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UCL BiLingo: A Bilingualism/Multilingualism Information and Education Service

By Siobhan Morris, on 2 October 2018

In the second example drawn from our recent Showcase event, Grand Challenges coordinator Siobhan Morris finds out about UCL’s information and education service for childhood bilingualism and multilingualism.

UCL BiLingo is a UCL-based Bilingualism/Multilingualism Education and Information Service that aims to provide the community and key agencies with the most up-to-date research-based advice, information, support and training on childhood bilingualism/multilingualism and learning English as an Additional Language.

Developed by Dr Froso Argyri (UCL Institute of Education), Dr Merle Mahon (UCL Psychology and Language Sciences), and Prof Li Wei (UCL Institute of Education), BiLingo was kick-started by a small grant from UCL’s Grand Challenge of Cultural Understanding. Since then, the project’s activities have included: 

  • Conducting a UCL staff language survey, showing the incredible linguistic diversity at UCL (right)
  • Curating stories and songs from multilingual Londoners
  • Organising an event exploring multiculturalism in London at the UCL Festival of Culture

UCL BiLingo has led to new collaborations between disciplines, public engagement through work with parents and teachers of bilingual and multilingual children, and community and business links, with parents’ networks, schools, local authorities and speech and language therapists, among others. As Dr Argyri has commented, “Grand Challenges has been useful for enabling me to come in close proximity with the participants of my research, talking with bilingual families and what sort of concerns bilingual families may have about raising bilingual, or multilingual children.”

One of the key objectives is to bridge the gap between researchers and the wider London community by disseminating recent research findings which highlight the cognitive, educational, and social advantages associated with the experience of acquiring two or more languages in childhood, including the importance of maintaining the child’s home language(s). The team note that, “the unique thing about BiLingo is that we provide research led workshops so we bring research to the community. People feel empowered that any decisions they make in terms of bringing up their children multi-lingually are based on the most recent research evidence.”

Participants at a BiLingo workshop

Participants at a BiLingo workshop

The project has grown and UCL BiLingo is now well-established with the initiative benefiting extensively from its members’ ability to work across disciplines. Cross-disciplinary interaction is highly valued and continues to inspire, shape and nurture the team’s work. This interdisciplinary initiative has led to new collaborations with UCL colleagues in different disciplines and the formation of successful links to the community.

Whilst the money from UCL’s Grand Challenges small grants scheme enabled the team to develop and build a comprehensive website, the award also prompted the team to consider further research grant proposals. Recently, Dr Argyri and Dr Wei were awarded a major grant from the Leverhulme Trust to examine the effects of early childhood bilingualism on the brain function and brain structure, in conjunction with the UCL Institute of Child Health. This idea was born after a UCL BiLingo session.

In April 2018, the project participated in the UCL Grand Challenges Showcase Event, where Li Wei presented the project’s work. Further details of the event are available here.

For further information and a comprehensive list of resources visit: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bi-multilingualism/welcome-ucl-bilingo. The team are active on Facebook and Twitter and you can contact them via email at bilingo@ucl.ac.uk.