Uncovering the challenges facing parents with bilingual and multilingual children

12 March 2010

One in four UK children has a mother born overseas which means at least one parent speaks a foreign language at home. But what are the challenges for parents raising bilingual and multilingual offspring? This is just one of the questions up for debate at the Economic and Social Research Council's (ESRC) Festival of Social Science on 19 March.

The event 'Bringing up Bilingual and Multilingual Children' will investigate the challenges of bringing up children with multiple languages. Event organizer Dr Zhu Hua from Birkbeck College at the University of London says, "Children who use two or more languages from a young age have many advantages". But she points out "there are many misconceptions about the process".

Dr Hua continues: "Bringing up children bilingually can be challenging at times, partly because there is a shortage of knowledge, resources and support network. Furthermore it requires joint efforts from parents, children and professionals."

The purpose of the event is to offer guidance to parents and enable them to share their personal experiences. Parents and grandparents with experiences of bringing up children this way will be a key part of the audience and debate. They will be encouraged to come with their own stories and advice. International experts from bilingualism, bilingual education, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics and speech and language therapy will also be attending.

As part of the event a panel of experts will offer answers to questions such as:
  • Why does any parent want to bring up their children bilingually or multilingually?
  • If they do, what is the best way to achieve a good level of competence without putting unnecessary stress on the children?
  • What are the implications of being bilingual or multilingual in the early years of a child's schooling?

The panel presentation will be followed by an open discussion giving parents and professionals the opportunity to share experiences. The event will also provide material on further research. As part of the event organisers will be carrying out a survey on the day into the current issues facing bilingual and multilingual families in London in the 21st century.

The event also includes an exhibition by multi-lingual publishers of learning resources.

For further information contact

ESRC Press Office:

Notes for editors

  1. Bringing up bilingual and multilingual children
    • Organiser: Centre for Multilingual and Multicultural Research
    • Friday 19 March 10.00 - 13.00
    • Venue: Council Chamber, Camden Town Hall, Judd Street, London. WC1H 9JE
    • Audience: General audience
  2. The panel of experts will include:
    • Professor Antonella Sorace, director of Bilingualism-Matters.org.uk
    • Professor Barbara Dodd, a professor of child development at City University London
    • Dr Carol Stow and Dr Sean Pert, award-winning bilingual speech and language therapists
    • Professor Li Wei, editor of International Journal of Bilingualism.
    • Professor Jean-Marc Dewaele, president of the European Second Language Association (EUROSLA)
    • Dr Raymonde Sneddon, expert on dual language literacy from the University of East London
    • Dr Lisa McEntee-Atalianis, established researcher in bilingualism and deaf studies at Birkbeck College
  3. The Festival of Social Science, organised by the Economic and Social Science Research Council (ESRC), runs from the 12 to the 21 March, alongside National Science and Engineering Week.  It celebrates some of the country's leading social science research, giving an exciting opportunity to showcase the valuable work of the UK's social scientists and demonstrate how their work has an impact on all our lives. Events are aimed at a range of different audiences, including policymakers, business, the media, the general public and students of all ages. Events come in a variety of formats from traditional lectures and exhibitions to theatrical performances, film screenings and topical debates. Press releases detailing some of the varied events are available at the Festival website.
  4. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.
  5. You can now follow updates from the ESRC on Twitter (@ESRC), including new funding calls as they are posted, press releases, events and more.