The Science of Linguistics

There are all sorts of myths and misconceptions about both our own and our children’s ability to learn languages. We bust these myths with a library of animated, bitesize slideshows about the Science of Linguistics.

After years of seeing misinformation, conjecture and hearsay about language acquisition and bilingualism circulate in groups and online, I am keen to connect parents and teachers with the science that is RELEVANT to their questions and family, viewed in CONTEXT, and explained WITHOUT JUDGEMENT.

There’s a trend to quote scientific research as if it is a set of rules to abide by. Scientific research papers are a snapshot of a certain set of parameters, at a certain moment in time. It is therefore problematic to read a research paper and quote it as if it set in stone. This is particularly true of the science of bilingualism, which has shifted dramatically over the last century.

In the 1920s – 1950s, bilingualism was seen as a deficit. A problem to be solved. Even dangerous to children’s development. According to research from this period, languages definitely made you stupid.

In the 1960s – 1980s, bilingualism was hailed as the solution to all manner of things, and the phrase ‘cognitive advantage’ started to circulate. Learning languages definitely made you cleverer, said research from this time.

Since the 1990s, the pendulum has swung back again and a more measured understanding of the benefits of bilingualism has evolved. Significantly, we renounced the idea that bilingualism caused speech delays or cognitive problems. Bilingualism is NOT a disorder whilst monolingualism is ‘order’. In fact, bilingualism is just different to monolingualism, and we need to stop comparing bilinguals to monolinguals.

However, the findings from science are slow to reach the general public. The messages around bilingualism (and multilingualism, plurilingualism...) on social media and in education are just catching up with the research as it stands.

Ten years from now, your well-meaning aunt or friend will quote some findings from today to you from the newspaper or off social media (wink).

It will take even longer for practice to change in training for education and speech and language therapy, for example. By which point, the science will no doubt have uncovered more fascinating detail and nuance about how bilingualism works.

In the 21st century we are beginning to view bilingualism as a wonderful, dynamic, fluctuating skill that shapes the way our brains ‘do’ languages, and even makes us have more empathy for our fellow humans.

In this series of short, shareable slideshows and snippets from the podcasts, I will be collaborating with specialists such as our multilingual ambassadors Thomas Bak, Eowyn Crisfield and Weronika Ozpolat, and bringing you the findings from the science of linguistics that I hope make your parenting adventures with languages easier, and save you hours of searching for a reliable source.

We will be adding more over time at a rate of one per week, so keep checking in and learning a little bit more about languages. In the meantime, if you have a burning question that we haven’t covered, please add it to the community and we will endeavour to help you find the answer that is relevant to your situation (not your friend’s or ours, but yours).