What a lovely start to the week a story that takes me back to my roots. Weekly readers will know that my interest in bilingualism came when I left Wales due to employment and it was strange that everything was only in 1 langauge in England as well as there were no rugby posts in the fields. Added to the fact that my child was treated as monolingual despite coming directly from a Welsh Medium school and received no support yet if children came into her classroom from abroad there was more than ample provision.
So as you can imagine this story really caught my eye and is interesting as it explores bilingualism a little more to help us all understand the process better.
Recent studies conducted both internationally and here in Wales are showing that having two languages can impact on the child’s language development, general abilities, and health and wellbeing in ways that are unique to the bilingual learner.
In terms of language abilities, some of our most recent research is looking at the effects of language structure on children’s literacy and self-esteem, with special focus on those who are learning Welsh and English.
Other studies have looked at young German-Welsh bilinguals’ emergent grammars, looking for examples of German influence in their Welsh, and Welsh influence in their German.
Mapping Welsh-English bilinguals’ development of vocabulary, reading and grammar in Welsh and in English has allowed for a better understanding of the impact of learning a second language on children’s development of their first language.
Our results show that learning through the medium of Irish or Welsh at school has no detrimental effects on children’s development of English.
In fact, the act of switching between two languages and of inhibiting the use of one language whilst using the other provides the bilingual brain with a certain level of flexibility that the monolingual brain has to work for in other ways.
This has led bilinguals to demonstrate superior abilities on general cognitive tasks that require certain types of processing – an advantage that translates well into the classroom.
Our studies here in Wales are beginning to show some interesting patterns that contribute to these findings.
Whether this advantage is present across the life-span for all Welsh-English bilinguals is yet to be discovered, but should it lead to the delayed onset of dementia, as demonstrated previously for bilinguals in Canada, the identification of how, when and where this advantage is present is all the more worthwhile.
Enlli Thomas is a senior lecturer in Bangor University. Her research looks at language development and bilingualism in school children in Wales. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep up the research Enlli the more we understand the easier it is to help our students fit into this multilingual world.