The importance of lip-reading in bilingual development

Research conducted by the UB research group in Attention, Perception and Language Acquisition has used eye-tracking to demonstrate differences in lip-reading patterns between monolingual and bilingual infants.

baby looking

This video shows Dr Ferran Pons and Dr Laura Bosch explaining their recent experiment, which found that bilingual infants start lip-reading earlier and keep lip-reading longer than their monolingual counterparts.  It is thought to play an important role in helping children to distinguish between the two languages.

The practical implications of these findings are underlined by Dr Bosch, who advises us to ensure that the infants we are addressing can see us speaking so that they can make the most of this information!

Find more information about their research here:!home/zdvf7

APAL header


Language gardening – A talk for the English Commission of l’Escola Àngel Baixeras’ AFA

I was recently invited to give a talk to the English Commission of the Associació de Famílies d’Alumnes at l’Escola Àngel Baixeras on the topic of how parents can support their children’s acquisition of family languages that are not widely spoken outside of the home environment.

I referred to Colin Baker’s concept of “language gardening” (1995) to introduce a series of ideas or strategies that parents could use to help nuture their children’s plurilingual development.

language gardening

Image: Mother and daughter © 2013 Aya Mulder. Licensed under CC-BY.

The strategies we discussed included using the language at home (which sounds obvious but doesn’t always happen – and in the case that other parents, guardians or family members don’t speak it – might not be as easy as it seems), making the most of visitors from the home country, as well as visits home, Skype, letters and postcards.  I underlined the important role peers can play in making the language come to life beyond the house’s four walls and suggested that in their absence some creativity might be called for, as in Rita Rosenback’s example of Pricken the Swedish-speaking kitten.

We also looked at different kinds of books and literacy activities that could be used with children, focussing particularly on how reading and writing can be made fun by creating shared stories on bathroom mirrors or posters in different locations around the house; and setting up written correspondence with friends and relatives.

At the end of the talk, we discussed parents’ experiences of the different strategies together.  It was a great opportunity to share ideas and address specific issues and concerns.

Many thanks to the organisers!

AFA Angel Baixeras


Baker, C. (1995). A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism.  Multilingual Matters.

Barcelona Metropolis feature “La ciutat multilingüe”

For those interested in multilingualism in Barcelona, take a peak at this collection of articles written by local linguists!

Barcelona multilingüe

The special issue includes a history of multilingualism in Barcelona, written by Dr Francesc Xavier Vila i Moreno (University of Barcelona), which guides us through its first settlements, the impact of 1714, right up to today’s global city.  Mercè Solé i Sanosa from LinguaPax International regrets the lack of data collected about the speakers of the more than 300 languages spoken in Barcelona but nonetheless paints an initial portrait of the city’s demolinguistic makeup.  Griselda Oliver Alabau takes a closer look at the British, Brazilian, Italian, Pakistani, Amazigh and Japanese populations and the languages they use.

Next up is a portrait of how languages are managed in the classroom in Barcelona, contributed by Dr Vanessa Bretxa from the University Centre for Sociolinguistics and Communication (University of Barcelona).  Bretxa explains the roles of Castilian and Catalan in the school context and the complexities of how this domain can be studied, understood and managed most effectively.

In the following articles Mónica Sabata, executive manager of the Càtedra Josep Termes, introduces the topic of language rights in Barcelona, both in their collective and individual sense.  Dr Emili Boix (University of Barcelona) takes on the question of the vitality of Catalan, arguing that it is still very much alive and kicking within the linguistic kaleidoscope that is Barcelona. Dr Albert Bastardas (University of Barcelona) addresses how linguistic diversity should be managed in multilingual cities and the issue closes with a reminder of that rich diversity from Dr Carme Junyent (Grup d’Estudi de les Llengües Amenaçades, University of Barcelona).



International Mother Language Day 2016


This Sunday marks the 16th UNESCO International Mother Language Day, this year with the theme “Quality education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes”.  The UNESCO Education 2030 Framework for Action aims to encourage respect for home languages in teaching and learning and to promote and preserve linguistic diversity.

Such initiatives, alongside the Council of Europe’s guidelines on intercultural and plurilingual competence, hope to foster a supportive environment for additive plurilingualism alongside the main languages of education.  Practically, it promotes respect and understanding of children’s language backgrounds amongst educators and intends to counter negative attitudes towards the home language.

A great deal of research has been undertaken into the advantages of plurilingualism and how best to support and nurture children’s learning of home and societal languages.  Last weekend I presented at a conference organised by the Social and Affective Factors in Home Language Maintenance research network dedicated to just that and was very much encouraged to meet like-minded researchers from all over the world.

With more to follow on that at a later date, I’ll sign off now with my warmest wishes for a happy mother (and let’s not forget father) language day to all!

Before their first words -UB/UPF project on child language acquisition


Before first wors screenshot

An exciting project on infant communication has made this learning tool available with experts’ explanations of key phases in children’s language acquisition processes during their first year of life.  It also includes advice for parents about how to support their children’s communicative development so it is highly recommended for interested parents and linguists alike!

Go and explore!


Getting started with multilingual family research

Happy New Year to all!

By popular request, I’ve put together a few lines with some suggested introductory readings on the topic of multilingual families. It’s intended as a guide for those who are interested in taking their first steps into the mountains of literature available and is by no means an exhaustive review!

I will mention a few readings that have been particularly useful for me and encourage you to explore their bibliographies further according to your specific interests.


CC by S.A. 3.0


Recent studies in family language management

For a collection of recent studies that look into how languages are managed in bi-/multilingual contexts, see Successful Family Language Policy: Parents, Children and Educators in Interaction. Many contributors to the volume are key authors who have published widely on the topic. For more of an idea about what that entails have a look at this review that I wrote for last month’s Bellaterra Language Journal.

Also not to be missed are King and Fogle’s many contributions to the field, including the following article on bilingual parenting.

Within Catalonia, studies have focussed on families belonging to various migrant populations, and their language choices at home. Les llengües al sofa is a collection of chapters based on cross-lingual couples (with partners who have different first languages) with members from Italy and Japan. (See Fukuda’s work for more literature on the Japanese population in Catalonia, and Moroni for the Brazilian population). And when I’ve got my head around the English-speaking population, I hope to add my publications to the list too!


Child bilingualism

First on my list for readings on child bilingualism is De Houwer, who gave a talk  on the subject last September here at the University of Barcelona. She has published a couple of great introductory texts, including An Introduction to Bilingual Development and Bilingual First Language Acquisition.


Research manuals

For help with research design, Wei and Moyer’s Blackwell Guide to Research Methods in Bilingualism is a good starting place. It gives a good overview of the wide range of techniques that can be employed and provides further reading.


So there you are, a few leads to get you started at least!

Feel free to add other readings you’ve found useful in the comments.

Don’t worry be happy?

First of all, apologies for the recent lull in posting.  I promise I’ve been kept busy by the ongoing questionnaire analysis and by writing for other people!

I thought I’d share a blog post I’ve written for the Revista de Llengua i Dret‘s blog about why it is that parents worry about bringing their children up with more than one language, especially English-speaking parents who seem to be amongst the most successful!

Here’s the link: English language transmission in Barcelona: Don’t worry be happy? – Francesca Walls 

CMYK básico

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Raising Bilingual Children

Yesterday evening, thanks to the University Centre for Sociolinguistics and Communication and the Faculty of Philology of the University of Barcelona, the Raising Bilingual Children event was held. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to invite Dr Annick De Houwer, a specialist in the field of young bilingual development, to speak to parents of bilingual children and answer their questions about how best to raise them with more than one language at home and in society. For those of you who were unable to attend, I’ve written up a short summary of De Houwer’s insightful presentation below.


De Houwer mentioned three key ingredients for raising bilingual children and these are: positive attitudes to multilingualism and the languages involved; sustained, regular language input in the desired languages; and a communicative need for the child to speak them.

The first ingredient for all parents hoping to raise children to speak two or more languages is positive attitudes towards multilingualism and towards the languages involved. Without this, other activities to develop the languages are at risk of being undermined. However, the very fact that so many parents attended the event, or indeed that you’re reading this blog, probably means that this isn’t a problem for too many of you!

Next De Houwer addressed the point of input, that is what languages parents and other guardians that spend a significant amount of time with their children use in interaction with them, and how much of each of those languages is used. Based on the results of a large-scale survey she carried out in Flanders (De Houwer, 2007), Dr De Houwer indicated that parental language input patterns make a big difference on children’s linguistic outcomes. In two parent families, parents who both speak the same non-societal language at home have a higher success rate of passing it on than those who speak the non-societal language alongside the societal language (with significant differences between the various possible combinations of those two languages). What is more, De Houwer encouraged parents to make sure that they try to talk to their children as much as possible in the desired language as the more input, the more vocabulary (De Houwer et al, 2014).

Finally, De Houwer moved on to the concept of communicative need. By this she refers to the need to speak a particular language in order to talk to a certain person or engage in a particular activity. Creating a real communicative need for young children to use a particular language makes it meaningful and relevant and will improve chances of children moving beyond comprehension of two languages to active production (ie. speech).



De Houwer, A. (2007) Parental language input patterns and children’s bilingual use. Applied Psycholinguistics 28, 3: 411-424

De Houwer, A.; Bornstein, M. & Putnick, D. (2014). A bilingual-monolingual comparison of children’s vocabulary size: Evidence from comprehension and production. Applied Psycholinguistics 35, 6: 1189-1211


Review: An Introduction to Bilingual Development – Annick De Houwer

In advance of Dr De Houwer’s talk next week, here’s a quick review of one of her books that I think parents bringing up young bilingual children might find interesting and useful.


An Introduction to Bilingual Development focusses on the language acquisition processes of young children (aged 0-6) growing up in contexts in which they are exposed to two languages from birth. Through four case studies of hypothetical children, De Houwer illustrates the kinds of progressions and changes that can be expected in typical bilingual family situations as the children get older and reach key developmental milestones.

In response to the commonly asked question, “What is normal?”, De Houwer covers many possible eventualities that lie within the realms of normal bilingual development including language refusal and loss, the effects of the family moving to a different context, children stuttering or appearing to have difficulties in one or both languages, children using mixed utterances (when a child includes words from two languages in the same sentence), encounters with supportive and not-so-supportive education practitioners etc. Her variation tables at the end of each chapter account for differences between the four children in terms of the ages when they start speaking and the length of utterance used, demonstrating the wide range of possibilities within the normal spectrum.

This short volume is easily accessible for non-experts, particularly students starting out in the field of bilingualism and parents interested in getting an overall idea of what researchers know about bilingual development and what is normal in typical bilingual family circumstances.

For multilingual families in Barcelona, the context can be more complex as Catalonia is already bilingual Catalan/ Spanish. Many children are thus growing up trilingual or even multilingual (if they are exposed to four languages or more), although not all of these languages will necessarily be introduced from birth. Research conducted specifically on trilingual and multilingual language development is less common than that focussing on bilingualism, although there is increased interest of late. Despite this mismatch, the situations covered by De Houwer in the case studies might well be encountered by multilingual families raising children here in Barcelona and for this reason it is still worth consulting.