Speaking two languages: Benefit or burden?

Research lead: Devyani Sharma (Department of Linguistics, Queen Mary University of London)

These materials were developed as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science (November 2013).

Increased multilingualism in London is sometimes seen as problematic. Such concerns run counter to research indicating that bilinguals may enjoy advantages in areas such as cognition, employability, earnings, mental health, and cultural integration. The goal of this activity, which can be run in schools or community groups, is to link social science research on bilingualism to public discourses through a two-part, multi-generational workshop.

In part one, students (and parents if possible) complete an in-class or online survey that elicits:

  1. their beliefs, concerns, and attitudes about bilingualism;
  2. their own social and language background;
  3. the option to prepare a personal language narrative.

In part two, a researcher runs a workshop with the same group, presenting a summary of their reported beliefs and attitudes alongside research that either supports or challenges these views. The group discussion will explore the politics, research, and personal realities of bilingualism. Teaching materials and outcomes will be developed and shared publicly, with the possibility of repeating the activity in further venues.

Activity materials are provided below: