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Interview with Antonella Sorace

Antonella Sorace, Professor of  Developmental linguistics at the University of Ediburgh. Her research on bilingualism led to internationally recognized results.

Antonella Sorace is also committed in disseminating the results of research on bilingualism outside the academic world. Let’s see how.

Professor Sorace, you have founded an information center on bilingualism, the Bilingualism Matters, would you like to explain exactly what it is?

Bilingualism Matters is an information service that aims to make accessible and disseminate in the society the results of the linguistic and cognitive research on bilingualism. The increasing number of bilingual and multilingual families in all European countries makes it increasingly necessary to have accurate information about the facts and benefits of bilingualism.

Unfortunately, many prejudices are still rooted, in sharp contrast with the results of research in recent years that show instead that growing with more than one language has a number of benefits, lasting from infancy to old age: bilingual speakers have a better understanding of how language works and a greater mental flexibility, which is manifested not only in languages ​​but in other non-linguistic tasks and behaviors.

The bilingual child seems to be an investment for life. Bilingualism Matters operates on three fronts: the introduction of a second language in early childhood, the maintenance of regional minority languages, and the maintenance of the languages ​​imported by immigration.

We address to all sectors of the society: families, teachers, health workers. administrators, and politicians. We offer seminars, a service via email and a website full of resources. In addition, we are expanding with 'branches' of Bilingualism Matters in different places: one is already operational in Tromsø, Norway, another is opening in the Hebrides, and a third one will open next spring in Greece. We hope to have one in Sardinia soon, too.

 

What are the reasons which parents or other persons dealing with bilingual children are addressing more frequently to your center for?

There are some questions we are frequently asked by families. Many parents are afraid to confuse children with too many languages​​: this is a cause for concern especially if the languages ​​are more than two.

Another frequent question is what to do if the child refuses to speak the minority language at home: this is a fairly usual situation that can occur when the child starts going to school and sees his bilingualism as a factor of 'diversity '. Our advice is to try to continue speaking the language, while accepting that the child can go through a phase in which he prefers to answer in the majority language.

We are often asked if the method 'one parent, one language' (OPOL) is the most effective one, or what to do when one parent does not understand the other language.

We receive many requests for information and advice from teachers, both at kindergarten and primary school level, many teachers host in their classes children from different countries and different languages​​, who initially can say very little in the community language, although language comprehension is greatly improved quickly.

What do you answer to the question on the best method to adopt? Is there a better way than others to raise bilingual children? Are there binding rules?

 No, there is no 'magic method” that guarantees active bilingualism in children, partly because family situations are very different and therefore a method that works well in a family may not work in another.

'One parent, one language' is not the only method: some families only speak the minority language at home, others speak the majority language, but children attend schools in the minority language. Any method is fine if (a) it provides input in both languages ​​and (b) it is not 'forced' and makes feel all the family members at ease.

Speaking of mixing languages ​​(code-switching), modern research does not consider it a negative phenomenon in itself, anymore. What should a parent do when witnessing the mixture of languages ​​of his/her child? Is it right to intervene and to what extent?

The code-switching is not in itself an index of confusion: there are communities in the world in which all bilingual speakers, even adults, alternate languages ​​in everyday conversations, and research has shown that these alternations follow very accurate rules, that are learned by children very soon.

Sometimes children 'borrow' words from the other language because they know them better, or because those words can better express the message.

Finally, there are sociolinguistic rules, also learned in early childhood : bilinguals usually mix languages when speaking to other bilinguals, but don’t mix when speaking to monolinguals, because they know that they would not be understood.

Modern research shows the benefits of bilingualism for our brain. Is it possible, though, to define a priori how many languages ​​simultaneously a child's brain can support?

It is hard to answer this question with a precise figure, because much depends on individual conditions and social and family dynamics. However, children need to hear each language sufficiently and in situations that involve them and motivate them to use that language.

Therefore, the more languages​​ there are, the less input a child will have, even in the hypothetical situation of absolute equality of exposure to each language. If there are more than two languages​​, I think it's important for parents to be realistic and do not expect an equal and parallel development in all languages​​: one of the language is often heard less than the other one, and the child will develop comprehension skills but not production skills in that language. Later on, if the situation and the balance between languages ​​change, the child will be able to become fluent in that language at all levels.

The 'perfect bilingual' does not exist: the circumstances of everyday life determine which language is dominant and which one is passive, and this balance may change several times during their lifetime.

A last curiosity about the accent. When a bilingual child shows a marked accent of the dominant language when speaking the minority language, what would you advise to a parent, if he/she would like to correct the accent?


I would recommend not to correct the accent openly, but to give more input in the minority language to the child and possibly input from various sources and speakers. In many cases, there is a mismatch between the community language, which is heard and spoken in school and elsewhere, and the minority language, which is only heard at home. The child may also use the accent to show his belonging to the community and to the dominant language. Finally, to hear the language spoken by different people seems to be very important (in ways which we don’t fully understand, yet) for various aspects of language development, including accent.
 
I'd like to thank Professor Sorace for her time and her valuable advices and I give her my congratulations for the interesting initiative of
Bilingualism Matters
.

Written by Giovanna Monday, 17 October 2011 09:17
 

European language day

10th European Day of Languages: Let’s celebrate it!

 

September 26th was a day dedicated to European languages. The initiative was launched in 2001 to meet the growing need to raise awareness about the importance of European languages.

Background

The Council of Europe has developed a Common European Framework of Reference for Languages ​​(CEFR) which is a standards-based assessment of language skills. Based on this framework, the European Commission is conducting a first European survey on language skills of pupils in secondary schools throughout Europe, the outcome of which will be presented in 2012

 Why all this?

European authorities are responding to a need arising from our changing world, in order to offer a greater mobility to the citizens. Languages ​​are therefore the starting point to expand our horizons, to open the windows to opportunities.

Enhancing language teaching at all levels is what we and our children exactly need. Luxembourg is a terrific example of this.

The European Day of Languages reminds us of the importance of this communication and integration instrument. Languages ​​are the key for interculturalism, but they represent as well the awareness of our cultural and linguistic heritage.

For this reason, the Council of Europe has also drafted the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages , which reminds us of the 40 million Europeans who regularly use a regional or minority language .

What is with "regional or minority languages" meant ?

They are languages which are handed down from one generation to another, representing the traditions of a community numerically smaller than the rest of the population living in the same territory. But it is also about languages ​​other than the official language(s) ​​of the Country, dialects of the official languages excluded.

Only in Italy there have been recognized as many as 12! 

Which foreign language at school?

On the occasion of European Day of Languages, Eurostat published a study referring statistics about the most studied foreign languages in Europe.  

English as a Second Language clearly prevails, especially in high schools throughout Europe. In Italy it reaches a rate of 99% in primary and lower secondary schools. This is followed by French and German.

Just a curiosity: Italian is the second foreign language studied in Malta and, albeit for a remaining 2% versus 98% of English, in Austria!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Giovanna Friday, 30 September 2011 09:20
   

The bilinguals' invisible friends part 2: Interferences

 

  For part 1 "alternation or code-switching" click here

 

 

Myself, 5 years

Interference

An other invisible friend of bilinguals, the interference is the use of features belonging to a specific language applied to another, says Mackey, ("Description of bilingualism")

 

It comes up when you least expect it and in most cases you will not even realize it, if it wasn’t for the quizzical expression on the face of your monolingual interlocutor ... ..

In short, the interferences are the classic "mistakes" that commits a bilingual speaking or writing.

Written by Giovanna Tuesday, 27 September 2011 09:39
   

The bilinguals' invisible friends part 1: Alternation or code-switching ...

 

Alternation or code-switching ...

 

Alternation, code-switching, interference, loans, casts ... how much confusion among these terms, let’s try to make some order! For this aim, I will refer to a Canadian internationally renowned linguist, William Francis Mackey, whose essay "Description of bilingualism" is considered a starting point for all those who dedicate themselves to the study of bilingualism. For alternation it’s basically meant code-switching, which we have already talked about. But how does it happen?

Written by Giovanna Wednesday, 21 September 2011 09:23
   

Interview with Elena Giordano, Italian speech therapist, resident in Luxembourg

 

Interview with Elena Giordano, Italian speech therapist, graduated from the University of Florence, resident in Luxembourg

Written by Giovanna Saturday, 17 September 2011 20:14
   

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