Many bilingual families across the world find themselves in lockdown. And as a result, schools are closed and children are having to be taught online and/or by their parents. What would have been unheard of a year ago has now – unfortunately – become normal. But normal, of course, does not mean easy. Many families are struggling with homeschooling, from practical issues like whether there is enough space and equipment available to issues relating to actual content of the lessons. Bilingual families may also face additional challenges. If you don’t speak the school language at home, how do you make sure your child has enough contact with that language – Dutch in the case of the Netherlands, where Kletsheads is based. What language should you use as a parent while homeschooling? Is it better to switch to the school language or can you continue to use your mother tongue?
These are all questions we answer in this special episode of Kletsheads about the impact of the lockdown on bilingual families. We’re joined by Tessa Mearns, researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and Francesca la Morgia from the organisation, Mother Tongues. Tessa and Francesca are both mothers of bilingual children, too, so they also tell us about their families’ experiences during this period.
And it’s not all doom and gloom! We’ll also talk about some of the upsides bilingual families have reported to the lockdown: more time at home means more contact with the home language (the non-Dutch language, in our case) and this has meant children are improving, using that language more, and sometimes developing new skills such as reading.
At the time this podcast “drops”, as it’s called in podcast world, the primary schools in the Netherlands have just re-opened, but secondary schools are still teaching online only and children with family members who are shielding or who are shielding themselves of course have to stay at home. In many other places around the world, all schools remain closed and in many countries, this also holds for preschool childcare centres, too. Whether you’re still in the thick of it or you want some tips on how to approach homeschooling if you’re faced with it again (let’s hope not), there are plenty of practical suggestions and tips for both parents and teachers.
Dr. Tessa Mearns is a Lecturer Researcher at ICLON (Leiden University Graduate School of Teaching) where she also coordinates the World Teachers Programme. Tessa is from Great Britain and, together with her English-speaking husband, is raising her two children bilingually. For this episode, she collected the experiences and tips of other bilingual families in her local are.
Dr. Francesca la Morgia is Director of the Mother Tongues, a not for profit organization aimed at promoting multilingualism in Ireland. She is a linguist, researcher and social entrepreneur based in Dublin. In the podcast, Francesca mentioned several resources which she and her colleagues have developed for parents and teachers. You can find these here. Francesca is also the creator of the Language Explorers Activitiy Book, which can be used by teachers and parents to help children explore their own bilingualism as well as bringing them into contact with 30 different languages in a fun and interactive way. Another great resource!
At the end of the podcast, a study from the UK is mentioned, about the impact of the lockdown on multilingual families. You can read more about it in this New York Times article, or in this blog by the lead researcher, Prof. Ludovica Serratrice of the University of Reading. Kletsheads want to conduct a similar study at Radboud University and will share more information about this around mid-March via social media. If you would like to apply now, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.