If we are lucky, we will all grow old. And if we are even luckier, we will stay healthy for as long as possible. But even if we stay healthy, it is inevitable that we slow down — both physically and mentally. We often don’t function as well as we used to, we become forgetful, and we may also develop problems like dementia. Research shows that being bilingual might help when it comes to slowing down these kinds of problems. Why is this the case ? And does this apply to all bilinguals? Researcher Merel Keijzer explains how being bilingual can potentially help when it comes to slowing down these kinds of problems. But not always. So when does it help and when doesn’t it? We learn that it’s especially important to continue using both languages throughout your life and to use the two languages in different contexts, i.e. one language at home and the other at school or work.

We also talk about language loss. Quite a few children who grow up with two or more languages often prefer to use the language they use at school or the most widely spoken language in their community. In many cases, they no longer actively use their other language (the heritage language). What happens when these children get older? Do they lose this language altogether? And what happens to bilingual parents as they grow older? Can you also lose your first language (or parts of it at least) if you live in a different country than the one you grew up in, using another language day in and day out? In this episode, we learn that this is unlikely but that it is normal if sometimes you can’t find the right word. However, such problems are less likely to occur when it comes to grammar. And except where there is also trauma, children will also not lose a language they have learnt from an early age so easily.

This episode’s Quick & Easy : stop, think and evaluate! It’s a good idea to every now and then reflect on how your child’s bilingualism is coming along. Questions you can ask are: is everyone happy, are things going well, are we achieving our goals by doing it this way? It’s important not to be afraid to change things, to choose a different route if needs be. And if things are going well, take a moment to think about why this is, and how you can make sure that this success will continue in the future. The two books we’ll be reviewing in the next episode (Bilingual families – A family language language planning guide by Eowyn Crisfield and Bilingual success stories around the world by Adam Beck) are useful sources of inspiration fo this. As a teacher, you can also do the same. Ask yourself – with or without colleagues – how the bilignual children at your school are getting on. Are there things that could be improved or changed? To help you do this, use the materials developed by the Language-Friendly School and the PEACH project’s guide for educators.

Our Kletshead of the week is the 9-year-old Youjin. He’s growing up in the UK with Korean and French as his two heritage languages.

Merel Keijzer is professor of English linguistics and English as a second language at the University of Groningen. She’s also a member of the KNAW Jonge Akademie. Merel’s research focuses on language loss and the effects ageing can have on language use and vice versa, using insights from neuroscience, applied linguistics, cognitive psychologi and medical sciences. Read more about Merel and her research group at the Bilingualism & Ageing Lab here.

Comments are closed.