ARCHIVES June 2015/July2017

New Communication Infrastructure proves key to trilingual developments in rural India

A new technological institution in rural India called an “e-Choupal” is responsible for the emergence of a group learning a second and third language without detracting from the developments of the first language, according to a recent study.

Provided by the Indian Tobacco Company (ITC), an e-Choupal is a place in rural villages that houses a computer with Internet access, where local farmers meet for up-to-date marketing and agricultural information.

The operator of the e-Choupal, known as the sanchalak, is trilingual, being fluent in English and Hindi–Urdu, as well as in the local dialects of the village. Therefore, the sanchalak acts as a liaison between between the ITC and the farmers, where web-text in English or Hindi can be translated into the local language to the farmers by the sanchalak.

The e-choupal communication system is unique as it allows for use of a local language/dialect as opposed to a traditional system which would eventually get rid of the local language and therefore disable some of its users.

As the sanchalak speaks the local dialect he is able to work more closely with the farmers, aiding their transactions and processing of information.

The e-Choupal’s system of using local dialects empowers farmers and helps to preserve India’s rural linguistic heritage, while also challenging the dominance of English and Latin scripts online.

Hindi does not even make the list of the top 10 used internet languages. Therefore, millions of Indian farmers, who would have previously been excluded from internet communications due to a strong online linguistic divide can now participate as users.

When the farmers learning Hindi or English with this system, the communication gap between the educated and uneducated population is reduced and masses of new information can be delivered to rural villages.

Killian Dowling and Júlia Verger Navarro

Tej K. Bhatia & William C. Ritchie (2016) Emerging trilingual literacies in rural India: linguistic, marketing, and developmental aspects. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 19:2, 202-215, DOI: 10.1080/13670050.2015.1037719


‘Exclusive inclusivity’? The clash of policy and reality for multilingual pupils in monolingual education

Pupils of differing language backgrounds in a Dutch-language Brussels school experience many difficulties in the face of monolingual policy, which may be both eased and compounded by the use of a home language, a study has found.

In spite of a nominally strict monolingual policy, with students often penalised for using their home language, certain teachers tried to foster a more relaxed and less pressured environment, where students could use languages other than Dutch in certain situations.

Jürgen Jaspers observed a mixed-sex class with lower-middle and working class students aged 13 to 16. The students were of various ethnicities and spoke languages other than Dutch in their homes.

Their Dutch skills were limited and they faced linguistic challenges daily, never truly relaxed in the face of the school’s frequently unrealistic language expectations.

One teacher, called Mr. S in the study, attempted to incorporate the myriad of languages of the pupils into his classes. He sang a multilingual welcoming song before his classes, used fragments of pupils’ home languages for humour and was willing to turn a blind eye to the infringement of school rules on language.

His approach was deemed by Jaspers to be encouraging for several students, helping to ease their feelings of linguistic incompetence.

Although Mr. S seemed to take a relaxed approach to the school’s policy, he was, in fact, the strictest when it came to imposing Dutch on the students. He embodied the clash between school policy and reality.

A pattern emerged in the way in which multilingual “bridges” occurred, in between classes and when social trouble arose. Jaspers posits that pupils were socialized into recognizing what types of language were acceptable, when and by whom – recognizing Dutch as the more “serious” language and their home language as more marginal.

Though the linguistic mixing of Mr. S may in some ways be seen to perpetuate the social disadvantage faced by many of these pupils, his successful fostering of a positive learning climate demonstrates the importance of negotiating such a socially and linguistically complex environment.

Andrew Leahy and Camilla Egan

Jaspers, Jurgen (2015) Modelling linguistic diversity at school: the excluding impact of inclusive multilingualism. Language Policy 14: 109–129. DOI 10.1007/s10993-014-9332-0


Speech recognition and communicative software for elderly people

It has been reported that PaeLife, a collaborative international project designed to aid elderly people in assisted living, has made significant improvements in speech recognition technology for elderly people in various European languages, following a study involving over 3,000 participants.

Since the speech of elderly people tends to be slower and quieter than the speech of most young people, elderly people are often at a disadvantage when working with audio-operated technology designed for younger, clearer voices.

PaeLife selected speakers from Universities of the Third Age, various care institutions, associations and social clubs for the elderly from across Poland, Hungary and France. Previously, data for Portuguese speakers had been collected and transcribed by the Living Usability Lab and the Smart-Phones for Seniors projects.

To ensure a variety of accents, the 3,000 speakers were selected from different regions of the four countries. In total, over 640 hours of speech recordings were collected in the four languages, thus ensuring that the process of optimising elderly speech recognition software could proceed to the next stage.

One of the main goals for the PaeLife project is to make the software understand what is being said without misinterpreting false-starts, mispronounced words, pauses, coughing and the sound of doors opening and closing. To counteract this, the recordings were marked in the transcribing process to research further how these issues could interfere with understanding what is being said.

Harry Phipps and Esther Galdo

Hämäläinen, Annika, António Teixeirac, Nuno Almeidac, Hugo Meinedoa, TiborFegyó, Miguel Sales Diasa (2015) Multilingual speech recognition for the elderly: The AALFred personal life assistant. Procedia Computer Science 67: 283-292.


Multilingual children’s drawings reveal their linguistic self-perceptions

The pictures that young children draw about their relationships with different languages reveal an interesting range of self-perceptions, a study of children from migrant families has shown.

Children in Germany, studying Portuguese in heritage language (PHL) classes, were asked, in Portuguese, to draw themselves speaking the languages they knew, with no other instructions. A total of 956 drawings were done in seven federal states in Germany, all from children between the ages of 6 and 12. About 77% (737) of these drawings were considered for the study.

Five distinct tendencies were found which but do not  necessarily relate to different psychological states.

5.7% of all the drawings used in the study demonstrated a tendency to depict one or multiple selves with multiple languages, such as can be seen in Drawing A.









Drawing A: The multilingual self (I.P., 12 years old, Blaubeuren).

The second tendency, found in 22% of the drawings demonstrated a reproduction of the same message separately, displaying the languages known to the individual child, such as in Drawing B.


Drawing B: The same content in different languages (J.M., 12 years old, Baiersbronn).

5.8% of the drawings  displayed the tendency to convey different meanings ‘using different linguistic items from different languages’. This is quite similar to the second tendency, however, each speech bubble has a different meaning, rather than  a reproduction of the same message.


Drawing C:Different content in different languages (L.J., 12 years old, Gelsenkirchen).

The most common tendency, apparent in 45% of the children’s drawings used, is, ‘the representation of multilingual repertoires through flags or names of different languages, in different speech bubbles’. An example of this tendency can be seen in Drawing D.


Drawing D: Different flags in different bubbles (D., s/id., Baiersbronn).

The last tendency is, ‘the child identifying the multilingual repertoires in only one speech bubble, but juxtaposing different flags and bits of languages’. This was found in 21.6% of the drawings with the child identifying all the languages he/she can speak, but together in one speech bubble. Each language was represented in these pictures by flags, or words from those languages, such as in Drawing E, conveying a multilingual individual where the languages are not separated.


Drawing E: Different flags in a unique bubble (M., 10 years, Hannover).

These tendencies reflect academic and political challenges that Portuguese in Heritage Language classes in Germany face and illustrate the need to cross compare between languages. The study suggests that it is important not only to assess the students’ knowledge in the language they are learning, but also how they compare between the language and their mother tongue, as well as knowing how foreign languages are learned.

Kieva McLaughlin and Esth Galdo

Melo-Pfeifer, Sílvia (2015) Multilingual awareness and heritage language education: children’s multimodal representations of their multilingualism, Language Awareness, 24:3, 197-215, DOI: 10.1080/09658416.2015.1072208 Access:


Consumers learning English associated with materialism and cosmopolitanism

Millions of consumers are learning and using English as a second (or third, etc.) language, according to a recent study published by the Journal of Business Research.

This new research suggests that the number of people who speak English as a second language is much greater than the number of people who speak English as a mother tongue. The findings also show an apparent association between speaking English and increased materialism and cosmopolitanism.

As language is a carrier of culture and a shaper of consumer behaviour, researchers conducted this study to find out how English influences the consumption values and behaviours of immigrant consumers in the English-speaking world.

Just over 2,000 people from eight countries (Sweden, Hungary, Greece, Mexico, Chile, Canada, Korea and India) were surveyed regarding their consumption habits. For each language researched, media and social relations were connected to ethnic identity, global acculturation, consumer dispositions (cosmopolitanism, consumer ethnocentrism, and materialism) and food consumption.

Researchers used snowball sampling, where study subjects choose future subjects from personal acquaintances. Respondents to these surveys were born in their country, over 18 and fluent in English. Additionally, 52% were female and 66% of the respondents were aged between 20-29. Full- and part-time students made up approximately 63% of those surveyed, with most of the remainder of the respondents in part- or full-time employment. The majority of respondents were middle-class consumers.

Compared with 48% of respondents who could speak fewer than three languages, 39% of those surveyed could speak three or more languages and 13% were fluent in four or more languages.

Researchers examined low- and high- context languages along with bilingual and multilingual consumers.  In their results, the role of language as a cultural component and predictor of behaviour was clear, with materialism and cosmopolitanism associated positively with speaking English.

Aisling Harnett and Cláudia Buttura

Cleveland, M., Laroche, M. and Papadopoulos, N. (2014) You are what you speak? Globalization, multilingualism, consumer dispositions and consumption. Journal of Business Research, 68, 542-552. DOI: 10.1016/j.jbusres.2014.09.0080148-2963


Treating multilingual aphasia sufferers in one language can improve other languages



A recent case study has shown that targeted treatment of one particular language in a quadrilingual sufferer of aphasia, the brain-injury-related speech and language disorder, resulted in improvement in some of a patient’s other languages.

The Norwegian study, which focused on a Japanese woman with four languages, found that targeted therapy in her fourth, late-acquired language improved ability in some of her other languages.

The 59-year-old subject grew up in Japan speaking Japanese, and learned English, German and Norwegian throughout the later years of her life through immersion and formal study. She suffered a stroke seven months prior to the start of the study, resulting in moderate non fluent aphasia.

Non fluent aphasia is a condition caused by brain injury which results in either partial or total loss of the ability to communicate verbally or using written words. It differs from other stroke-induced aphasia as it has a slow onset, causing language to deteriorate over time.

The study used Semantic Feature Analysis, a therapeutic technique used for the treatment of loss of words which occurs with aphasia, to target verbs. Semantic Feature Analysis has been shown to teach the individual with aphasia a process for accessing semantic networks.

Previous studies have focused on the noun, however this study focuses on the verb to determine if activating one area of the brain can help activate other areas. This method has previously been used to help people with aphasia by targeting their first language. The focus of this study is the effect of treatment of the fourth language on the other languages.

Semantic Feature Analysis was conducted intensively for 10 hours a week over two and a half weeks. The treatment focused on the production of verbs in sentence contexts.

A series of tests conducted afterwards showed Semantic Feature Analysis treatment in a  late-acquired language can lead to gains in the treated language and also transfer to some of the other languages, with different patterns for the various languages. The participant showed an improvement in English and German. Transfer to Japanese was not present which could be as a result of her post-stroke proficiency in the language. The subject’s trained verbs improved significantly with further improvements in narrative production, syntax and discourse.

This indicates that Semantic Feature Analysis treatment in a late-acquired language may be a promising method for treating multilingual speakers with aphasia, and the authors further advocate the use of narratives as an assessment tool.

Yasmin Leonard-Murray and Chung Kam Kwok

Knoph, Monica I.N., Marianne Lind & Hanne Gram Simonsen (2015) Semantic feature analysis targeting verbs in a quadrilingual speaker with aphasia, Aphasiology 29:12, 1473-1496. DOI: 10.1080/02687038.2015.1049583



Scholars probe multilingual benefit in language learning study


Multilinguals appear to be more adaptable than monolinguals when it comes to acquiring the speech sounds of another language, a recent study suggests.

The study looks at whether being bi- or multilingual is advantageous when acquiring another language and, in particular, whether phonological and phonetic bilingual benefits exist. The terms ‘phonological’ and ‘phonetic’ focus on sounds and how they are organised and used in a language.

The study, at the University of Florida, was undertaken using three groups of 20 people. Monolinguals who speak American English were chosen for the control group and Bengali-English speakers and Spanish-English speakers made up the two bilingual groups.

The Malayalam language of southern India was selected as the test language for all three groups to learn as there are no phonetic or phonological similarities with English, Spanish or Bengali.

Learners undertook a variety of tests before and after a limited period of training in the language. The tests focused on sound and pronunciation. There was also a perceptual assimilation test, where learners were asked to describe the extent to which they felt that different Malayalam sounds compared with sounds in their native language. This was used to indicate learner development of new phonetic categories.

By putting bilinguals in one group and comparing them with the monolingual group, significant differences in performance in the various tasks were observed.

The results of the testing indicate that multilingual benefit is apparent when learning relatively difficult novel contrasts within a certain amount of time.

The overall conclusion of the study was that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that the multilingual benefit, believed to apply in the general process of language acquisition, may also apply in the specific instance of processing and acquiring the speech sounds of a new language. However, a larger sample size would be needed in order to obtain more robust results.

Lily Joyce and Ciarán O Braonáin

Gogoi, Divya Verma, James D. Harnsberger and Caroline Wiltshire (2015) Perceptual Training of Novel Speech Contrasts in L3 Acquisition: The Effect of Multilingual Benefit. In  De Angelis, G., Jessner, U., Kresić, M. (eds) Crosslinguistic Influence and Crosslinguistic Interaction in Multilingual Language Learning. Oxford: Bloomsbury, pp 133-161.


Australian government pushes towards monolingual literacy policies


The more multilingual Australia has become, the more monolingual its language and literacy policies, a new study suggests.

According to the authors of a recent study into the successive educational policies in Australia, ‘Australia is a country of high linguistic diversity, with more than 300 languages spoken. Today, 19% of the population aged over 5 years speak a language other than English at home.’

The study identifies the evolution of policy over the last 30 years, starting with an initial policy that promoted multiculturalism and multilingualism. It aimed to make community languages part of the Australian education system. However this failed due to lack of ongoing review and funding by state governments, and lack of training for primary school teachers.

The policy did not yield the improved literacy results that the government had hoped for and so the policy was replaced.  A second policy was introduced with very different goals and principles. Literacy in English was the main aim of this second policy, to ensure all Australians could participate in Australian society, thus bringing the notion of assimilation to the fore.

The policies presented over the last 30 years have reflected a trend in narrowing both the objectives regarding language and literacy and the areas of interest alongside the values these policies represent.

The central Australian state has gone from supporting many languages to supporting only one national language, which is English. The authors argue that in order to ‘enhance literacy outcomes more generally, this orientation needs to be reversed. The approach to literacy and language policies needs to embrace the multilingual and multicultural society of Australia through the promotion and maintenance of home languages and to support literacy acquisition in these languages’.

Sarah Ruane and Irma Bochorishvili

Schalley, A.C., Guillemin, D. and Eisenchlas, S.A. (2015) ‘Multilingualism and assimilationism in Australia’s literacy-related educational policies’, International Journal of Multilingualism, 12(2), pp. 162–177. doi: 10.1080/14790718.2015.1009372.



South Africa’s universities challenged with saving indigenous languages

The study of indigenous languages in South African universities has experienced an alarming decline since the turn of the millennium, a new study has shown.

The statistical analyses – compiled by Venitha Pillay and Ke Yu – point to a continually decreasing tendency of students in South African universities to study one or more of the country’s nine official indigenous languages. One of the most notable findings highlights how African students comprise the single largest English-studying population.

The number of students studying English and/or Afrikaans has continuously risen. This is attributed, in part, to a combination of future employability for English speakers, as well as the ease of access and familiarity for students choosing Afrikaans at third level. Afrikaans is already the compulsory second language in most schools across the country.

With regards to the continued learning of indigenous languages, African students also represent the largest group enrolled in courses covering any of the nine official tongues. There has been a minor increase in enrolment from white and Indian students but it is considered too marginal to be considered meaningful.

The authors found that the rise in popularity of English and Afrikaans may come at the expense of the official indigenous languages of South Africa.

Venitha Pillay and Ke Yu make reference to universities such as the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which has made isiZulu a compulsory subject for all non-African language speaking students. They concede in their paper, however, that ‘response to the policy has been controversial and contradictory’.

Rhodes University is cited as an institution whose efforts to encourage indigenous language competence should be commended, with the university integrating the study of isiXhosa into a number of professional degrees. Venitha Pillay and Ke Yu argue for ‘a concerted implementation plan for the promotion of indigenous languages’ across South African higher education institutions.

Dermot O’Shea and Ning Yiang

Pillay, Venitha & Ke Yu (2015) Multilingualism at South African universities: a quiet storm, Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 33:4, 439-452, DOI: 10.2989/16073614.2015.1108852


Negative attitudes to language and stereotypes correlate with decline

Hokkien speakers have a better attitude towards their ethnic language than Foochow speakers, according to a new study among speakers of the two Malaysian languages.

The study used a matched guise test which is a technique used to determine the feelings of a person or group towards a particular language. Age, gender and socio-economic status were the biggest influences in the perception of the speakers.

The test showed Foochow speakers had more negative stereotypes towards their ethnic language than Hokkien participants. This may explain why Chinese Mandarin, the ‘standard’ version of spoken Chinese, is becoming their preferred language.

Participants were found through Facebook messaging, social contacts and visiting food courts and shops in Kuching, Malaysia.

A total of two hundred and forty people took part in the study, all of whom were Malaysian Chinese living in Kuching, the capital of the state of Sarawak in Malaysia. All participants were Mandarin speakers, and half of the participants spoke Hokkien as a first language and the other half were speakers of Foochow.

The results showed positive attitudes towards Mandarin on all of the 15 traits analysed in the matched guise test. Significant differences between male and female attitudes in relation to gender, age and socio-economic background were found.

According to the study, attitudes were related to perceptions of the relatively high status of Mandarin speakers, alongside feelings of solidarity toward speakers of one’s own ethnic language.

Colm Phelan and Parween Arkawazi

Yann-Yann Puah & Su-Hie Ting (2015) Malaysian Chinese speakers’ attitudes towards Foochow, Hokkien and Mandarin, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 36:5, 451-467, DOI: 10.1080/01434632.2014.936875


Multilingualism central to identity of ‘Third Culture Kids’



Multilingualism plays a key role in the formation of identity among Third Culture Kids (TCK), a recent study suggests.

A TCK is defined as someone who has ‘lived abroad before adolescence, and in at least three different countries during their developmental years’.  People who are TCK were interviewed as part of a study, in which interview participants spoke about what language(s) mean to them. Participants stated that languages are more to them than simply a form of expression and communication.

For the purpose of the study, a web-based survey of 87 participants and eight in-depth interviews, with people who qualify as a TCK, were carried out.


Table: Interviewees and languages spoken

The eight people interviewed all saw being multilingual as a positive attribute and felt that multilingualism has become a meaningful aspect of their own identity.

Sean, who is a speaker of Finnish, English, Dari and Urdu, spoke about how each language makes up a different part of his identity. ‘The different languages, in a way, bring out a sort of different me and different memories every time I use them … mostly they just define a certain part of me,’ Sean said.

Matt, who speaks Chinese and English, outlined the importance that language has on his world as a whole. ‘If one language were taken away from me, that would mean a world was taken away from me,’ he explained.

While both Sean and Matt talk about how languages make up a core part of who they are, others within the study expressed how they use language(s) for other purposes.

Marie, a participant who speaks five languages, noted that due to the fact she changes friends often, she ‘definitely use(s) language as a shield, as a protection’.

Interviewees also spoke about cultural influences relating to their languages. ‘Every language brings out a different culture,’ Eva said. Like I have a lot of cultures in me.’

John Smith and Yui Fujita

Tannenbaum, M. and Tseng, J. (2015). Which one is Ithaca? Multilingualism and sense of identity among Third Culture Kids. International Journal of Multilingualism, 12(3), pp.276-297. DOI:10.1080/14790718.2014.996154


Possible multilingual advantage seen in emergent literacy stages


Preschool multilingual children may be at an advantage in recognising written language before formally learning how to read and write, a new study has found.

The research, conducted on 37 pre-reading children living in Israel, examines how monolingual children interpret written symbols compared to their multilingual counterparts in their home environment.

The children were split into one group of 17 multilingual Ethiopian immigrant children and another group of 20 monolingual Israeli children for the purposes of assessment. Both were exposed to different alphabetic and non-alphabetic written symbols.

The average age of the participants was five-and-a-half and all lived in the same Iower-middle-class Israeli neighbourhood.

The study was carried out by an independent researcher who showed the children a series of visual prompt cards, 50 with (mixed and different) alphabetic symbols and 17 with non-alphabetic symbols, and asked them to comment on their readability with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ response and provide and explanation for their answer.

Both groups displayed a similar awareness of the “readability” of the sequences presented and were able to provide explanations as to why one written sequence was more readable than another. However, multilingual children were more sensitive to different alphabets and thus were able to perceive more alphabetic sequences as readable.

Professor Anat Stavans, the researcher behind the study, suggests that pre-reading children are able to attribute meaning to written symbols much before their formal instruction, and that informal literacy practices, such as being read to, having a literacy rich landscape, and attending to written language are critical for the literacy development of all children.

Stavans says that ‘semi-formal introduction to writing in kindergarten is undoubtedly critical for the emergence of literacy in monolinguals and multilinguals alike’ but goes on to say that the exposure to a variety of different writing systems may represent an advantage for multilinguals over monolinguals in the emergent stages of literacy development. Stavans concludes that though the stages of literacy development may follow universal benchmarks but these may be organically different, resulting in multilingual-literacy for multilinguals and monolingual-literacy for monolinguals.

Max Ryan and Susanna Wickes

Stavans, A. (2015), If you know Amharic you can read this: Emergent literacy in multilingual pre-reading children,  In De Angelis, G., Jessner, U., Kresić, M. (eds) Crosslinguistic Influence and Crosslinguistic Interaction in Multilingual Language Learning. Oxford: Bloomsbury, 163-186


Children who speak more than one language perform better in certain mental tasks

Children who speak two or more languages from birth perform better in certain mental tasks than those who only speak one language or have learnt a second language for a short time, a study into the cognitive benefits of bilingualism has shown.

Authors Gregory J. Poarch and Janet G. van Hell examined whether children with different language learning experiences, and therefore experience in monitoring the use of their languages, differ on other cognitive processes as well.

In total, 75 children between the ages of five and eight participated in the study, all of whom grew up and lived in Frankfurt, Germany. The children were divided into groups of single language speakers, second language learners, those who spoke two languages from birth, and those who spoke two languages from birth and a third language from kindergarten onward.

The various groups were then given two specific tasks to complete, the Simon task and the Attentional Networks Task (ANT). Poarch and van Hell explain: ‘The Simon task and the ANT are conflict processing tasks that are used to assess the attentional component of executive control… they are assumed to be particularly appropriate for assessing potential cognitive differences between monolinguals and bilinguals because they rely only to a minimal extent on language and memory processes.’

While the study does show that bilingualism has a beneficial effect on processing conflicting information, this does not necessarily mean that overall monitoring processes as measured by reaction times also improve. Interestingly, the study found that the cognitive control of children who speak three languages is not superior to that of children who speak only two languages.

‘Managing two languages at the same time requires a control mechanism that resolves the competition between the two languages effectively in order to use one language,’ the authors write to explain their results.

The findings of this study offer further evidence that speakers of more than one language develop a more efficient network of executive functions as their experience with using two or more languages grows.

Ronan Smyth and Conor Pyle

Gregory J. Poarch, Janet G. van Hell (2012) Executive functions and inhibitory control in multilingual children: Evidence from second-languages learners, bilinguals and trilinguals. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 113, 535-551.



Children who are brought up with three languages benefit from engaged language interactions

Two recent case studies have shown that when caregivers engage in a highly intensive interaction with their child, it is an effective method to help the child achieve active trilingualism.

The report, which focused on two children in Switzerland between the ages of two and three, found that despite comparable exposure to all three languages, the two children differed in how much they liked to use their languages.

The child  who used all three languages was the one whose caregivers systematically addressed moments when he did not reply in the chosen language of conversation.

According to the author,  it is important that the caregiver  consistently indicates which language is expected of the child, bases aspects of their conversation on choice questions, and provides appropriate vocabulary when needed.

This technique enables the caregiver to ask questions which require the child to respond, to react in an animated way, and also to heap praise on the child when answering appropriately.

When this technique was not used, only 13% of overall utterances of one child were in the chosen language of French.

The study, which followed the two children in conversation with their different caregivers once a month over a year, also suggests that not speaking the community language at home is another important factor to help achieve active trilingualism, as it motivates the child to use the home languages on the one hand, and to experience an even amount of exposure to all three languages, on the other.

In the household where the community language was not spoken, the child produced over 90% of all utterances in each of his three languages.

This study by Sarah Chevalier was first published in the open access peer reviewed International Journal of Multilingualism.

 Niamh Geoghegan and Andrea Pinilla Bona

Sarah Chevalier (2012): Active trilingualism in early childhood: the motivating role of caregivers in interaction, International Journal of Multilingualism 9(4): 437-454. DOI:10.1080/14790718.2012.714385

Urban multilingualism

This month Multilingual Matters published The Multilingual City: Vitality, Conflict and Change edited by Lid King and Lorna Carson which explores the reality of urban multilingualism in a network of cities researched by the the LUCIDE team – part of a European project funded by the European Commission’s Lifelong Learning Programme. This book is an exploration of the vitality of multilingualism and of its critical importance in and for contemporary cities. It examines how the city has emerged as a key driver of the multilingual future, a concentration of different, changing cultures which somehow manage to create a new identity. The book uses data collected in the LUCIDE cities as a basis for discussion and analysis, and deals with both societal and individual multilingualism in a way that draws on the full range of their historical, contemporary, visual/audible, psychological, educational and policy-oriented aspects. It contains chapters by Itesh Sachdev and Sarah Cartwright, Maria Stoicheva, Peter Skrandies, David Little, Lorna Carson and Lid King. It will be of interest to students and researchers of multilingualism, migration studies, European Studies, anthropology, sociology and urbanism as well as for a general readership.

One interesting feature of this book is that it takes cities as a useful laboratory for the study of multilingualism. In many ways, cities are working models of the future, and powerful generators of new ideas on managing and benefiting from new patterns of mobility and diversity. They are places where new policy discourse can be created, where the constraints of national policies and limitations of national discourse may be modified or overcome. The literature on urban studies does not in fact have much to say about multilingualism. While the city has long been a topic of academic, policy and development discourse, and in recent years there has also been significant interest in the potential of the city to resolve social and economic problems, there has also been a persistent underestimation of the importance of linguistic diversity as a catalyst for such creativity and change. Together, the chapters in this book articulate a rationale for multilingual vitality and for promoting the value and strength of the diverse city.

Lorna Carson

King, L. and Carson, L (2015) (Eds) The Multilingual City: Vitality, Conflict and Change. Bristol: Multilingual Matters. 1-232.


“Translanguaging” may enhance language learning

Language switching in everyday life has been found to help people learning more than one language, researchers from the University of the Basque Country have found.

Researchers Jasone Cenoz and Durk Gorter argue that codeswitching should not be discouraged in people learning more than one language. They propose an approach they call Focus on Multilingualism which “looks at the whole linguistic repertoire of multilingual speakers and language learners and at the relationships between the languages when conducting research, teaching, or assessing different languages”.

Cenoz and Gorter maintain that “using other languages can […] be related to attitudes or perceptions of the different languages. For example, many Spanish speakers in the Basque country would use the Basque words for aita ‘father’ and ama ‘mother’ because they are seen as more affective. When some speakers use terms in English, it can be because they want to sound more modern or cosmopolitan.”

The two researchers carried out a study on trilingual writing with 165 secondary students (77 male and 88 female) attending school in the Basque Country, a region in northern Spain. Participants had either Spanish or Basque as their first language. The average age was just under 15. In school Basque was the language of instruction and Spanish and English were both subjects.

Participants had to write three different compositions in the three different languages taught in school (Basque, Spanish and English) and were given marks out of 100 for each essay.

The multilingual speakers were found to share some of the same writing strategies and techniques across different languages: for instance students good at vocabulary in one language will usually also get high scores in vocabulary in other languages.

As there is a constant interaction amongst languages, it is suggested that multilinguals could achieve higher results if practices such as ‘translanguaging’ or codeswitching were allowed. Focus on Multilingualism then has important implications for education. “The data reported in the article are exploratory, but they suggest that the approach ‘Focus on Multilingualism’ can contribute to our understanding of the complexity and the dynamics of multilingualism, particularly when looking at the way several languages are acquired and used in multilingual educational contexts.”

Cenoz, Jasone, and Durk Gorter (2011) Focus on multilingualism: A study of trilingual writing. The Modern Language Journal 95.3: 356-369.

Ben Finnegan Waters & Edyta English

Young bilingual and multilingual immigrants outperforming their Canadian counterparts

Bilingual and multilingual immigrant students outperformed their Canadian-born counterparts in learning French in school, according to recently published research.

The research, conducted on 23 sixth-grade students, looked at how these 12-year-olds performed in French as Second Official Language (FSOL) classes in English dominant Canada, and examined the ways in which proficiency in previously known languages impacts students.

FSOL is offered as a subject of study in short daily periods of approximately 40 minutes. Half of the students who participated in the study use a language other than English or French in the home.

In the Canadian context, the results of this study suggest that ‘immigrants have several advantages when learning FSOL’, author Callie Mady writes. Those advantages do not extend to the Canadian born population, regardless of the number of languages known.

The immigrant group in this study proved advantaged in terms of FSOL learning, Mady writes: ‘in addition to their voluntary immigration, this is due to the status provided to French nationally and internationally,  the monolingual bias of the Canadian-born groups resulting in lower FSOL proficiency and [their] immigrant status.’

The research also suggested that more emphasis and value was attributed to the majority language, English.

Immigrants had more positive attitudes to learning French than their English speaking monolingual or Canadian-born bilingual peers. In comparison to Canadian-born students, immigrants value FSOL learning more, linking their learning of FSOL to gaining Canadian identity.

The study suggests that if the immigrant children maintain their home language and continue to advance in both French and English, it will be the Canadian-born students who ‘find themselves in a deficit position when entering a world where the majority of people are highly competent in English and other languages’.

Niamh Haskins and Andrea Pinilla Bona

Mady, Callie (2014) The role of proficiency and social context on the grade-6 students’ acquisition of French as a second official language in Canada. International Journal of Multilingualism, 11:2, 247-262. DOI:10.1080/14790718.2013.859260


How learning to make requests in three different languages may influence language development in a young child

A study carried out on an early third language learner suggests that learning to make requests in a new language modifies the way requests are expressed in the languages already known.

The research was conducted over a two-year period on a trilingual boy, Pau, and focussed on the early stages of trilingual development in Catalan, Spanish and English.

Pau is a consecutive third language learner: he learned his mother tongue, Catalan, from birth, began extensive exposure to Spanish at the age of two, and started receiving formal instruction in English just before he turned three.

The study dealt with three structures: direct requests, conventionally indirect requests and indirect forms. Here are some examples of Pau’ speech produced during the preschool years, that is, from ages three to five:

Direct requests:

Mum come here! Not this way, no..out it there, the thing is I cannot find another piece.

Conventionally indirect requests: Do you wanna come see how I pick petals from flowers?

Indirect forms It’s hot in here, isn’t it?

When using these structures, Pau’s choice of requests were dependent on the language he was using, when he was speaking and, above all, the person he was talking to.

The study found that the introduction of English changed patterns of use in all three languages. Catalan and Spanish use direct requests much more than English. “The introduction of a third language (i.e English) in Pau’s linguistic repertoire promoted the use of conventionally indirect forms in the three languages…. However, it found that Pau was more direct [when speaking to a] toy than to his mother.’

Niamh Haskins and Andrea Pinilla Bona

Safont-Jordà, M.-P. (2013). Early stages of trilingual pragmatic development. A longitudinal study of requests in Catalan, Spanish and English. Journal of Pragmatics, 59(Part A), 68-80. doi: 10.1016/j.pragma.2013.01.007


Trilinguals are better able to switch between languages

Trilinguals are able to switch between languages more accurately and faster than their bilingual counterparts. This finding come from a study conducted in the Turkish capital of Ankara by Gulay Cedden and Çiğdem Sağın Şimşek in 2012.

Language control refers to the mechanisms that allows people to switch back and forth between languages during a bilingual conversation. Although separating languages is an ordinary ability of bilingual and trilingual speakers, they use executive functions to make sure they select the right words over competing alternatives.

The results of the study showed that trilinguals are in fact more accurate and quicker at responding compared to bilinguals. The bilinguals experienced more difficulty responding to questions in the language in which it was posed. They made more mistakes in interpreting the questions and gave more incoherent answers than the trilingual group.

These findings show that the language control mechanism functions in a more balanced manner in the trilingual group due to an enhancement of their executive control system. There were 20 participants in total. The bilingual group was composed of 10 native Turkish speakers who were deemed highly proficient in English as tested by the English Proficiency Exam (EPE). The trilingual group also had 10 native Turkish speakers who were deemed highly proficient in both English and German, as tested by the EPE and the Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom (GDS). By means of an accelerated interview, both groups were asked questions in their different languages and expected to give coherent answers in the correct language. They had a maximum of  three seconds to respond.

Based on these results the researchers have concluded that “a third language system represented in the mind might have the effect of promoting experience of the executive control system”.

Stephanie Costello and Irma Bochorishvili

Cedden, Gulay and Çig ̆dem Sag ̆ın (2012) ‘ The impact of a third language on executive control processes’ , International Journal of Bilingualism 18(6): 558–569.


Study shows language aptitude enhanced by language learning experience

Previous language experience appears to be a central component of additional language acquisition, a new study has confirmed.

The study by Amy Thompson, using the Cognitive Ability for Novelty in Acquisition of Language (foreign) aptitude test (CANAL – FT), tested an individual’s talent for learning languages, and examined it versus the number of languages studied by them.

The study was conducted by examining the language aptitude scores of 79 Brazilian language learners, none of whom spoke languages fluently other than Brazilian Portuguese, as measured by the CANAL-FT, and relating those scores to the number of languages studied, in this case only English or English plus other languages.

The main aim was to determine if multilinguals would attain higher scores than bilingual learners on a differentiated language aptitude test, with the multilingual group split into those who had even the slightest experience of learning multiple languages, and those who had positive interactions with those languages.

The results cemented previous theories that even a small amount of language experience can influence the learning of another language.

The results of the study show that previous language experience has an effect on language aptitude, and so supports the concept of language aptitude as a dynamic feature.

There is already evidence to suggest benefits of multilingualism include more efficient learning strategies, improved problem solving abilities and low anxiety, but this study explores the under researched area of language aptitude in relation to number of languages studied.

The CANAL-FT involves the subjects learning a linguist developed novel language called ‘Ursulu’, and their aptitude is based on how they take to the language, through written and oral stimuli, which get harder as the test progresses.

The study points out that while multilingualism and language aptitude interact with each other, they are not synonymous with each other.

Daniel Quinn and Lucia Ferreiro Soto

Thompson, Amy S. (2013) The interface of language aptitude and multilingualism: Reconsidering the bilingual/multilingual dichotomy. The Modern Language Journal 97.3: 685-701.


Positive link between cultural empathy and having an immigrant parent

Having one immigrant parent and regularly using various languages have a significantly positive effect on cultural empathy, open-mindedness and social initiative, a recent study found.

The study, carried out by Jean-Marc Dewaele and Anat Stavans, investigated the link between immigration, multilingualism, acculturation and personality profiles.  The latter were measured with the Multicultural Personality Questionnaire (MPQ) which distinguishes five personality dimensions: cultural empathy, open-mindedness, social initiative, emotional stability and flexibility. Most of the 193 multilingual Israeli participants were born in Israel (n = 124) with others born in the United States, Russia, and the Ukraine.

This is one of the first studies (after Dewaele & Van Oudenhoven, 2009) to look at the effect of various linguistic and sociobiographical variables on personality traits.  While previous studies look at factors that predict personality traits, this study does the opposite, it looks at how personality traits are shaped by the comand and use of language as well as other sociobiographical factors.

“One of the most striking patterns to emerge from this study was the fact that participants who reported knowing various languages well and using them regularly scored significantly higher on Open-mindedness and Social Initiative. The advanced knowledge of several languages was also linked to higher levels of Cultural Empathy,” the authors wrote (p. 218).

The findings found that people with one immigrant parent scored higher for cultural empathy, open-mindedness and social initiative; compared to those with two or no immigrant parents. Participants who had one immigrant parent scored higher on the three personality dimensions.

The authors argue that “growing up in a linguistically and culturally homogeneous family (be they local or of immigrant origin) limits Cultural Empathy, Open-mindedness and Social Initiative. On the other hand, growing up in a family with mixed linguistic and cultural background seems to enhance openness, awareness and tolerance of differences. These are obvious psychological benefits to growing up in a multilingual and multicultural family” (p. 216).

The study also found that there is a direct link between the scores on certain dimensions and a person’s age and gender. Female participants scored higher on cultural empathy, open-mindedness and social initiative compared to their male counterparts. Age was also a significant factor, with older participants scoring higher on these three dimensions.

Nicola Kirwan and Conor Pyle

Dewaele, J., & Stavans, A. (2014). The effect of immigration, acculturation and multicompetence on personality profiles of Israeli multilinguals. International Journal of Bilingualism, 18(3) 203-221.


Dewaele, J.-M., & Van Oudenhoven, J. P. (2009). The effect of multilingualism-multiculturalism on personality: No gain without pain for third culture kids? International Journal of Multilingualism, 6, 443–459.


Children with language disorders benefit from multilingual education

For years, parents of children with learning disorders were advised that they should only allow their child to learn the native language. This was the result of the widespread belief that additional language learning would have detrimental effects on first language development and, more broadly, on additional language learning.

A recent study suggests that a multilingual learning environment does not have a detrimental effect on patterns of language development in children with language disorders.

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong examined a number of children with language disorders: 19 Cantonese-speaking students (ranging in age from five to eight) being taught through a different Chinese language, Putonghua, were compared with 18 similar Cantonese-speaking children being thought through Cantonese.

The authors examined and compared students’ performance in grammar, expressive vocabulary, word definition, auditory textual comprehension and narrative production.

Results showed there was no adverse outcome for those students learning more than one language. In fact, results showed that children learning more than one language had a higher performance score in auditory textual comprehension.

It was well known that multilingualism could have some positive outcomes for children without learning disorders. However, it was not clear what the effect of multilingualism would be on children with learning disorders. The study confirms that learning additional languages does not have a negative influence on children’s ability to learn languages.

The authors conclude that in their study “multilingual education shows comparable outcomes to bilingual education”.

Laura Somers and Breandán Mac Ardghail

To, Carol KS, Law Thomas, and Li Xin-xin (2012) Influence of additional language learning on first language learning in children with language disorders. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders 47.2: 208-216.

Multilingual Dreaming: Are Foreign Languages Permeating Our Unconscious World?

Dreaming in two or more languages may be possible irrespective of second or additional language knowledge, according to research published by the International Journal of Multilingualism.

In the past researchers believed that dreaming in a second language, or what’s known as an L2 dream, could only be achieved through high levels of fluency in that language.

However the study has shown that dreaming in an L2 may be possible despite lack of fluency in a second language.

All participants involved in the dream study did have some prior knowledge of an L2 language. However, fluency varied by degrees from beginners to advanced.

Across language abilities, the study found, some 80.4% of individuals tested experienced foreign-language dreams.

The study, undertaken in the Netherlands with a total of 209 exchange students ranging in age from 18 to 45, also highlighted evidence that suggests participant exposure to foreign-language environments may increase the possibility of foreign language dreams.

Researchers understood that general exposure to foreign-language environments may play a key role, suggesting that foreign-language dreaming may be possible even with low levels of second language knowledge.

Further to the study’s findings, there were isolated instances where participants recorded speaking in languages unknown to them in waking life.

As the research suggests however, this may have been an effect of living in the Netherlands where a high density of foreign languages is in circulation.

Researchers did note that accurately understanding and analysing dreams for the purposes of study can been notoriously difficult. Information has to be gathered through introspective interviews after dreaming takes place, making data in some instances unreliable.

However despite the difficulties, the study may have brought to light some inaccuracies of previous thought on the topic.

Ed Moore and  Mícheál Ó Meachair

Sicard, J. and de Bot, K. (2013) ‘Multilingual dreaming’, International Journal of Multilingualism, 10:3, 331-354.


Learning sign language may help deaf children learn to speak

Having a grasp on sign language as a first language prior to learning a spoken language can actually help deaf children to learn to speak after a cochlear implant, a recent study suggests.

A child who was born deaf was tested extensively after cochlear implant to attempt to understand its spoken language learning capacities.The child had learned sign language as its first language and it thus showed better skills in learning a spoken language, in this case, Italian.

The Italian researchers then compared the child to a deaf child who learned spoken Italian only after cochlear implants. The comparison suggested that knowledge of sign language aided the learning of a second language.

This form of comprehension of two languages, one signed and one spoken, is known as bimodal bilingualism. It is important for a deaf child to be surrounded by this type of communication to encourage learning in both areas.

The particular tests that were used to reveal this data consisted of a non-verbal cognitive test, a number of picture naming test and a parental report questionnaire that assessed the parent’s perception of the child’s learning capabilities.

The testing of the child for this study was carried out every five to eight months from age two-and-a-half to just after age five. At three years old, the child’s IQ was also tested and it was at a normal level and required no further testing. The deaf child’s level of growth in vocabulary was exactly the same as that of a hearing child of the same age.

The results of this study challenge previous ideas that a deaf child should not learn sign language prior to learning spoken language: sign language actually aided the learning of the spoken language as the child was able to work out the words that couldn’t be pronounced using his signing skills, and caregivers and teachers could communicate definitions via sign language also.

Luisa Fusco and Edyta English

Rinaldi, P. and Caselli, M. C. (2014) Language development in a bimodal bilingual child with cochlear implant: a longitudinal study. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 17(04): 798-809.


A second language won’t affect a child’s learning of their native tongue

Exposing your babies to a second language won’t affect their learning of the native language, recent research suggests.

Learning a language starts with learning to differentiate the sounds that we hear around us every day. By nine months babies are already learning to differentiate between sounds that appear in their native language.

If they are exposed only to one language they are often not able to pick out similar but different sounds in a second language. But if parents were to introduce a second language – say a short play date in Spanish at daycare – would this affect a child’s language learning? This research suggests that it would not.

Linguists Barbara Conboy and Patricia Kuhl in the US set out to examine if nine-month-olds would be disadvantaged by being exposed, for the first time, to Spanish as well as their native English. They did so by introducing Spanish in 25-minute play sessions and, both before and after this Spanish exposure, testing the children’s brain activity as they listened to phonetic sounds familiar in both languages.

Seventeen out of 21 infants selected were included in the data; two children refused to wear electrode cap, which will not come as a surprise to parents. The results, published in a 2011 paper, show that progress with English learning was not disrupted by the introduction of Spanish.

Like any scientific study, this work has limits. The researchers couldn’t say whether exposure to a second language improved the language learning of the children or that they wouldn’t have learned even more English in that time if they hadn’t been involved in the study.

Laura Larkin and Mícheál Ó Meachai

Conboy, B and Kuhl, P (2011) Impact of second language experience in infancy: brain measures of first- and second speech perception, Developmental Science 14(2):  242-248.


A multilingual approach to analysing standardized test results

A recent study highlights how adopting a multilingual approach to analysing standardized test results can offer educators and policy-makers valuable information on immigrant children’s patterns of language development in multilingual contexts. The approach entails analysing standardized test results data in conjunction with local language information in order to identify the children who may be more at risk of remaining behind at school.

Standardized tests are used in many countries around the world and discussions about their suitability with bilingual populations are frequent. This study takes current discussions a step further by focusing on children who use three or more languages at the same time.

Immigrant children who live in bi/multilingual communities face a number of difficulties when learning a language of instruction that does not coincide with the language of their community or the language spoken in the home. Over 200 first- and second-generation immigrant children across German and Italian-speaking regions of South Tyrol in northern Italy were given the Invalsi standardized Italian test which included multiple choice questions, cloze answers and a sentence reconstruction exercise. Test results were then analysed using immigration status (1stand 2nd generation) and languages spoken in the region (Italian-dominant, German-dominant) as main variables.

The study shows that “first generation immigrant children living in German-speaking areas of South Tyrol experience more difficulties with Italian”, a result that emerges only when the standardized test results are read in conjunction with local language information.

The author of the study, Dr Gessica De Angelis of Trinity College Dublin, explains that immigrant children attending Italian-schools in German-speaking areas of South Tyrol “have fewer opportunities to communicate within their community and have little access to after school activities organized in Italian”. Reduced exposure to the Italian language of instruction means that these children need additional support to develop their language skills, while other first- or second- generation immigrant children do not need the same amount of support if they live in the Italian-speaking area of the same region.

Ronan Smyth and Conor Pyle

Gessica De Angelis (2014) A multilingual approach to analysing standardized test results: immigrant primary school children and the roles of languages spoken in a bi-/multilingual community. Intercultural Education 25(1): 14-28, DOI: 10.1080/14675986.2014.883167

Multilingualism in subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

A recent study examines five possible strategies for providing a multilingual film experience for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, and shows that most deaf and hard of hearing viewers prefer more information about language-switching in movies.

The study was conducted among 135 Polish deaf and hard of hearing people, and determined which of the five possible strategies could best be used to increase their experience of multilingual cinema, films in which characters speak various languages.

The five strategies for subtitling for  deaf and hard of hearing (SDH) were:

(1) Vehicular matching, i.e. showing deaf and hard of hearing viewers a transcribed version of the foreign language spoken in the film, as in: ‘Bonjour.’

(2) Translation plus explicit attribution, i.e. translating the foreign language dialogue and telling the viewers that a foreign language is spoken, as in: ‘[IN FRENCH] Good morning.’

(3) Translation plus colour-coding, without naming the language, as in: ‘Good morning.’

(4) Explicit attribution, i.e. telling deaf or hard of hearing viewers that a foreign language is spoken without translating, as in: ‘[IN FRENCH]’

(5) Linguistic homogenisation, i.e. avoiding the marking of the foreign language in dialogue at all, as in: ‘Good morning.’

Participants were asked to watch five scenes from four different films, all of which had multilingual content: Inglorious BasterdsLife is BeautifulTwo Days in Paris and A Little Princess. Each scene was shown twice; each time with a different version of SDH and participants were surveyed about their preferences.

The study suggests that deaf and hard of hearing participants would prefer to have more rather than less information on foreign dialogue in multilingual films, preferring strategies such as vehicular matching that submerge the viewer into the foreign language. As the study explains, ‘Just as hearing audience can experience the foreignness of the foreign language by hearing it, so could an audience of deaf and hard of hearing viewers experience it through seeing it.’

Of course the best strategy for a given film may depend on whether the film-makers have chosen to subtitle foreign-language dialogue for hearing audiences. As the authors write, ‘the decision whether or not a foreign language utterance in a film should be translated, transcribed, explicitly attributed or linguistically homogenised depends to a large extent on the film-maker’s decision.’

 Niamh O’Donoghue and Esther Pescador de Galdo

Szarkowska, Agnieszka, Jagoda Żbikowska, and Izabela Krejtz (2013) Subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing in multilingual films. International Journal of Multilingualism 10.3: 292-312.


Active promotion of lesser spoken languages vital for child multilingualism

Multilingualism in children is more successful when the lesser spoken languages are actively promoted during conversation by a caregiver, according to a recent study. The aim of the research was to investigate why a child whose primary language is Swiss German but has equal exposure to both French and English responded significantly more in English (54%) and less in French (13%).

The researcher, Sarah Chevalier, concluded that in the case of lesser spoken languages it’s important for the caregiver to emphasise their own language rather than incorporating the child’s chosen language into conversation.
“If the goal is active trilingualism, languages for which there is considerably less input need to be promoted actively in conversation,” she writes. The different responses that were used with the two-year-old subject, Lina, were: minimal grasp, expressed guess, adult repetition, move-on strategy and code switching.

Lina’s aunt, an English-speaking monolingual, used ‘adult repetition’, making sure to repeat Lina’s response in English. Her father, on the other hand, mainly just ‘moved on’ with the conversation, that is, if Lina spoke Swiss German, he simply responded in French without indicating in any way that she should also speak French. But sometimes he also even ‘code-switched’, meaning that if he began the conversation in French, but Lina responded in German, he chose to continue the conversation in German instead of persevering with his own native language. The result: Lina speaking much less French with her father than English with her aunt.

Chevalier also acknowledged that both caregivers have different intentions when communicating with Lina. Lina’s aunt wants the child to learn English, whereas her father simply wants to communicate with her in the most efficient way.
“Lina’s aunt can give priority to her role as a teacher if she so pleases, however for Lina’s father, his role as a parent is far more important than that of a language instructor. It is understandable why a parent may find it difficult to follow the path of insistence.”

Chevalier S (2013) ‘Caregiver responses to the language mixing of a young trilingual’, Multilingua 32(1): 1-32.

Rosemary Haughey and Toby Schroedler

Birkbeck College researchers link multilingualism to coping with ambiguity

Multilingualism is associated with a higher tolerance of ambiguity (TA) and a disposition to enjoy unknown or strange situations more, researchers have found.

Researchers at Birkbeck College, University of London, carried out the study, which found that people with knowledge of two or more languages were better able to deal with unknown situations.

TA is a psychological concept that measures how people relate to ambiguous or strange events or situations. The study found there is a link between scores in TA and study abroad: the participants who used their foreign language abroad scored higher on TA than those who had never left their country. Scores on TA stabilized after a year abroad.

“The need to survive in a foreign environment forces people to become more attuned to differences and brings with it an awareness that their own values, beliefs and communicative practices are not necessarily shared by their interlocutors,” said the authors of the research, Jean-Marc Dewaele and Li Wei.

“We argue that the increased TA of multilinguals is a reflection of multicompetence, making them more tolerant individuals and therefore better citizens.”

The study was carried out with over 2,000 people taking part in an online questionnaire, with their linguistic skills varying from only knowing a language to one person having knowledge of 12 languages.

Subjects answered standardised questions for the psychological trait of tolerance of ambiguity, and were also asked about their linguistic history and current language practices.

Overall “findings show that a high level of multilingualism makes individuals more at ease in dealing with ambiguity, but we acknowledge that a higher level of TA can also strengthen an individual’s inclination to become multilingual.”

Dewaele, Jean-Marc, and Li Wei (2013) ‘Is multilingualism linked to a higher tolerance of ambiguity?’ Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 16(1): 231-240.

Ben Finnegan Waters and Edyta English


Multilinguals enjoy increased protection against a preclinical stage of dementia

A study conducted with seniors in multilingual Luxembourg suggests an association between speaking three or more languages and having some protection against a preclinical stage of dementia.

The research on 232 volunteers, age 65 or older, all of whom had at least two languages, showed that, with suitable adjustments for education and age, those who practised three languages or more showed a statistically significant lower risk of  ‘cognitive impairment without dementia’ (CIND), compared to bilinguals. Most strikingly, the step-up from two to three languages, from bilingualism to multilingualism, was associated with a seven-fold protection against CIND, compared to bilinguals who stayed at this level.

CIND is a syndrome in which individuals show symptoms of memory loss and cognitive decline but with little or no perceptible effect on daily functioning, thus falling short of the definition of dementia. ‘With its cosmopolitan environment and its three official languages, Luxembourg is a “natural laboratory of multilingualism’”, where people have to switch permanently from one language to another,’ authors Magali Perquin and colleagues write. ‘In this study, we explored the potentially protective effect of multilingualism against cognitive impairment in an elderly cohort.’ (p1)

The research, which detailed the participants’ lifelong history of language learning, also suggests that when it comes to these effects of multilingualism, ‘the earlier and faster, the better’: each year’s delay with the achievement of a third language was associated with a significant increase in the risk of CIND (p3).

The authors see their research as supporting the concept of ‘cognitive reserve’, which hypothesizes that some kinds of activity strengthen the mind’s capacity to maintain function despite the ravages of time. ‘Our results therefore seem to converge towards the notion of a cognition benefit from a threshold of three languages, practised as early in life as possible. Multilingualism certainly contributes to providing greater reserve which is protective by delaying in time the clinical expression of dementia.’ (p6)

The study, conducted by the Luxembourg Institute of Health was part of the ‘MemoVie’ research programme on cognitive ageing and dementia, and was published in the open-access peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE.

Perquin M, Vaillant M, Schuller A-M, Pastore J, Dartigues J-F, Lair M-L and Diederich, N

(2013) Lifelong Exposure to Multilingualism: New Evidence to Support Cognitive

Reserve Hypothesis. PLoS ONE 8(4): e62030. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062030

Harry Browne

Gessica De Angelis