Most bilingual children mix their two languages. Perhaps not all the time and not in all contexts, but as many parents will know, bilingual children regularly start a sentence in one language and finish it in another, or they insert a word from one language whilst speaking the other. Such behaviour is perfectly normal. You might say it’s part and parcel of being bilingual. Yet why children mix and why some do it more than others remains poorly understood. Given that language mixing is often one of the biggest concerns raised by parents raising their children bilingually, it’s surprising how little research there is on the topic. In Hot off the Press (starts at 01:05) I tell you about one of the few pieces of research on language mixing in bilingual children where researchers in the US asked what makes children mix – not being proficient enough in their two languages or not being able to control which one they’re speaking? It turns out that it’s a bit of both. Listen to the podcast to find out more or take a look at the research paper yourself. Here are the details:
Gross, M.C. & Kaushanskaya, M. (2020). Cognitive and linguistic predictors of language control in bilingual children. Frontiers in Psychology. 11:968. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00968
Megan Gross is a researcher at the University of Massachussetts at Amherst in the US, and you read about her work on her Bilingual Language Development Lab‘s website. Rita Kaushanskaya is a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, also in the US. Read about her work on her Language Acquisition and Bilingualism Lab‘s website.
In this episode I also talk to another Kletshead of the week (starts at 12:21). This episode we’re off to Ireland where I talk to 12-year-old Sara who’s growing up with English, Arabic and Italian. She tells me about learning to read in Arabic and how one of the benefits of being bilingual is being able to use your ‘other’ language as a secret language when you don’t want everyone to know what you’re saying. This is in fact one of the most popular answers we’ve had to that question on the podcast!