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New program helps bilingual families


Even in today’s multicultural world, raising a child to be bilingual can be challenge. Parents often have questions about how to teach their children to speak another language.

On February 21, in celebration of Family Day and International Mother Language Day, the University of Calgary’s Language Research Centre (LRC) in the Faculty of Arts will launch the Counselling Service for Parents of Bilingual Children, a free online support service for bilingual families. 

The service will be of particular interest to new Calgarians. According to the City of Calgary’s Community and Neighbourhood Services, more than 60% of population growth is a result of immigration and approximately half of new Calgarians speak neither English nor French.

“While it's essential for these new Calgarians and their children to learn English, maintaining their ‘heritage language’ is also very important,” says Dr. Mary Grantham O’Brien, Director of the LRC.

Grantham O’Brien says there’s a lot of misunderstanding surrounding bilingualism and multilingualism. Despite the common belief that children who speak a heritage language at home will not be able to learn English like their monolingual peers, research has shown bilingualism can be beneficial to children's development. Benefits include enhanced reading and mathematical abilities and ease of learning additional languages.

The Counselling Service for Parents of Bilingual Children is led by Dr. Jürgen M. Meisel, the LRC’s Distinguished Fellow and one of the world’s foremost childhood bilingualism experts. The service is supported by Dr. Rahat Naqvi, Associate Director of the LRC and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education and a specialist in the areas of language and literacy pedagogy, identity issues and emergent literacy. The first of its kind in Canada, the service is modeled after successful programs at the University of Hamburg, which was launched by Dr. Meisel, and the University of Edinburgh.

“Dr. Meisel and Dr. Naqvi will offer parents advice from linguistic and pedagogical perspectives based on current language research in several fields, including language development of multilingual children of preschool age, early second language acquisition, multilingual education and multilingualism in everyday life,” says O’Brien.

The new service will also inform the public about the benefits of bilingualism and encourage families, educators, and policy makers as they support children who are developing competence in multiple languages.

The Language Research Centre in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Calgary provides leadership in research into language learning and teaching, the effective use of technologies, and policy-making. It is a central point of contact on language research between the University of Calgary and the world.

The website for the Counselling Service for Parents of Bilingual Children is: http://arts.ucalgary.ca/lrc/home/parent-counselling-service

The LRC will host an opening reception, and demonstration, for the Counselling Service for Parents of Bilingual Children on Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 4:30 pm in Craigie Hall D 411, University of Calgary. For more information, contact mgobrien@ucalgary.ca.