Study shows bilingualism gap

Families should be encouraged to embrace language learning if Scotland is to engage more fully with other European countries, a Professor claims.

Scots fared worst in a Europe-wide initiative, backed by the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) which was designed to develop bilingualism.

The project, Let’s Become a Bilingual Family, recruited 25 monolingual families from five European countries where children aged 3-7 years were exposed to a new European language together with their parents over a 12- month period.

Family project

The project team found that families in Scotland found it difficult to commit to the year-long project on a regular basis, and Scotland also has the highest number of families which pulled out of the project before completion.

All of the families were free to organise the language activities in a way that was most suited to their lifestyles. They all received free materials in the well tested method "Hocus and Lotus", which uses characters for language learning. They also received support from a tutor and support from a range of online facilities.

In contrast, families from the other four European countries involved- Italy, Romania, Slovakia and Spain, had high completion rates.

Exposure to languages

Project leader Professor Antonella Sorace, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences and Director of the information service Bilingualism Matters, says that significant cultural differences emerged during the free programme which started in 2010.

Prof. Sorace will join language experts and policy makers to look at how these types of programme can transform the way in which children learning languages.

As well as encouraging greater commitment from families in Scotland Prof. Sorace believes early exposure to other languages is the key to future development of multilingual skills.

Prof. Sorace says that language learning can be fun, and development is easier when families approach language learning together.

The take-up of this programme reflects different attitudes towards language learning, which negatively affect motivation and commitment. As in the other countries, however, the Scottish families which took part enjoyed doing the activities together, all the children learned many words and sentences that they were able to use independently.The project, on the whole, sends a positive message- early exposure to a second language can be very effective for future development of multilingual skills.
Prof. Antonella SoraceSchool of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences and Director of the information service Bilingualism Matters

The results of Let’s become a Bilingual Family are being presented at a public event at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, High Street, Edinburgh.