Bilingualism Matters was created by Antonella Sorace to share advice with families raising bilingual children.
The service has:
- been warmly received by local schools and community groups
- provided valuable information for Professor Sorace's research
- lead to international consultancy roles
- received an Edinburgh Beltane Fellowship grant
In Scotland, as well as the rest of Europe, growing up with more than one language is often regarded as 'special' and even 'dangerous' for a child’s development.
While it is true that bilingual children often start speaking later than monolingual children, research shows that bilingualism is actually beneficial for a child’s development in terms of
- awareness of different people and cultures
- higher levels of attention, concentration and reading skills and
- enhanced language learning abilities
Antonella Sorace, Professor of Developmental Linguistics, set up “Bilingualism Matters” as she was keen to share her expertise with families and practitioners working with bilingual children.
Bilingualism Matters is a service targeted to families and practitioners, providing information and advice based on research carried out by Professor Sorace and other linguists. It includes a website with links to various resources that may be of interest to families with bilingual children and a message board where questions and information can be exchanged.
The most important part of Bilingualism Matters is Professor Sorace’s outreach service to schools and communities. Bilingualism Matters was launched in September 2008. During the following year, Professor Sorace gave more than 30 talks to community groups and schools in Edinburgh. The service is providing families, teachers and other practitioners with useful information and advice about child development and bilingualism. Many of these talks were translated into several languages showing that this is an important issue in the community.
Professor Sorace has also been hired to conduct information sessions and consultancy for a range of international agencies including the European Central Bank and the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. More work of this kind is planned in the future both in the UK and Europe.
The talks and discussions have improved the understanding of bilingualism among families as well as teachers and other professionals coming across this in their daily work.
With an estimated 138 different languages being spoken in Scotland, knowledge of the benefits of bilingualism in the general public is important and will encourage parents to bring up their children to speak more than one language.
The maintenance of language diversity (of indigenous languages such as Gaelic, or of minority languages introduced by immigration) depends on the transmission of languages across generations and therefore on more and more children being bilingual.
"The interest for Bilingualism Matters has been way beyond what I expected and it is extremely rewarding being able to sharing my expertise on bilingualism. The discussions with families and practitioners have also provided a tremendous opportunity for me to learn more about bilingualism in its many real-life contexts which will benefit my own research"
Bilingualism Matters was developed after consultation with a range of community, policy and practice groups. It was enabled through a small ESRC grant for knowledge exchange and support from the College of Humanities and Social Science Knowledge Exchange office.
Antonella Sorace was also awarded an Edinburgh Beltane Fellowship for public engagement in autumn 2009 to take the service further.
This article was published on Nov 19, 2009