The two language household – good or bad for rural kids?

Published 12 May 2014

University of New England linguistics expert Dr Elizabeth Ellis is looking for families from non-English speaking backgrounds in North Western NSW to participate in a program to strengthen Bilingualism in the Bush.

She says growing up bilingual can be a significant advantage for children’s education, social and critical thinking skills, yet children of migrants to Australia often lose their first language as they enter an English language education system.

“This unfortunate tendency is even stronger in regional communities such as New England, where families tend not to have the larger social circle of native speakers or the language and support services available in metropolitan areas.

“I say unfortunate, because there are many advantages to growing up bilingual.”

“Research shows that it actually enhances learning: bilingual kids are more creative and flexible in their thought patterns, and having two ways of expressing concepts gives them a broader outlook on the world. Then there are the increased social skills from understanding and operating in two cultures.”

“In fact, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that maintaining two languages gives the child a greater sense of community and belonging, being able to converse with grandparents and friends back in their home country and of course the potential they have later in life to use those language skills in travel and work.”

Dr Ellis and her team are now searching for participants to take part in a study which will follow a number of families in Armidale, Tamworth and Moree over three years, as they work to maintain both languages in the home.

“The Bilingualism in the Bush study is entirely non-invasive. Participants will be given a video camera to record their interactions in both languages in the home, and we will meet on a semi-regular basis to discuss their own impressions and experiences,” Dr Ellis explained.

“We will provide families with advice and support along the way as they try to teach children both languages, but we’re also interested in the family language policy and how it is borne out in the home.

If someone you know speaks two languages in the home and hopes to raise bilingual children, and would like to take part in the Bilingualism in the Bush study, they are encouraged to email  hpastor@une.edu.au or by phone on 0477 746 147.