of cognitive flexibility in bilinguals.


Bilingual speakers experience time differently to people who only speak one language, study finds

3 May 2017 (The Independent)

For those who can only speak one language, people who have the ability to speak multiple are often a source of fascination. What language do they think in? Can they switch mid-way through? Do they only dream in one language or both?

It turns out, these questions are not without merit as people who can speak two languages actually experience time in a different way.

A study from Lancaster University and Stockholm University, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, found that people who are bilingual think about time differently depending on the language context in which they are estimating the duration of events.

Linguists Professor Panos Athanasopoulos and Professor Emanuel Bylund explained that bilinguals often go back and forth being their languages both consciously and unconsciously.

Additionally, different languages often refer to time differently. For example, Swedish and English speakers refer to physical distances: ‘Taking a short break’ while Spanish speakers refer to physical quantities and volume: ‘Taking a small break’.


Video: 'Bilingual parents share strategies for home language maintenance'

26 April 2017 (Bilingualism Matters)

Bilingualism Matters at the University of Reading held an event in February 2017 in association with the university's Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism where parents in the audience shared their experience about keeping up the home language with children of different ages. An extract can be seen in the video 'Bilingual parents share strategies for home language maintenance'.

Bad language: why being bilingual makes swearing easier

27 March 2017 (The Guardian)

Many bilinguals report “feeling less” in their second language; it does not bear the same emotional weight as your native language. Feeling less emotionally connected to your second language might make it easier to use highly emotional vocabulary, which is precisely what I was experiencing with my ease of swearing and talking about sensitive topics in English. The scientific term for this is reduced emotional resonance of language. It is a fairly well-established phenomenon, but many specific questions still remain unanswered. For example, what exactly makes one’s second language less emotional? How does this affect different immigrant communities? My research project aims to address these questions by looking into the reasons and implications of reduced emotional resonance in bilinguals’ second language.


Learn another language and keep your brain fit

20 March 2017 (Irish Times)

Most people in this part of the world have a smattering of French or Spanish which comes in useful when ordering dinner on holiday, but because much of the developed world speaks English there is less incentive for us to really try to become fluent, as it is generally accepted that wherever we may find ourselves someone will understand what we are trying to say.

However, if research is to be believed, learning a new language has huge benefits and not just for social reasons either. A new study from Scotland involving elderly participants revealed that those who began learning a completely new language had far better mental responses than those who were engaging in other learning activities.


Brain Fitness - Learn a New Language

15 March 2017 (Huffington Post)

Research has shown that it’s important to “exercise” your brain and language learning is one of the most effective and practical ways to do this. Speaking and learning a foreign language gives your brain a good workout, keeps your mind sharp, and defends your brain against aging.

Surprisingly, being bilingual wasn’t always seen as a good thing. Some educators and scientists thought that learning a foreign language, especially from a young age, had a negative effect on brain development and caused confusion. They also claimed being bilingual would hinder academic performance. We now know that exactly the opposite is true. Science now shows that learning a second language helps strengthen the brain.


Related Links

Learning a second language can add years to your life (Lee's Summit Journal, 14 March 2017)

People can protect themselves against dementia if they can speak another language

10 January 2017 (The Mirror)

Being able to speak another language protects against dementia and other age-related decline in brain power, a new study found.

People who are bilingual are better at saving brain power and less prone to be distracted as their brains get wired.

So they use less of the brain than those who speak just one language.

And they rely less on the frontal areas of the brain which are vulnerable to ageing explaining why the brains of bilinguals are better equipped at staving off the signs of cognitive ageing or dementia.

Professor Ana In s Ansaldo at the University of Montreal compared the functional brain connections in monolingual and bilingual elderly people.


Being bilingual makes people's brains more efficient and could combat cognitive ageing, study finds

10 January 2017 (The Independent)

Scientists have found that the benefits of being bilingual stretch much further than those commonly associated with being fluent in two languages - it could also help a person’s brain in later life.

New research from the Université de Montréal shows that people who are bilingual are able to save brain power, which in turn could help with the effects of cognitive ageing.

The study, led by Dr Ana Inés Ansaldo at the university’s geriatric research centre, found that bilingualism can make the brain more efficient and economical in the way that it carries out certain tasks.


Learning a second language still matters

10 December 2016 (Times Higher Education)

The Brexit vote sent shock waves through the UK’s modern languages community.

Already shaken by the closure of modern languages departments at the universities of Ulster and Northumbria, a continuing downward trend in undergraduate enrolments, and the loss of Higher Education Funding Council for England funding for the Routes Into Languages programme, the vote seemed to many to be symptomatic of a lack of understanding of the value of languages both nationally and internationally.

Part of the problem derives from the widespread misconception that speaking English is enough and that monolingualism is the norm.


Bilingualism, Autism and the Brain

7 November 2016 (DART, University of Edinburgh)

A new PhD research project will shortly be starting to explore whether bilingualism could also help autistic people to improve social cognition abilities.

Visit the University of Edinburgh's DART website to find out more and to see how you can participate in the study.


£700,000 for Gaelic language delivery

19 October 2016 (Scottish Government)

Additional funding to improve facilities at Glasgow’s two Gaelic schools has been announced by the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney.

Glendale Gaelic School and Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu will use the extra £700,000 to further improve the learning environment for young people studying core subjects such as physical education, STEM and ICT, ensuring Gaelic learning provides a fully immersive experience across the curriculum.

The money will also be spent on upgrading school facilities helping to tackle an increase in demand for places.

Since the introduction of the Gaelic Schools Capital Fund in 2008 the number of young people in Gaelic medium education has increased nationally by 32%.


Supporting Bilingual Learners in the Mainstream Classroom

13 October 2016 (University of Strathclyde/SCILT)

Do you work with bilingual learners? Would you like to develop your ability to support them to develop their linguistic competence and to learn through English in mainstream primary or secondary classrooms?

This course is designed to enable you to understand and act on theories of bilingual learning and policy to support bilingual learners in Scottish schools, and to gain experience of current classroom-based practice in Scotland and around the world.

The next course starts on 14 January and runs from January to December 2017 at the University of Strathclyde. Classes are held at the University on Saturdays, on average once a month. See the attached leaflet for further information.

For information on other initiatives and organisations supporting bilingualism and multilingualism in Scotland, visit the EAL and Bilingualism webpages in the Learners and Parents section of the SCILT website.


How a deaf teenager from Congo found her voice in poetry

6 October 2016 (STV News)

For most of her life, it seemed as though Keren Mingole would never have a place to call home.

Forced to escape war-torn country of DR Congo, the 16-year-old has been brought up in Scotland from a very early age. Not only faced with the difficulty of communicating with strangers, Keren also had to learn British Sign Language.

[..] In 2015, an opportunity arose for Keren to explore and draw from her difficult experiences as a child through a multilingual poetry contest.

The Mother Tongue Other Tongue competition explores cultural identity, and allows pupils from P1-S6 to enter creative pieces of work and celebrate the many different languages used in schools throughout the UK.

Pupils from across Scotland are currently participating in the multi-cultural competition, which is officially endorsed by Nobel Peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai. Scottish Makar Jackie Kay is also the official patron.

Keren won the 2015 Mother Tongue Other Tongue competition with her poem 'Who am I?' - a composition of her journey from her native home to her current home, Scotland.


Related Links

National Poetry Day (STV News, 6 October 2016) See Jackie Kay and one of last year's MTOT winners, Keren Mingole, talk about poetry in their lives (the programme is available on iPlayer until 13/09/16 - watch from 28:50).

Antonella Sorace: Why language learning matters (now more than ever)

26 September 2016 (University of Edinburgh blog)

There is no better way to celebrate the European Day of Languages than reminding people how good it is to have more than one language in the brain. Multilingualism is a very good investment both for individuals and for societies, but this is not obvious in Scotland and the UK more generally, because of the ‘privileged monolingualism’ of English native speakers. The common perception that “everyone speaks English” makes foreign languages seem irrelevant and leads to lack of incentives to learn languages. Language skills in the UK are falling just as the need for them is growing. According to one estimate, lack of language skills costs the UK economy £48 billion a year.


Director of Martin Sheen Movie Filmed in Spanish and English Says Bilingual Actors Are "the Future of Filmmaking"

26 August 2016 (The Hollywood Reporter)

There are an estimated 41 million native Spanish speakers living in the U.S. — more than anywhere else except Mexico — and one American film director is tackling the demographic in a unique way: hiring only bilingual actors and shooting every scene twice, once in English and once in Spanish.

The result, says Julio Quintana, director of The Vessel, starring Martin Sheen, is a more authentic experience for Spanish-speaking audiences who may be used to seeing movies with English dialogue later dubbed into Spanish.

"This is potentially the future of filmmaking," says Quintana. "The days of actors speaking English with bad Spanish accents is over."


More than two thirds of Britons reveal being BILINGUAL makes you more attractive

25 August 2016 (The Express)

Nine out of ten people confess they would learn a second language in the pursuit of love.

[..] In a recent survey of more than 3,000 people, language learning app Babbel found being bilingual makes you more attractive.


Bilingualism workshops

25 August 2016 (SCILT)

SCILT is delighted to be able to offer a series of national workshops in collaboration with Bilingualism Matters and Glasgow City Council’s EAL Service which will showcase the benefits of bilingualism and consider practical strategies teachers can use to promote bilingualism in their classrooms. We will offer ideas on how to engage bilingual learners more and support literacy skills across both languages.

These free workshops are aimed at general class practitioners across Early Years, Primary and Secondary, not specifically for the MFL and languages community so please feel free to distribute to all teachers across your network or Local Authority.

Attached is a flyer with further information about dates, venues and how to book.

Please note there are only a few remaining places on the Aberdeen workshop - all other venues are now full.

Related Files

Raising Bilingual Children: The Pros, The Cons, The Myths

22 August 2016 (The Early Hour)

Do bilingual children have delayed language development? Is it better to become fluent in one language first? What does bilingualism actually mean? We speak to a linguist, and to parents raising their children bilingually…


Why being bilingual works wonders for your brain

7 August 2016 (The Guardian)

In a cafe in south London, two construction workers are engaged in cheerful banter, tossing words back and forth. Their cutlery dances during more emphatic gesticulations and they occasionally break off into loud guffaws. They are discussing a woman, that much is clear, but the details are lost on me. It’s a shame, because their conversation sounds fun and interesting, especially to a nosy person like me. But I don’t speak their language.

Out of curiosity, I interrupt them to ask what language they are speaking. They both switch easily to English, explaining that they are South Africans and had been speaking Xhosa. In Johannesburg, where they are from, most people speak at least five languages, says one of them, Theo Morris. For example, Morris’s mother’s tongue is Sotho, his father’s is Zulu; he learned Xhosa and Ndebele from his friends and neighbours and English and Afrikaans at school. “I went to Germany before I came here, so I also speak German,” he adds.

Was it easy to learn so many languages? “Yes, it’s normal,” he laughs.

He’s right. Around the world, more than half of people – estimates vary from 60-75% – speak at least two languages. Many countries have more than one official national language – South Africa has 11. People are increasingly expected to speak, read and write at least one of a handful of “super” languages, such as English, Chinese, Hindi, Spanish or Arabic, as well. So to be monolingual, as many native English speakers are, is to be in the minority and perhaps to be missing out.


LanguageStrathclyde: A conversation about Language Learning

17 June 2016 (SCILT)

SCILT, Scotland's National Centre for Languages and the School of Education, University of Strathclyde hosted an afternoon of seminars led by language practitioners, students and academics on various strands of language learning including bilingualism, motivation and translanguaging.

SCILT has used Storify to summarise the discussions from the day. Visit our Storify page for a flavour of the event.


The truth about Dementia

17 May 2016 (BBC News)

Angela Rippon investigates the disease that took her mother's life and is now starting to affect her friends. She undergoes a series of tests to discover if she has any early signs of the disease and makes the difficult decision about whether to take a genetic test that could predict her future risk. Along the way, Angela finds out some of the surprising ways people can help to protect themselves. She discovers why getting a good night's sleep could help prevent Alzheimer's and how learning a new language might be more effective than any current drug treatment. Angela also visits a number of people who are living with the disease, including Bob, the husband of one of her oldest friends. She meets families that carry a gene for early-onset Alzheimer's and discovers how they could be the best hope of finding a cure for this devastating disease.

Available to watch until 11 June 2016.


Benefits of Bilingualism - Part Two

17 May 2016 (BBC World Service)

More than half the world speaks more than one language. New research is showing that being multilingual has some surprising advantages – it can help us keep healthier longer. Gaia Vince finds out how knowing many languages can protect our brains over our lifespan, and even stave off the appearance of some diseases, including dementia.


Benefits of Bilingualism - Part One

9 May 2016 (BBC World Service)

In this first episode on the BBC World Service Discovery channel, Gaia Vince explores the research that shows the benefits of bilingualism, focusing on learning languages in childhood.

In the second episode of the series, to be broadcast on 16 May, she will explore the benefits of being bilingual in older people.

Listen to the first episode now on the BBC website.


Research participants wanted: Italian-English bilinguals

2 May 2016 (Bilingualism Matters)

Scientists working on the EU funded AThEME project are looking to recruit Italian-English bilingual adults for their research into how people process multiple languages.

If you're a native Italian speaker aged between 18-40 and would like to take part, visit the Bilingualism Matters website for more information and to register interest.


Bilingual children ARE smarter: Babies who grow up listening to two languages have better problem-solving skills even before they can talk

5 April 2016 (Daily Mail)

Learning a second language when you are young has long been known to boost brainpower.

Now researchers have found that the brains of babies exposed to two languages benefit from this extra boost even before they can utter a word.

Scientists claim that just growing up in a home or environment where they are listening to more than one language being spoken could improve a child's problem solving skills and memory.


Related Links

What being bilingual does to your brain (The Independent, 5 April 2016)

Bilingualism Matters Spring 2016 Newsletter

7 March 2016 (Bilingualism Matters)

Bilingualism Matters have just published the Spring edition of their newsletter.

Find out about the organisation's recent activities including research updates, press articles and information on upcoming and recent events around Scotland.


Speaking just one language may improve insight and judgement

29 February 2016 (The Telegraph)

The benefits of bilingualism are well known, but a new study suggests people who speak just one language may have better judgement and insight.

Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin found that monolinguists were far better at assessing their own performance than those who spoke two languages.

The researchers said they were surprised by their findings as bilingual people often outperform monolinguists in mental tests.


Autism and bilingualism

29 February 2016 (Bilingualism Matters)

Bilingualism Matters has produced a factsheet on autism and bilingualism. Because there have been very few research studies that have directly investigated the impact of bilingualism on children with autism, Bilingualism Matters has created this factsheet summarising some of the issues parents may want to consider when making the decision whether to use two language to communicate with a child with autism.

Further information sheets from Bilingualism Matters are available from their website.


Gaelic 'should be preserved' to benefit the brain

15 February 2016 (The Herald)

Languages on the brink of dying out should be preserved in light of evidence that shows juggling different tongues is good for the brain, claims a British expert.

Professor Antonella Sorace, founder of the Bilingualism Matters Centre at the University of Edinburgh, is investigating the potential benefits of studying minority languages such as Sardinian and Scottish Gaelic.

Previous research has already shown that being multilingual can improve thinking and learning ability, and may reduce mental decline with age.


Parents can help, but children take a DIY approach to learning language

17 January 2016 (The Conversation)

Parents can help children develop their language. But when it comes to building the linguistic structure that undergirds the language, new research shows that children would rather do it themselves.

Perhaps one of the oldest debates in the cognitive sciences centres on whether children have an inborn faculty of language. This faculty makes it possible for children to learn the language of their community.

Evidence for its existence comes from the richness of the system that language users come to have as compared to the finite set of sentences that any one learner is exposed to.


Speakers of more than one language twice as likely recover normal brain function after stroke, study finds

19 November 2015 (The Herald)

Stroke patients are more likely to regain their cognitive functions if they speak more than one language, new research has discovered.

A study of 608 stroke victims found 40.5 per cent of those who are multilingual had normal mental functions afterwards, compared to 19.6 per cent of patients who only speak one language.

The study was carried out by a team from Edinburgh University in conjunction with the Nizam Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad. The Indian city was chosen as the location for the study because its multi-cultural nature means many languages are commonly spoken, including English, Hindi and Urdu.

Of the participants, 255 only spoke one language while 353 were bilingual.


Related Links

Speaking a second language aids stroke recovery (The Scotsman, 19 November 2015)

Bilingual people twice as likely to recover from a stroke (The Telegraph, 19 November 2015)

Bilingual skills enhance stroke recovery, study finds (BBC News, 20 November 2015)

Languages help stroke recovery, study says (University of Edinburgh, 20 November 2015)

Bilingualism May Help Stroke Patients Recover Faster- Finds Study (Health News Line, 23 November 2015)

Speaking in tongues: the many benefits of bilingualism

4 November 2015 (The Conversation)

We live in a world of great linguistic diversity. More than half of the world’s population grows up with more than one language. There are, on the other hand, language communities that are monolingual, typically some parts of the English-speaking world.

In this case, bilingualism or multilingualism can be seen as an extraordinary situation – a source of admiration and worry at the same time. But there are communities where bilingualism or multilingualism are the norm – for example in regions of Africa. A Cameroonian, for example, could speak Limbum and Sari, both indigenous languages, plus Ewondo, a lingua franca, plus English or French, the official languages, plus Camfranglais, a further lingua franca used between anglophone and francophone Cameroonians.

On a smaller scale, we all know families where bilingualism or multilingualism are the norm, because the parents speak different languages or because the family uses a language different from that of the community around them.

How difficult is it for a child to grow up in such an environment? And what are bilingual children capable of? Well, they are capable of quite a lot, even at a very young age. They can understand and produce expressions in more than one language, they know who to address in which language, they are able to switch very fast from one language to the other.


English plus One

1 September 2015 (BBC Radio 4)

Stephen Fry celebrates bilinguals' life stories and discovers the bonuses of bilingualism in the final part of his Radio 4 series 'English Delight.'

Listen to the show from 02:20.  Available until 29 September 2015.


Bilingualism and the brain: How language shapes our ability to process information

24 August 2015 (Science Daily)

In an increasingly globalised world, there are many practical benefits to speaking two languages rather than one. Even in the US, which is largely monolingual, more than 20 percent of the population is now thought to speak a second language.


Bilingual children 'lag behind in English', research shows

7 August 2015 (The Telegraph)

Bilingual children in their early years lag behind in English, a new study has found as it shows their vocabulary is stunted.

The study found that children under six years of age who learn a second language lag behind in their linguistic performance compared to their peers who only speak English. Their abilities were measured by showing children at three years of age images and asked them to name the objects in the pictures in English. The bilingual children were able to name fewer images than those who only spoke English.

However, the research by Bath University, showed that disadvantage fades away by the age of five and the improvement is more noticeable among children whose at least one parent is British.


The earlier a second language is learnt the better

4 August 2015 (Day Nurseries UK)

According to British Council research, improving one’s employment prospects is the main driver for people overseas learning English, but many UK pupils are still experiencing a ‘minimal or fragmented’ second language learning because the UK still fails to recognise the many benefits of bilingualism.

In the day nursery sector, more and more providers are realising the need to focus on a bilingual upbringing, for the long-term advantages that learning a second language can have on intellect and life prospects, even though foreign language learning remains non-compulsory during the early years and most UK children will have no exposure to it until later education.


Budding police constables must speak second language in Met pilot scheme

20 July 2015 (The Guardian)

Aspiring police constables must speak a second language to join London’s Metropolitan police under a month-long pilot scheme.

Scotland Yard is hoping the new criterion will help police “engage with London’s diverse communities as effectively as possible”.

From Monday, to be considered for one of the sought-after positions with the capital’s police force, applicants must speak one of 14 languages as well as English. 

They are: Arabic, Bengali, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Sinhala (Sri Lanka), Spanish, Turkish or Yoruba (Nigeria).


Related Links

Language recruitment campaign launched (Metropolitan Police, 20 July 2015)

People who speak two languages ‘have better brains’

16 July 2015 (The Scotsman)

People who speak two or more languages have better functioning brains, a study found.

Being bilingual increased the size of the part of the brain responsible for processing thoughts than those that speak their mother tongue, researchers found.


Do you see what I see? Children exposed to several languages are better at seeing through others’ eyes

30 May 2015 (The Economist)

Human beings are not born with the knowledge that others possess minds with different contents. Children develop such a “theory of mind” gradually, and even adults have it only imperfectly. But a study by Samantha Fan and Zoe Liberman at the University of Chicago, published in Psychological Science, finds that bilingual children, and also those simply exposed to another language on a regular basis, have an edge at the business of getting inside others’ minds.


How to learn 30 languages

29 May 2015 (BBC)

Out on a sunny Berlin balcony, Tim Keeley and Daniel Krasa are firing words like bullets at each other. First German, then Hindi, Nepali, Polish, Croatian, Mandarin and Thai – they’ve barely spoken one language before the conversation seamlessly melds into another. Together, they pass through about 20 different languages or so in total.

Back inside, I find small groups exchanging tongue twisters. Others are gathering in threes, preparing for a rapid-fire game that involves interpreting two different languages simultaneously. It looks like the perfect recipe for a headache, but they are nonchalant. “It’s quite a common situation for us,” a woman called Alisa tells me.


Edinburgh International Book Festival - Baillie Gifford Schools Programme

4 May 2015 (Edinburgh International Book Festival)

Tickets are now on sale for the Edinburgh International Book Festival Baillie Gifford Schools Programme, with lots of exciting events running from 24 August to 1 September 2015.

This year the programme has a real focus on languages and internationalism, featuring authors with stories from afar; events about translation and adaptation; and an exploration of the different ways that stories can be told. We’ve also got some language-themed CPD events running throughout the Festival.   Find out more through the following links, or visit the website to see the programme and booking details.

CPD events:

  • The Gift of Bilingualism 
    Thursday 20 August, 7.00pm – 8.00pm
    How can bilingual families be supported and each mother tongue acknowledged and respected?
  • Poetic Translation with the Scottish Poetry Library
    Thursday 27 August, 5.00pm–6.00pm
    Think you can’t translate a poem from one language into another? This event will prove you wrong. Piloted in Edinburgh schools, this is a flexible approach to primary school language learning and creative writing with fun, fast-paced exercises.

Event for primary schools:


How the language you speak changes your view of the world

27 April 2015 (The Conversation)

Bilinguals get all the perks. Better job prospects, a cognitive boost and even protection against dementia. Now new research shows that they can also view the world in different ways depending on the specific language they are operating in.

The past 15 years have witnessed an overwhelming amount of research on the bilingual mind, with the majority of the evidence pointing to the tangible advantages of using more than one language. Going back and forth between languages appears to be a kind of brain training, pushing your brain to be flexible.

Just as regular exercise gives your body some biological benefits, mentally controlling two or more languages gives your brain cognitive benefits. This mental flexibility pays big dividends especially later in life: the typical signs of cognitive ageing occur later in bilinguals – and the onset of age-related degenerative disorders such as dementia or Alzheimer’s are delayed in bilinguals by up to five years.


Multilingual families: 'Even our dog uses three languages'

13 March 2015 (The Guardian)

No matter what your family’s heritage, parenting has a common lexicon: brush your teeth, look up from that screen or stop bashing your brother can be found in most family phrasebooks.

But what if the language you were born with differs from the one your kids use daily at school, or if you and your partner each have different native languages?

Today almost one in five children in UK primary schools now has a mother tongue other than English. According to Professor Antonella Sorace, director of the Bilingualism Matters centre at Edinburgh University, the demand for information and advice on how to navigate the challenges of bilingual parenting is now “enormous”.


A few myths about speakers of multiple languages

5 February 2015 (British Council Voices)

Is monolingualism the norm? Do bilinguals have two separate language systems? The British Council's Nayr Ibrahim separates the myths from the realities.


Boxer Amir Khan throws his weight behind Mother Tongue multilingual poetry project

31 January 2015 (Manchester Evening News)

Bolton boxer Amir Khan has thrown his weight behind a multilingual poetry project.

The champion boxer filmed a special video for the launch of the Mother Tongue Other Tongue competition at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The national competition, which launches on Monday February 2, aims to encourage children who don’t speak English at home to celebrate their mother tongue - while giving native-English speakers the chance to learn a second language.

Amir said: “Speaking another language, some people might feel shy about it but they shouldn’t – they should have confidence and be able to talk about what other languages they speak."

*SCILT have been piloting Mother Tongue, Other Tongue in Scotland in session 2014-15 with Glasgow schools. Find out more on our Mother Tongue, Other Tongue page.  


Related Links

Amir's video along with more information and images from the competition can be found on the MTOT pages of Manchester Metropolitan University's website.

Bilingualism changes children's beliefs

13 January 2015 (Science Daily)

Most young children are essentialists: They believe that human and animal characteristics are innate. That kind of reasoning can lead them to think that traits like native language and clothing preference are intrinsic rather than acquired. But a new study suggests that certain bilingual kids are more likely to understand that it's what one learns, rather than what one is born with, that makes up a person's psychological attributes.


Related Links

Give Your Child the Gift of Bilingualism (Bilingualism Matters blog, 14 January 2015)

Life as a research student of bilingualism

15 December 2014 (Bilingualism Matters)

I have always loved languages. In particular, I have always loved French, and I started to learn basic words and phrases during my childhood years. (Famously, my dad tried to make me say thank you in French before I got to blow out the candles on my 4th birthday cake, but before I could, my 2 year old sister came out with a tiny merci and completely stole the limelight.)

[..] Meeting and studying bilingual children over the last year or so has been fantastic. I often feel somewhat envious whenever I meet a pre-schooler who can communicate proficiently in two languages without even batting an eyelid, but mostly I’m just in awe of them. Take one of the children I studied for my undergraduate degree last year, who is trilingual. She was four at the time. Her mother is a native French speaker, her father a native Spanish speaker, and they live in Edinburgh, surrounded by English speakers. When I went to meet this little girl, I spoke to her mother at length about when and with whom her daughter used each of her languages, to get an idea of her everyday pattern of use. This is a crucial part of all multilingual studies, as it’s actually incredibly rare to find someone who is exactly balanced in the use of their languages.


Community languages not supported in UK education system, survey suggests

28 November 2014 (The Guardian)

Despite the fact almost one in five young people have a first language other than English, research reveals their skills go unsupported and unrecognised by exam system.

Most young people in Britain whose native language is not English believe speaking a second language is an advantage in life. However only just over a third take a qualification in their mother tongue, according to a Guardian/ICM poll.


Related Links

Ten ways to support community languages in the UK (The Guardian, 2 December 2014)

Bilingualism and Autism

26 November 2014 (DART)

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh are starting a new project which aims to find out more about the relationship between bilingualism and autism.

Speaking more than one language has been linked with a number of cognitive and social benefits such as advantages in communication skills, perspective taking and flexible thinking. It has also been linked with a slight delay in acquiring language. As yet, there is very little research looking at how these advantages and disadvantages might be relevant to children with autism who grow up in a multilingual household.

This study aims to gain a better idea of the relationship between autism and growing up in a multilingual environment. Ultimately, it is hoped the study will be able to provide evidence that can help multilingual families with a child with autism decide whether or not bringing up their child to speak more than one language is the right fit for their particular family.

Volunteers are being sought to take part in the study.


Bilingual storytelling

24 November 2014 (Gathered Together/BEMIS)

See the YouTube interview with a parent involved in a bilingual storytelling group at St Albert’s Primary School.


Being able to switch between languages

19 November 2014 (Bilingualism Matters)

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.


Learn the lingo and live longer: Foreign languages makes for more brain cells

16 November 2014 (The Independent)

"Ik spreek goed Nederlands" (I speak good Dutch); that's the phrase which brought the house down during a recent visit to my Dutch in-laws' in Rotterdam. Personally, I think I've had more inspired moments of comedy but, for Dutch people, there's obviously something inherently hilarious about an English person attempting to speak their language.

The English have a well-earned reputation as the language-learning dunces of Europe, and traditionally that didn't bother us much. Taking a language at GCSE ceased to be compulsory in 2004, and since then the number of people studying languages at degree level has fallen to a record low. There's an obvious logic to this. Everyone else speaks English anyway, and as for those who don't, simply repeating the same phrase more loudly and with a cod Spanish accent usually suffices, right? So why bother?

Here's why. A new study by Pennsylvania University shows that language-learning keeps the brain healthy and sharp as we age, reducing the likelihood of early-onset dementia.


Related Links

Learning languages is a workout for brains, both young and old (Penn State News, 12 November 2014)

New Centre promotes benefits of bilingualism

14 October 2014 (University of Edinburgh)

People living in Scotland are set to benefit from a new centre that will encourage and support speaking more than one language.


Bilingual pupils 'outperform their peers in noisy lessons'

14 October 2014 (Telegraph)

Children who speak two languages outperform their monolingual peers in the classroom because they are more likely to filter out disruptive noises, according to research.


Related Links

The Forum: Multilingualism

27 September 2014 (BBC Radio 4)

How is the brain affected by juggling between different languages and how does this affect identity? And what is the impact on a child's development if they speak one language at home and another at school? Bridget Kendall talks to poet and cultural critic Gustavo Perez Firmat, developmental linguistics researcher Antonella Sorace, and cognitive development specialist Ellen Bialystok.


Bilingual babies benefit from learning faster

5 September 2014 (The Independent)

The benefits of growing up in a bilingual home start early and are broader than previously thought, new research shows. At just six months old, infants who are exposed to more than one language have an edge over their monolingual peers. Bilingual babies get bored more quickly when they are repeatedly shown the same picture, and have a greater thirst for novel images; tendencies which have strong links to higher IQ later in life.


Using two languages in one sentence not necessarily bad: Study

21 August 2014 (Channel News Asia)

Researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design say children speaking a mix of English and Mandarin may help them achieve a better grasp of the languages. They plan to expand their research to other mother tongue languages.


“Breed Bilingual!” at the Edinburgh fringe

20 August 2014 (Bilingualism Matters)

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.


First language research improves outcomes

11 June 2014 (Neoskosmos)

Using bilingual assistants when researching culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities can dramatically improve research outcomes, a new study has found.

The use of first language research assistants can deliver a deeper understanding of participants' experiences, essential cultural knowledge and important contextual information or perspective. It can also make research more valid by gaining access to people who may not typically participate in research, the report said.


Bilingualism offers 'huge advantages', claims Cambridge University head

2 June 2014 (The Guardian)

Vice-chancellor Leszek Borysiewicz wants education system to allow children to strive to become as bilingual as they can be.


School records bilingual fairytales

19 May 2014 (Portsmouth News)

Bilingual children celebrated their talents by taking part in a unique storytelling project with their parents. Ranvilles Infant School in Fareham organised a project to support children who speak a second language. Children and parents have been working to retell the stories in both English and their first language. A local artist then helped create a storyboard of the two tales, which children across the school helped to design.


George Szirtes: what being bilingual means for my writing and identity

3 May 2014 (The Guardian)

Hungarian-born poet George Szirtes writes in both English and his native tongue. He contemplates bilingualism and belonging.


Saturday Live - Bringing children up bilingually

BBC Radio 4 (26 April 2014)

Interview with English-speaker Caroline Sarll who decided to bring her children up to be bilingual. Listen from 25mins. First broadcast 26 April 2014.


Can Learning a New Language Boost Your Creativity?

20 March 2014 (Huffington Post)

I became fascinated with the question of what relationship exists, if any, between foreign language ability and creativity after reading Earnest Hemmingway's The Sun Also Rises this past summer. The novel takes its readers on a trilingual adventure from the cafés of Paris to the bullfighting rings of Pamplona. Hemmingway himself spoke both French and Spanish, in addition to his native English, and though his exact ability in each is a matter for debate, it is clear from clips like this one that he was at least fully bilingual.


German region of Saarland moves towards bilingualism

21 January 2014 (BBC News)

Germany's western Saarland region says it wants its next generation to be bilingual in German and French.

It is part of a strategy to deepen economic ties with France, which borders the region. Proposals by the regional government include bilingual teaching from pre-school age and requiring new state employees to be able to work in French.


Talking the talk in a global economy

20 January 2014 (The Telegraph)

A recent report warned that we are risking the economic health of the country by not teaching second languages effectively enough; we need to tap into the linguistic richness of today’s pupils, says Fiona Barry.


Language research to influence education

5 December 2013 (The Daily Cougar - USA)

The Laboratory for the Neural Bases of Bilingualism has published a new research study on bilingualism and how new languages are assimilated in the brain.

The six-month research explained why certain individuals were better at detecting speech sounds instead of vocabulary words. The different possible factors ranged from socioeconomic status, genetics and even musical ability. Director of the LNBB and developmental psychology professor Arturo Hernandez used brain activity to determine whether bilinguals are better than monolinguals at learning a new language.

“I would hope the results of this research would allow us to dramatically change the time at which we introduce a second language and the method that we use, such as a stronger emphasis on learning the sounds of a language rather than learning vocabulary and memorizing it for a test,” Hernandez said.


Speaking a second language may delay dementia

7 November 2013 (BBC)

People who speak more than one language and who develop dementia tend to do so up to five years later than those who are monolingual, according to a study.

Scientists examined almost 650 dementia patients and assessed when each one had been diagnosed with the condition.

They found people who spoke two or more languages experienced a later onset of Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia and frontotemporal dementia.


Related Links

Bilingual skills can stall dementia onset (The Herald, 7 November 2013)

Toddler brain scan gives language insight

9 October 2013 (BBC)

The brain has a critical window for language development between the ages of two and four, brain scans suggest.

Environmental influences have their biggest impact before the age of four, as the brain's wiring develops to process new words, say UK and US scientists.

It also explains why young children are good at learning two languages.


Number of Polish weekend schools doubles

27 August 2013 (Irish Times)

The number of Polish weekend schools in Ireland has doubled in the past three years, according to figures provided by the Polish embassy.

Every Sunday some 70 students travel through the boreens of Donegal to one such classroom.
There, the children of all ages learn of a culture and language that will help them read their grandmother’s letters, listen to her stories about the Nazi razing of Warsaw, learn about her love of Chopin or understand her admiration for pope John Paul II.


How do bilingual babies separate the languages?

17 July 2013 (The Guardian)

Readers answer other readers' questions on subjects ranging from trivial flights of fancy to profound scientific concepts.


Why learn a foreign language? Benefits of bilingualism

19 June 2013 (The Telegraph)

Learning a foreign language is more than just a boost to your CV or handy for travelling. It will make you smarter, more decisive and even better at English, says Anne Merritt.


Antonella Sorace – Common Misconceptions Around Language Learning

4 June 2013 (Engage for Education)

Antonella Sorace, the founder of Bilingualism Matters and professor of developmental linguistics, talks about the common misconceptions around language learning and why children should be taught another language as early as possible.


Antonella Sorace

24 May 2013 (TESS)

The founder of Bilingualism Matters and professor of developmental linguistics talks about the common misconceptions around language learning and why children should be taught another language as early as possible.


Bilingualism Steps Into a Leading Role - Viggo Mortensen and Other Actors Take Roles in Foreign Films

29 March 2013 (New York Times)

Viggo Mortensen, who speaks fluent Spanish, plays two roles in the Argentine movie “Everybody Has a Plan,” directed by Ana Piterbarg.


Challenges and tips for raising bilingual children

21 March 2013 (NBC Latino)

As the conversation about bilingualism spreads throughout the country, more and more parents are looking for resources when it comes to raising their children to be multilingual.

Nancy Rhodes, director of Foreign Language Education at the Center for Applied Linguistics, says that over the last 10 years or more, they’ve seen an increase in parents going to school districts and asking them to start language programs for early education classes.

Rhodes says that the reason for the increase is because many parents now recognize that bilingualism is a tremendous asset for future careers. “The current focus appears to be on the globalized economy,” she says. “Parents are thinking about their children’s future in internet jobs, or international and intercultural careers.”

But one of the biggest challenges for parents is how to begin the process.


The multilingual dividend

13 March 2013 (Financial Times)

A few years ago, when Antonella Sorace visited the European Central Bank in Frankfurt to talk about her research into bilingualism, she was astonished to find the bank’s multinational staff worrying about what should have been one of their families’ principal assets. “They had all kinds of doubts about the benefits of multilingualism for their children; they worried that their children weren’t learning to read or write properly – in any language,” she says. “I found it very instructive.”


Bilingual babies balance different languages

18 February 2013 (

Even before they can talk, infants as young as seven months who grow up in bilingual homes acquire a special ability to distinguish between languages, researchers have found.


Mind your (minority) language: Welsh, Gaelic, Irish and Cornish are staging a comeback

19 January 2013 (The Independent)

Thanks to impassioned campaigners, Welsh is in fine fettle, and other minority languages are also on the up, as Holly Williams discovers.


Related Links

Fighting to save the Welsh language (The Guardian, 21 January 2013)

Très bien! Speaking two languages from childhood keeps brain in good shape as we age

9 January 2013 (Daily Mail)

Hours spent in language classes struggling with masculine and feminine nouns and upside down punctuation may all be worth it, say scientists. For pensioners who learn a second tongue as children have far sharper brains when they reach their sixties.


New study of how Gaelic affects brain functions

20 December 2012 (BBC News)

Scientists are to investigate changes in brain functions among people who are fluent in English and Gaelic.  The study involving Glasgow and Edinburgh universities will require its test subjects to speak Gaelic exclusively for about 40 days.


Related Links

Mapping the bilingual brain (Radio Lab blog, 12 December 2012)

Language Rich Europe in the Netherlands – Multilingualism in Business and Education

11 November 2012 (Language Rich Europe blog)

As part of the Language Rich Europe project, we are holding workshops across Europe to discuss the findings and plan the next steps. In this blog post, Lorcan Murray, an intern at British Council Netherlands, writes about the workshop held in Utrecht in November.


Gap widens for bilingual five years olds for the first time in five years

10 December 2012 (NALDIC)

(relates to England) The publication of the 2012 results of the Early Years Foundation Stage assessments shows that the gap between children learning EAL in England and those with English as a first language has widened for the first time in 5 years.


Scots fare worst in bilingualism study

14 November 2012 (The Scotsman)

Scots have fared worst in a Europe-wide initiative designed to foster bilingualism.
The study, which was led by the University of Edinburgh and backed by the European Commission’s Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA), recruited 25 monolingual families from five European countries.


The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual

31 October 2012 (The Dana Foundation)

Today, more of the world’s population is bilingual or multilingual than monolingual. In addition to facilitating cross-cultural communication, this trend also positively affects cognitive abilities. Researchers have shown that the bilingual brain can have better attention and task-switching capacities than the monolingual brain, thanks to its developed ability to inhibit one language while using another.


University of Strathclyde Education Scotland British Council Scotland The Scottish Government
SCILT - Scotlands National centre for Languages