The many flavors of bilingualism: how do we keep languages alive at home?

Date: 23-03-19 · Time: 11:00-13:00h

Location: Molinos de viento (Utrechtsedwarsstraat 13 / 1, 1017 WB Amsterdam)

I have always been fascinated by those people around me who were able to shift from one language to another in the blink of an eye. My best friend in high-school was of Catalan heritage, and any time her father would drive us to the cinema, I would quietly sit in the car while they chatted in Catalan. She would tell me what a normal evening at the dinner table of the Balcells would look like. – Yeah, when we’re all together my dad speaks Catalan to me an my sister, and we answer him in Catalan as well, but then my dad speaks Spanish to my mom and so she does to us. She can also speak and understand Catalan, but that’s not part of the deal. Catalan is this special thing between my dad, my sister and me –

As a bilingualism researcher and expert in communication, I get asked thousands of questions by parents about what are the positive and the negative aspects of raising a bilingual child, and what is the best way to do so. One thing I have learnt from doing research on bilingual speakers is that there are no two cases alike. Instead, each child deals with immensely different amounts of input in each language. While some kids strictly speak one language with mom and another with dad, others have a much relaxed linguistic environment. And even in those cases when parents choose to establish some linguistic rules at home.

So what is the best way to raise a bilingual child? Well, the answer is not quite that straight forwards. Why? Because if there are no two families alike, neither there is a method that would perfectly either of them. However, there are some scientific facts, as well as techniques that can make our task a lot smoother.

Join me in this workshop where bilingual families, and adults who experienced growing up bilingual themselves, discuss their experiences and learn about the latests scientific findings and learn what to take - and not to take - home from them.

Register in the link



The effect of a third language in bilingual children (to be announced)

Being surrounded by two languages as a child is one of the hottest discussions in countries like The Netherlands, where the ratio of international couples raising their children with two languages has gotten far from being the exception. Instead, waking up in Spanish, learning to write in Dutch and having dinner “in both” is the normal daily routine for a lot of families.

Now, of course the multilingualism phenomenon is not exclusive to cities like Amsterdam. The UK, France, Spain and many others reunite people from all over the world. However, there are two things that are unique conditions in The Netherlands; 1) Amsterdam receives an immense number of internationals and 2) (probably cause of the first reason) the majority of the Dutch population speaks English fluently, and it all kind of contexts. If you have lived in the Netherlands, you might reckon that this is one of the reasons why people who move to the Netherlands, either temporarily or for the long term, do not learn Dutch or they do so years after moving. What this leads to is a unique linguistic map where Dutch, English and another multitude of languages cohabit within the dams of the country. Where we end up is in a number of people whose main vehicle of communication is English, and not Dutch. But what happens when a local and an international form a family and have a child? Well, what happens incredibly often is that even though each parent want to maintain their respective native language with their child, the communication between the two of them will remain in English.

So what does this mean for the bilingual child? Well, it means that he’s far from being bilingual, he or she can be categorize as trilingual, which implies, that the time of language exposure that was thought to be divided by two, will actually look more something like: 40%, 35% 25%, or 40%, 40% 20%, or 50%, 30% 20%. No household will be the same, neither will be the language skills of the child in questions. However, this is okay, too. In this workshop, we will explore the different contexts in which a child growing up multilingual may benefit from personalized language assessment, strictness of language use to a number of contexts, and commitment from the family to activities that enhance the use of a language.