Winner of the 2014 Multilingualism in the Community Award

We are delighted to announce that the winner of our 2014 Multilingualism in the Community Award is the ‘Our Multilingual Village’ newsletter. Here, Yurimi Grigsby, the organiser of the project tells us more about the newsletter and how the idea came together.

Our Multilingual Village Newsletter Project

When I first arrived as a professor at Concordia University Chicago, I was astounded by the number of languages present in the area. The city of Chicago and the Chicagoland area is an area rich with ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity. Illinois schools have over 180,000 English language learners in its public schools, speaking 139 different non-English native languages. To exemplify the linguistic diversity that exists in this area, the top ten languages spoken are Spanish, Polish, Arabic, Urdu, Korean, Filipino (Tagalog), Cantonese (Chinese), Gujarati, Vietnamese, and Russian. Instead of seeing the education of the children from these backgrounds as a problem, my goal for Our Multilingual Village newsletter is to reframe the multilingual community as a linguistic asset and a critical resource in the 21st century world.

As a take on the phrase “global village,” the newsletters would spotlight the 10 largest language groups found in communities across the Chicago area. My hope is this newsletter project would continue to grow to include all 139 languages in the state and eventually those across the United States; in particular the endangered indigenous languages we may soon lose without concerted preservation efforts.

In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was made flesh. It was so in the beginning and it is so today. The language, the Word, carries within it the history, the culture, the traditions, the very life of a people, the flesh. Language is people. We cannot even conceive of a people without a language, or a language without a people. The two are one and the same. To know one is to know the other. – Sabine Ulibarri

This project has three goals: 1) to promote awareness and understanding of languages as rich, linguistic resources and a critical asset in the 21st century; 2) to promote pride in the heritage speakers and the communities where the languages live; and 3) to honor the complex and intricate processes involved in the act of the older generation passing on to the younger generations all the knowledge, wisdom, and worldviews encased within language, keeping it alive.

Time and again the evidence in educational research shows us how, when the social capital of a language is improved by non-standard speakers, the children improve academically. This makes sense when we think of language as being a part of ourselves and our identities as much as the flesh and blood that carries forth the words we speak.

Each issue will place a spotlight on each of the languages at a time, and will include information about the history, culture and the modern people who are its speakers and users. Each newsletter will also include a well-known proverb in the language, written in its original writing system (with Romanization and phonetic translation). With this project, I strive to place an emphasis on the importance and value of multilingual communities and linguistic diversity.

It is my hope that this project will inspire future initiatives that preserve the languages found in our communities and honor the people who speak them. I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank Multilingual Matters for their generosity and support for this endeavour. Now that this project can be fully realized, I will be able to create and distribute each newsletter at schools, community and cultural centers, and libraries to promote awareness for the linguistic diversity present right in our local communities. I would be able to express my gratitude for the assistance and cooperation of native speakers by giving back to the linguistic communities and sharing the products of the work.

A multilingual world is a healthy world!

The Bilingual Bookshop

This month sees the opening of The Bilingual Bookshop, www.thebilingualbookshop.com. Cheryl Sánchez, Founder, describes the idea behind the enterprise, and how The Bilingual Bookshop is helping families across the UK.

Bilingual bookshop-logoBeing a teacher in a multilingual school and mummy to my gorgeous 2 year old daughter, who we are raising bilingually with English and Spanish, I have always been so disappointed with the lack of good quality foreign-language materials here in the UK to use with my classes and my family.

Until now, our summer trips to Spain have followed the ritual familiar to many bilingual families: spending hours traipsing round various book- and toy shops in the pursuit of foreign-language products for our children, to take back with us for the coming year. For those of us that do not travel ‘home’ regularly, we try to predict the interests and abilities of our children for the whole year ahead and then stuff our already overweight suitcases with as many books/CDs etc. as we can carry. And worst of all, if we don’t make it to the shops because we value the time spent with family and friends (after all, spending time with native speakers is the best way to encourage our child’s language development), we may settle for any old rubbish we can find in the local supermarket as long as it presents the target language in some way!

Let’s be clear here: I am not looking for resources for teaching languages such as flashcards and textbooks, nor am I looking to buy ‘whatever I can get my hands on’ – I am looking for authentic, good-quality products from well-established, reputable publishers and manufacturers in the country in question, so that my child has the same access to these materials as if she were living there.

Now, of course it is possible to gain access to these materials in certain circumstances: internet shopping is possible, but often requires an address in the foreign country and maybe even a credit card registered in that country. Even if the products are available to UK customers, the delivery times are often long and frustrating, and they do not meet the needs of a bilingual family as they are presented with no guidance on how to use them with a bilingual child.

A Parents' and Teachers' Guide to BilingualismThen there is the question of the use of readily-available dual-language books – those where both languages appear on the same page. Colin Baker, author of the successful Multilingual Matters publication A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism, states that ‘Dual language books are not without controversy. First, children usually only read the story in one language in the book, and may ignore the other language. Having understood the story in one language, it may be tiresome to read the story in another language. The child ends up reading half the book rather than the whole book. Second, the presence of a majority language such as English tends to remove the desire to read in a minority language.’ As a professional in education, I echo this view, and am completely convinced that children need authentic materials from the foreign country: they represent that country’s literary culture, customs and traditions, and provide a complete immersion which is absolutely necessary if a child is to become truly bilingual. Translations often fail to capture the essence of a story or an idea and this is at the very heart of what we are encouraging when reading with our children.

I set up The Bilingual Bookshop to put an end to the crazy summer book-searching ritual. Working with excellent, well-known publishers and manufacturers across Europe, and using our years of experience in education, learning and language-development, we have selected a wide range of products to suit the specific needs and interests of bilingual children aged 0-12 years. We offer the staples of every native speaker’s bookshelf: atlases, picture dictionaries and information and activity books, which are particularly useful as they contain short, easily accessible snippets of language. We complement these products with a wide range of fiction titles for independent reading or, as is often the case with bilingual learners, for sharing with parents.

Bilingual bookshop-booksDespite the fact that we now offer these products in the UK, it remains a hard task for one to gauge which books will suit YOUR bilingual child. At The Bilingual Bookshop, we have responded to this by featuring guidance alongside our products to support parents in choosing appropriate materials, and our community pages feature a whole host of articles, tips and advice on raising bilingual children. Our inspirational family profiles provide an insight into the huge diversity in approaches to raising bilingual children, and our forums offer a means to ask questions and share experiences with others on the same journey.

To fill one’s home with language, and create a real bilingual home environment, is in my view one of the best ways to develop a bilingual family. Come over to The Bilingual Bookshop to see how we can support you in your family’s bilingual adventures – we’re sure you won’t be disappointed!

The Bilingual Bookshop (www.thebilingualbookshop.com) is open now!