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.
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.
In August, I developed and led a workshop with multilingual families who had children in ABC Head Start’s summer camp program. Over lunch, we talked about bilingualism and strategies to support children’s language development. Families shared their experiences of feeling isolated after moving to Canada and having young children. They shared feeling worried that they were not doing the right thing by speaking their home language. They felt lucky to have had the support and encouragement of ABC Headstart to keep using their home language – but still wondered how to help support their child’s language development. I talked about goals and practical strategies for using one’s home language. Such an interesting discussion – thanks ABC HSS for hosting!
In July 2021, the Multilingual Families Lab partnered once again with ABC Head Start Society to provide a dual-language program in their Summer Camp! Wendy, Rita and Natalie adapted and led the activities this summer. We had so much fun collaborating with teachers to discuss bilingualism with children. Within this summer camp context, we met with children three times to talk about being bilingual. In our little group of children, more than 10 languages were spoken: Punjabi, Somali, German, Harari, Tagalog, Tamil, Bambara, Urdu, Malayalam and French. Amazing! We learned how to say “Hello” in different languages and read stories in multiple languages. We helped children create their own dual-language book using their home language and their own drawings.
International Multilingualism Day aims to celebrate linguistic diversity and the multi-layered way we use languages in our everyday lives. For many families, speaking more than one language has many advantages, from maintaining ties with your extended family to opening up job opportunities. Research in our lab is contributing to a broader understanding of multilingual language development: all children can learn more than one language. Keys to this learning are fostering opportunities, valuing the languages being learned, and making it fun.
A key message of International Multilingualism Day: “There is no *right* way to do languages. There is only your way. And that’s what matters.” We could not have said it better!
Inspired by Aviak Johnston’s book “What is your superpower?“, our lab brainstormed about what brought us together as students, researchers, and individuals. What brought us together is our languageS and cultureS – we are excited to learn from our families and each other and connect. We have integrated this in our lab motto – and made it multilingual! It was fun to put our collective 12 languages to work to share our superpowers.
Join us in celebrate multilingualism – in whatever way that looks like for you!
In the Mill Creek Ravine of Edmonton, a special cultural celebration took place the first week of March 2021. The Flying Canoë Volant is a festival inspired by a tale that highlights cultures of the French Canadians, Métis, and First Nations. This tale is the story of woodcutters that wanted to visit their loved ones. The only way they could see them in their far away location and be back the next day for work was to fly on a canoe. They made a deal with the devil for a magical flying canoe, but in return they could not swear or touch the cross of church steeples along the way. Will they make it back home…? You can find out by reading a version of this tale, La Chasse-galerie, written by Honoré Beaugrand in 1892. Several Multilingual Families Lab members joined this celebration of local history and cultures in an enchanted winter environment where safety measures were a priority.