Minerva Lecture Series
The advantages of bilingualism go beyond simply knowing more than one language. Bilingual competence opens up job opportunities, chances to travel easily to other places in the world, and access to the Internet in other languages. In short, bilingualism gives people opportunities they would not have if they spoke only one language. It can also, as research shows, have positive, lifelong impacts on their learning abilities.
My presentation will address the questions and concerns often expressed by parents, early childhood educators, teachers, and speech-language specialists when it comes to bilingual education and raising children bilingually. Results from the 2007 edition of the Survey of Canadian Attitudes toward Learning show that many Canadians still have concerns about raising children or educating them bilingually. Some people fear that early bilingualism can be a burden for children, that it can negatively affect their language skills, and that it can compromise their future educational success. I will discuss these concerns and show how, if anything, the research on early bilingualism indicates that it can benefit children’s learning and language skills. I will review findings from studies that have examined children who become bilingual in the preschool years as a result of growing up with two languages, as well as studies of children who are have been formally educated in two languages.
Listen to this lecture online »
Early childhood bilingualism: Perils and possibilities (PDF 3668 KB)
Finally, I will use these findings to illustrate how young children have the cognitive and social tools necessary to become bilingual without much effort, and how supporting the acquisition of additional languages in children is often a greater challenge for parents and teachers than it is for young learners. I will also explain what parents and educators can do to tap into the potential of bilingual education.
Fred Genesee is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at McGill University, Montreal, where he has worked since 1978. He has carried out research on some of the first immersion programs implemented in Canada and has helped educators around the world develop their own immersion programs. His work has sought to debunk persistent myths surrounding bilingualism and second language acquisition in early childhood.
Dr. Genesee’s current research interests include language acquisition in preschool bilingual children, internationally adopted children, and the language and academic development of at-risk students attending bilingual programs.
Dr. Genesee is the author of numerous professional and scientific research reports and books, including Learning Through Two Languages: Studies of Immersion and Bilingual Education (1987), Educating Second Language Children (1994), Classroom Based Evaluation in Second Language Education (1996), Beyond Bilingualism: Multilingualism and Multilingual Education (1998), Dual Language Instruction: A Handbook for Enriched Education (2000), Trends in Bilingual Acquisition (2000), and Dual Language Development and Disorders (2004).
He has served as a consultant on second/foreign language and bilingual education in countries around the world, including Japan, Spain, Germany, Estonia, Hong Kong, Latvia, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, and Italy.