Science Cafe: Language development
In a more and more globalized world, both adults and kids are more exposed to multilingualism. Research has shown that a multicultural environment and/or growing up bilingually can benefit cognitive capacities, develop empathy and effective communication, and may even protect from degenerative diseases. Which factors play a role in language development and which best predict success? How can we learn new languages as adults or kids? What is the learning curve of children growing up bilingually?
In this Science Cafe, our speakers Dr. Sharon Unsworth and Dr. Manuela Pinto will answer these and other questions.
Dr Sharon Unsworth from Radboud University in Nijmegen is an associate professor at the Centre for Language Studies and, the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures and the Department of Language and Communication.
Sharon Unsworth does research on how to best raise children bilingually. Recently, she has concentrated on the role of age and environmental factors, and is currently leading a project on how the two languages of a bilingual children influence each other. She regularly gives workshops for parents about raising bilingual children – something which as mother of two English/Dutch bilingual children she also has experience of at home – and she is initiator of the first child language festival in the Netherlands, Kletskoppen, which took place for the first time in 2017. She also has a podcast all about bilingual children, Kletsheads.
Dr Manuela Pinto from Utrecht University is assistant professor in (Italian) Linguistics at the department of Languages, Literature and Communication.
Manuela has a background in formal linguistics (Generative Grammar) and from this perspective, she addresses both theoretical and applied issues in various areas of (empirical) research. Her interests include second language acquisition, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics and intercultural communication. Her current area of research concerns (second) language development and tools to measure it in a fair and ecologically valid way. In joint work with Shalom Zuckerman, she developed the Coloring Book, a new, digital method to assess language comprehension (Pinto & Zuckerman, 2018), and in 2020 KleurenSchat, a digital instrument for the observation of Dutch receptive vocabulary in elementary school children. For details, please see the website .
In 2021, Pinto & Zuckerman launched a new project: Nederlands voor alle kinderen, partly crowd founded and partly supported by refugees and migrant organizations. The aim of NvAK is to create a tool that tracks and measures second language development in young newcomers (refugees, asylum-seekers, work migrants), while considering both linguistic and extra-linguistic factors typical of this population. At present, no such an instrument is available to assess the linguistic development of these children. For more details, please see the website.
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Manuela is also committed and passionate in knowledge dissemination and community based learning/research, particularly in the field of migration. She is actively engaged in sharing research-grounded information (presentations, workshops) with people outside academia, i.e. newcomers, bilingual families and professionals working in the multilingual/multicultural field.
She also believes in the importance of community engaged learning (CEL). In collaboration with Monica Jansen, she conducted two CEL projects within the curriculum of Italian Studies (UU): Heritage Storytelling and Bidirectional Storytelling. The short documentaries and podcast series that resulted from these projects can be viewed online.