Growing up bilingual

We are thrilled! chuffed! emballées! to share a free resource that our lab has developed for families. By drawing on research and the lived experiences of our collaborating families, we developed a simple one-page document for parents about supporting their child who is growing up bilingual. Our multilingual lab has developed versions in Arabic, French, Hindi, Punjabi, and Spanish.

The tips for parents include information and strategies for parents to use with their children to keep children’s home language alive and growing: (a) being bilingual is good; (b) learning takes place at home, school, & community; (c) each family has different expectations and hopes; and (d) strategies to keep language growing.

If you live in Edmonton, we also included a second page of resources to support growing up bilingual that are available in our community.

Home language knowledge is a strength!

A new publication! 👉

Illustration of using L1 knowledge to learn L2 in school

In this paper, we started with the premise that a bilingual child’s home language is a strength, and that we can build on this strength even when assessing the language of school. When I wrote the draft, I was thinking of the analogy of climbing a rockface. For monolingual children, they have many footholds for learning in the classroom as they can directly use their home language to learn in the classroom. For children who speak a different language at home, they do not have these footholds. But they are not without climbing abilities, they can transfer their home language, they can use their fast-mapping, and benefit from social contexts for learning in the classroom.

Starting with this idea, we developed a task that builds on children’s ability to transfer knowledge, to fast map, and to use social context for learning new words. The task is pretty cool! We didn’t want children to need to know the words in the language of school – and we hoped they could use their knowledge of home language. So, we searched for words that have similar phonological forms and meaning across languages (i.e., cognates as defined by Crystal, 2011). The words also had to be familiar to young children and an object… so we ended up with banana, taxi and kangaroo. Yep! These words are quite similar across languages that are from different families. We also introduced ‘new words’ that were possible word shapes across languages. These words were embedded in a play-based task.

The kindergarten children who took part in the study spoke one or two of 13 different languages at home. They were able to learn ‘new words’ in a 20-minute dynamic learning task. Amazing word learners!

Power imbalance in family engagement in research

Our postdoctoral Fellow, Catrine Demers, presented a poster at the Kids Brain Health Network (KBHN) Conference 2021 in November 2021 entitled “Power imbalance in family engagement in research: a self-reflection tool for researchers” with co-author Maude Champagne. Their infographic and self-reflection tool was created within the Family Engagement in Research Certificate of Completion at McMaster University offered in partnership with KBHN and CanChild. They won the award and prize for the Best Family Engagement and Partnership Poster Award Category 1.

Félicitation! Congratulations!


Lab Presentation Round-UP

As we head into the shortest days of the year here in Edmonton, we are thinking fondly of the long warm summer days. In Summer 2021, our Multilingual Lab members had a blast presenting their research at conferences!

Keep reading to learn more about each of these conferences!

Our Master student Aunya Weich presented a poster in June 2021 at the International Child Phonology Conference (ICPC) 2021 conference . With co-authors Scott Tobin, Andrea A.N. Macleod, and Fangfang Li, the team presented on “Bilingual Speech Production in French Immersion Students: Stop Consonant Production”. This poster presentation focused on French Immersion students in grades 1,3, and 5 who completed two articulation tests. We examined the pattern of stop consonant phonological emergence as students progressed to higher grade levels. The results indicated low accuracy in word final position as well as the voiced stop consonant /g/. In addition, grade, test and word position were all found to significantly impact the stop consonant productions.

Our Ph.D. student Wendy Amaoko also presented at the International Child Phonology Conference (ICPC) 2021 conference in June 2021 With her co-authors Joseph Paul Stemberger and Mario Chávez-Peón, the team’s oral presentation was on “Methodological issues concerning tonal development: Valley Zapotec and Akan”. In this presentation, the team discussed the factors that influenced F0 which might interact with tone production in the children’s and the adult’s (native vs. nan-native speakers) perception of these tones. Preliminary acoustic exploration of possible interactions of tone with non-pitch information and the potential effects on perceived production accuracy of tones were presented.

Our Ph.D. student Negin Yousefi presented a poster at the Language, Communication, and Culture (LCC) conference in August 2021 Her presentation with co-author Andrea A.N. MacLeod was on “Methodological Issues in Researching Speech Sound Development of Bilingual Children: Considering Language Exposure and Language Proficiency”. The purpose of their presentation was to review the impact of language proficiency and language exposure on speech sound development research in bilingual children and to provide some suggestions for classifying participants based on these variables. For this purpose, studies in this area have been reviewed and the reasons for the inconsistent findings have been explored. Studies were included if they addressed speech sound and phonological development in bilingual children. 

Our PhD candidate, R. Sabah Meziane, completed two presentations this summer. Her first presentation at the Colloque étudiant CREDEF-SHERPA  in June 2021. She presented in French on: “Linguistic diversity: clinical and research perspective” (La diversité linguistique : perspective clinique et de recherche). Her presentation was on the importance of completing evaluation and intervention differently with bilingual children as well as to train professionals to better take action with those children. 

With co-author Andrea A.N. MacLeod, they presented at the International Child Phonology Conference (ICPC) 2021 conference in June 2021. Their presentation “Internal and external factors contributing to variability in consonant accuracy of Arabic-French simultaneous bilingual children.” described internal and external factors contributing to the variability consonant accuracy in Arabic-French bilingual children.

Our Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Catrine Demers, and co-author Dr. Andrea MacLeod completed an oral presentation at the Multidisciplinary Approaches in Language Policy and Planning (LPP) 2021 conference in August 2021. Their bilingual presentation was on “Informal policies of a community organization employees working with multilingual children”. They presented their results of seven interviews of employees working for a community organization that provides early childhood services for low-income families where the majority of children speak a language other than English at home. They wanted to understand how employees of a community organization feel about the development of children’s home languages and how they support this development. Their qualitative content analysis revealed that these employees had strong positive attitudes, values, and knowledge in supporting the children’s home language. Interestingly, despite the positive attitudes and knowledge, they expressed challenges in translating their attitudes and knowledge into practices to directly support multilingual children. 


Our research with Syrian refugee families was spotlighted!

Since Winter 2016, the Multilingual Families Lab has been working with students and community members to develop an innovative program to support the early language development of children who were refugees from Syria. We were excited to have our work spotlighted on the CYRRC website. CYRRC is a nationwide alliance of academics, community partners and government agencies working to promote the successful integration of refugee children, youth and their families. They have provided funding to support the research program within this work (thank you!!). We have continued this work and explored adaptations to ensure equitable access during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have also developed strategies to ensure that parents are included.

Infographic from CYRRC:

Interested in learning more about our work? You can check out these open-access resources.

Our program has focused on dual-language stimulation in French and Arabic, and more recently we’ve expanded to include English and other languages. The goal has been to continue to build and enrich the first language and to introduce the language of schooling. We aimed to provide culturally appropriate activities and involved parents, community partners and administrators. In implementation, we advocate for the role of schools in finding ways to build bridges with parents and community organisations. We also believe that families should receive continued support post-migration, and supports in their first langauge. And community partnerships are important for improving refugee families’ knowledge and access to services.

We have learned so much from the families we have worked with and from our bilingual students who have contributed brilliant ideas to keep the program growing.


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