Empowering Communities

“We were singing in Amharic, talking in Amharic. She was asking them how do you say that in Amharic, reminding them of who they are. Children felt of a sense of who they are with their own peers with the same culture, with mom sitting and talking.” Community co-lead

In early Summer, we joined the Amharic and Tigrinyan community to implement language stimulation group with moms and their young children.  Our goal was to support the community by creating a space to cherish their home language and scalfold language learning. We met around a traditional Coffee Ceremony mat every week a local Community League Hall. In conversations with our community co-leads, we adapted our program to meet their needs. We told stories, sang songs, and learned new words and traditions.  Thanks to the work of our community co-leads and a youth from the community, we used Amharic, Tigrinya and a bit of English. We also drew from the Amharic versions within the StoryBooks Canada resources.

A picture of our coffee ceremony mats.

On our last day together, our co-leads hosted a Coffee Ceremony including kinche, dabo and amazing coffee. The coffee beans were roasted and brewed while we told stories with the children, the smoke from the roasting beans clarifying the space.  Over our 8 weeks together, we learned about how language and culture are woven together in this community, how women use coffee ceremonies to share and work through problems, how children learn alongside each other and their parents, and how music and language come together. We are looking forward to sharing what we all learned with the community later this year.

A picture of the Coffee Ceremony.

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! 👉 https://doi.org/10.1111/1460-6984.12723

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 https://people.uleth.ca/~fangfang.li/ICPC2021/ . 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 https://people.uleth.ca/~fangfang.li/ICPC2021/. 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 https://langcultcom.arts.ualberta.ca/home/grad-conference 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 https://credef.uqam.ca/evenements/evenement-colloque-etudiant-credef-x-sherpa-2021/  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 https://people.uleth.ca/~fangfang.li/ICPC2021/ 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 https://lpp2021.weebly.com/ 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. 


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