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.