Kletsheads [English edition] is a podcast about bilingual children for parents, teachers and speech language therapists. What can you expect if you’re raising your children bilingually? What’s important? What will help your children’s language development and what won’t? In each episode, Dr. Sharon Unsworth, linguist and mother of two children (both bilingual, of course), discusses the science behind the language development of bilingual children with another expert. Along the way, there are practical tips, we hear from children about what it’s like growing up with two or more languages, and we talk to parents and professionals about their experiences with bilingual children. This is a separate English-language edition of the Dutch-language episode, Kletsheads.
How bilingual children’s languages influence each other [Season 1, Episode 10]
"You're wobbling the table all the time! This is what my bilingual son said to his sister when they were playing a board game sat together at a small table and big sister was apparently also playing with the table leg. His message was clear. Big sister stopped and the game continued. What struck me most about this conversation was the way in which my son had chosen to phrase his message: his sentence was perfectly ok English, and his sister clearly understoond him, but I am certain that his English-speaking cousins in England would have said it differently. They would have switched the words around and said "You're wobbling the table the whole time" instead. This is a wonderful example of what we call cross-linguistic influence. The way in which my son put together his sentence was clearly influenced by the fact that he speaks Dutch as well as English, because in Dutch, "de hele tijd" (the Dutch for "the whole time") comes before "de tafel" (the Dutch for "the table") and not after it.
Bilingual children sometimes sound different to children who only speak one language. They sometimes say things in a slightly different way, and this is often related to how their other language works. Why do bilingual children do this? What does this tell us about their language development? Why do some bilingual children do it more often than others? Is cross-linguistic influence something to worry about or is it part and parcel of being bilingual? These are all questions that we answer in this episode of Kletsheads, the last episode of season 1, together with fellow researcher Chantal van Dijk.
We learn that cross-linguistic influence is part and parcel of being bilingual. This is because the two languages of a multilingual are connected to each other. Some researchers even claim that certain grammatical rules are shared between languages, for example if they are the same in the two languages. We also hear that language dominance can have an effect on when one language influences the other: if bilingual children are much stronger in one of their languages, their stronger language usually influences the weaker language, although cross-linguistic influence in the other direction - that is, from the weaker language to the stronger language - is still possible.
In Let's Klets we talk to Martha, a mum here in the Netherlands who grew up herself as a bilingual child. She talks about deciding which of her two languages (English and Dutch) she should speak to her son, and about the challenges her family faced during the lockdown and once her son went back to school. And we hear from trilingual 12-year-old Nicole. She's growing with with Dutch, English and Italian. She tells us about why she thinks it's important for her to speak Italian (to speak to her grandparents) and how some words can be a bit confusing because they sound the same but mean something different.
Chantal van Dijk is a postdoctoral researcher at the Radboud University in Nijmegen where she is conducting research within the 2in1 project on the language development of bilingual children and in particular cross-linguistic influence. In September 2021 she will defend her thesis with four different studies on this topic. In the podcast, she talked about a large study that we carried out together, a "meta-analysis" where we pooled together data from over 700 bilingual children, 700 monolingual children, and 17 unique language combinations, to find out which factors predict whenand how much cross-linguistic influence takes place. The article is published in the Journal of Child Language and you can...
How to make use of bilingual children’s home languages in the classroom: Translanguaging [Season 1, Episode 9]
One language at school and another language at home. This is the reality for most bilingual children here in the Netherlands and in many countries around the world. Bilingual children often use the school language when they're at home, sometimes because this is the language spoken to them by one of their parents, but speaking the other language at school? That rarely happens. Sometimes it's not even allowed. According to many researchers -- and more and more teachers -- this is a missed opportunity. Because using the home languages of bilingual children at school can have all kinds of advantages. It makes them feel better, they often perform better academically (also in the school language), and it promotes inclusivity. One way of giving the home languages of bilingual children a place at school is called translanguaging.
In this episode, I talk to Joana Duarte, a polyglot herself, about this strategy and what research-based evidence there is to show that it works. In short, it does work but only under the right circumstances. Joana tells us what those circumstances are. We also discuss potential concerns teachers may have, such as what to do when you don't speak or understand the children's home language yourself, and we hear what teachers who have worked with Joana and her team have learned from using this approach.
In Let's Klets, I talk to Victoria Farrell and Marie Newton, both speech and language therapists working in the UK, and both members of the Bilingualism London Clinical Excellence Network, a group of speech and language therapists specialised in working with children and families from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. They provide support, help and encouragement to all members and promote the exchange of information and ideas and resources. Check out their website for more details!
Our Kletshead of the week is Katriina from Canada. She was raised trilingually, with Finnish from mum, English from dad and her wider environment, and French at school. Now an adult herself, she reflects on her own multilingualism, as well as that of her future children.
Joana Duarte is Professor in Multilingualism and Literacy at NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences in Leeuwarden, and Special Professor of World Citizenship and Bilingual Education at the University of Amsterdam. She conducts research on diversity and equity, the language acquisition of multilingual students, language attitudes of teachers and families, multilingual didactics and teacher professionalisation in the context of multilingualism in education. One of the projects Joana mentioned during our conversation is the 3M project (More Opportunities With Multilingualism). There are many resources there but most are in Dutch.
An extensive list of the research of Joana and her colleagues can be found on this website. One of the researchers most associated with translanguaging is Ofélia García. List to her in this lecture where she explains what translanguaging entails. This explainer video by a href="https://onraisingb...
Can a child learn three languages at once? [Season 1, Episode 8]
Many children in the world grow up with three languages. For example, because their parents both speak a different language and they learn a third language at school. Or because they speak one language at home and go to a bilingual school where they learn two new languages. There are also many countries in the world where almost everyone is trilingual. Think, for instance, of countries in Central and West Africa, countries like India, Luxembourg and Switzerland. There are actually far more trilingual children than you might first think, also in countries like the Netherlands.
In this episode, we focus mainly on trilingual families. For example, where one parent speaks Russian, the other German, and at school a third language is learnt. Our guest is Simona Montanari, researcher and mother of two trilingual (Spanish, Italian, English) teenagers. Together with Simona, we answer the following questions: What can you realistically expect from a child who grows up with three languages, and how can you best support his or her multilingual development? Are children able to keep their languages apart? Do they take longer to develop their language than children who grow up with only one or two languages? How many languages can a child learn at once?
We discover that there are many similarities between trilingualism and bilingualism. This means that the factors that play a role in bilingualism, such as how much language a child is exposed to, also play a role in trilingualism. We also talk about (possible) differences between bilingualism and trilingualism. We discuss trilingual language development in the early years as well as what happens when children grow up and how you can ensure that your child continues to master and use all three languages.
And there's a bit of an Italian flavour to this episode, because in Let's Klets I talk to another native speaker of Italian, Sara. She lives in London, and together with her American husband is raising her child bilingually. She tells us how her daughter was a completely passive bilingual, understanding everthing her mum said to her in Italian but only answering in English. Until the lockdown. Because after spending hours and hours re-enacting Elsa's coronation day with her mum (from the popular film Frozen), and a visit from nonna (her Italian grandma), everything changed! To the delight of both her parents, she now regularly uses Italian and has even said that she wants to start learning Spanish.
In this episode we have not one, but two Kletsheads of the week, Gabriel and Elliot. They live in France, but also speak English and Czech.
Simona Montanari is a researcher at California State University, Los Angeles, USA. She is one of the few people who have done research on trilingual children. During the podcast, she also talks about her own children. If you want to 'meet' the two girls, check out her YouTube channel where there are several videos showing examples of their three languages. Simona also does research on bilingual education. You can find more on her website.
Does it matter if a bilingual child only actively uses one language? [Season 1, Episode 7]
"Help! My child doesn't speak my language back to me!" This is one of the most frequently heard concerns from parents raising their children bilingually. You really try your best, consistently speaking your language to your child, and yet she or he mostly speaks to you in the majority language, usually the language spoken at school (so Dutch here in the Netherlands, English in Ireland, German in Germany, and so on). Some parents don't really mind when their children do this, but for others it can be a source of great frustration. In this episode of Kletsheads we ask whether it matters if a bilingual child only actively uses one of the two languages she or he hears? It turns out that is does. At least if you want your child to be able to actively use both languages in the long run. Our guest is researcher Erika Hoff (who also appeared in Episode 2, where we answered the question How much language does a child need to hear to become bilingual?). In this episode, we learn that speaking a language is different from just listening to one. And we also provide lots of tips for parents on how to encourage a bilingual child to continue using their minority or heritage language. These are not only useful for parents themselves, but also for speech language therapists and teachers who want to provide advice to bilingual parents.
Sharon and Thorwen chatting online
In Let's Klets we speak to Ellen-Rose Kambel about Language Friendly Schools, an initiative designed to encourage schools around the world to welcome and value all the languages spoken by their students and their parents. And our Kletshead of the week is the 19-year-old Thorwen, originally from the Netherlands but who spent most of his childhood in Hong Kong. He tells us about his positive experiences of going to a local (rather than international) school and about attending Dutch language education. To find out more about this, take a look at the Stichting NOB website.
Erika Hoff is Professor of Developmental Psychology at Florida Atlantic University in the USA. She is world-renowned for her research into the language development of bilingual and monolingual children and currently leads a research project following a large group of Spanish-English bilingual children from 2½ years of age up to and including their tenth birthday. In her research, she focuses on the factors in the young child's environment which predict later language development. Our conversation took place in June 2019 when Erika was a guest researcher at Radboud University.
Ellen-Rose Kambel is Director of the Rutu Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to mother-tongue education. With a PhD in social sciences, she has written several books and articles on education and multilingualism. Together with Emmanuelle Le Pichon-Vorstman (University of Toronto), she founded The Language Friendly School. Go to their website to find a roadmap indicating what a school should and should not do in order to become language-friendly.
Ellen-Rose Kambel is Director of the Rutu Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to mother-tongue education. With a PhD in social sciences, she has written several books and articles on education a...
Bilingual siblings [Season 1, Episode 6]
Children growing up in the same bilingual family can differ in how well they speak their two (or more) languages. Sometimes siblings in bilingual families differ in how much they use their two (or more) languages. Parents often remark that their eldest child is more bilingual than their youngest. Or that their youngest develops more quickly in the school language and often ends up preferring this language over the heritage language (or languages). A crucial moment in a bilngual family's life is when the eldest child goes to school. Then, suddenly, the school language starts being used (more) at home and language dynamics may change in the family.
This is what parents often report, but to what extent is this backed up by research? What can the available research tell us about the language development of siblings in bilingual families? Do older children really have such a big influence on the bilingual language development of their younger siblings? And if so, is this the same for both the school language and the heritage language? The language development of siblings in bilingual families is a topic that we've done some research on recently. You'll hear a bit more about this during the episode and you can read the study I talk about here (open access). I also talk to Canadian researcher Tamara Sorenson Duncan about her research on the topic.
We also discuss the language use between siblings in bilingual families. Children often have a preference for the school language when they talk to each other, much to the frustration of at least one of their parents. There's not much research on this topic but I will give you a number of practical tips for how, as a parent, you can ensure that your children continue to use their heritage language in the home.
In Let's Klets, I talk to Gisi Cannizzaro, enthusiastic promoter of heritage language schools here in the Netherlands. Our Kletshead of the week is the 11-year-old Ella from Montréal. She comes from an English-speaking household and attends French-language school. We talk about the language of dreams and about the word for "squirrel" in different languages!
Dr. Tamara Sorenson Duncan is an assistant professor at Carleton University in Ottowa, Canada. Her research focuses on the bilingual language development of children who immigrated or fled to Canada with their parents, children with language development disorders, and children with autism. The research she discusses in this episode was carried out as part of her doctoral research at the University of Alberta, under the supervision of Prof. Johanne Paradis.
Dr. Gisi Cannizzaro lives in Eindhoven with her Italian husband and two trilingual sons (English, Italian, and Dutch). Originally from New Orleans, in the U.S., she speaks English as her mother tongue. After completing a PhD in child language acquisition at Groningen University in the Netherlands, she worked for six years as an educational consultant helping multilingual, internationally mobile families with children. In 2018 she initiated two volunteer projects in Eindhoven: one to organize Italian language lessons for Italian-speaking children (Eindhoven Italian School "La Lampadina") and one to organize a network of mother tongue ("heritage language") programs, Heritage Language Schools Eindhoven.
The a href="http://www.hlseindhoven.
Bilingual families in lockdown [Season 1, Episode 5]
Many bilingual families across the world find themselves in lockdown. And as a result, schools are closed and children are having to be taught online and/or by their parents. What would have been unheard of a year ago has now - unfortunately - become normal. But normal, of course, does not mean easy. Many families are struggling with homeschooling, from practical issues like whether there is enough space and equipment available to issues relating to actual content of the lessons. Bilingual families may also face additional challenges. If you don't speak the school language at home, how do you make sure your child has enough contact with that language - Dutch in the case of the Netherlands, where Kletsheads is based. What language should you use as a parent while homeschooling? Is it better to switch to the school language or can you continue to use your mother tongue?
These are all questions we answer in this special episode of Kletsheads about the impact of the lockdown on bilingual families. We're joined by Tessa Mearns, researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and Francesca la Morgia from the organisation, Mother Tongues. Tessa and Francesca are both mothers of bilingual children, too, so they also tell us about their families' experiences during this period.
And it's not all doom and gloom! We'll also talk about some of the upsides bilingual families have reported to the lockdown: more time at home means more contact with the home language (the non-Dutch language, in our case) and this has meant children are improving, using that language more, and sometimes developing new skills such as reading.
At the time this podcast "drops", as it's called in podcast world, the primary schools in the Netherlands have just re-opened, but secondary schools are still teaching online only and children with family members who are shielding or who are shielding themselves of course have to stay at home. In many other places around the world, all schools remain closed and in many countries, this also holds for preschool childcare centres, too. Whether you're still in the thick of it or you want some tips on how to approach homeschooling if you're faced with it again (let's hope not), there are plenty of practical suggestions and tips for both parents and teachers. Because this is a special episode, there's no Kletshead of the Week or Let's Klets this time.
Dr. Tessa Mearns is a Lecturer Researcher at ICLON (Leiden University Graduate School of Teaching) where she also coordinates the World Teachers Programme. Tessa is from Great Britain and, together with her English-speaking husband, is raising her two children bilingually. For this episode, she collected the experiences and tips of other bilingual families in her local are.
Dr. Francesca la Morgia is Director of the Mother Tongues, a not for profit organization aimed at promoting multilingualism in Ireland. She is a linguist, researcher and social entrepreneur based in Dublin. In the podcast, Francesca mentioned several resources which she and her colleagues have developed for parents and teachers. You can find these here. Francesca is also the creator of the Language Explorers Activitiy Book, which can be used by teachers and parents to help children explore their own bilingualism as well as bringing them into contact w...
A much needed source
This podcast has been a well researched, informative resource for our family as we navigate 3 languages. I also really appreciate the community aspect of it when I kisten to interviews done with parents and kids from multilingual families. Thank you!
Sharon Unsworth’s podcast on raising children in bilingual/multilingual contexts is really well done. I especially appreciate the inclusion of different perspectives: researchers, parents, and children. In the conversation with Dr. De Cat, I was very happy that oral literacy was mentioned. Great job!