tribune. Francesca Walls

PhD student at Universitat de Barcelona/

Boy meets girl in Barcelona...

So many of us English-speakers become enchanted by this little corner of the Earth – I can't think why – and perhaps after a weekend break, a language course or a business trip to these sunny climes pack up our bags and wave goodbye to our homelands. In fact, according to IDESCAT data from the 2014 census, just counting up the total number of residents from Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States brings us to an impressive – yet far from exhaustive – 29,000 residents.

Many of us find a local partner, from our homeland or from other exotic places, settle down and start a family. It's at this point that a lot of parents start wondering how best to cater for their little ones' needs linguistically and in many other spheres. The difference between here and many settings in English-speaking countries is that two languages are spoken by a large proportion of the local population. Add this to the one, two or sometimes even three languages spoken at home and we've got ourselves a VERY multilingual situation!

While parents are delighted at the prospect of their children growing up with the opportunity to learn so many tongues, they are often unsure about how best to manage the different languages at stake in order to achieve their desired outcomes. As a researcher, my job is to identify the variables that affect these processes, collect data drawn from the experience of many and come up with some context-specific suggestions that might help inform parents as they make important decisions, as well as informing current research theory on how it all works.

What is the research about?

In a nutshell, the research is about how families manage languages at home. More specifically, it's about how families in which at least one of the parents is an English-speaker manage languages at home. By managing languages, I mean a combination of family members' language use (what languages they use to speak to whom and when), beliefs about what languages should be used, and strategies undertaken to help increase a child's exposure to one language or another.

The aim is to be able to describe different types of family profile according to the languages they use, understand what kind of challenges they face as their children grow up, and identify strategies that help families to maintain their desired language balance. It is the first in-depth study of its kind to be carried out on English-speakers in Catalonia and is intended to be helpful for all those bringing up children here.

A sneak peak at results so far...

How most parents maintain and develop their children's English skills is an important element of this study and it is one of the questions I am asked most frequently. A sneak-preview of questionnaire results in progress reveals that parents use a wide range of different strategies to keep English alive in the family. The results show how media, such as books, TV and DVDs, are the most popular way of promoting English in the home, closely followed by maintaining links with family and friends back in the home country, either through Skype or by paying visits in person. Extra opportunities for study are also incorporated into the plan by many parents, particularly those who have children who are at the age to develop literacy skills.

Want to get involved and make the results more representative?

If you happen to be an English speaker from any country and are busy raising children (aged 0-16) in or near to Barcelona (including El Maresme, El Vallès and the Sitges areas), I would be extremely grateful for your participation. All you have to do is fill in the questionnaire that you can easily access by going to the following web link http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/1968022/Family-Language-Questionnaire

The more responses received, the more useful the results will be as they will be representative of, and therefore applicable to, more situations. Please do take the time to contribute to this important piece of research!

The questionnaire link is also available on my blog https://multilingualfamiliesinbarcelona.wordpress.com/ or on my Facebook page. All participants who are interested in cooperating will be sent a report of the main results upon completion and through my blog and various events throughout the year, I hope to be able to provide parents with up-to-date information, advice and support specific to their situation.

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