UC Riverside Celebrates Launch of Bilingualism Matters

The groundbreaking language program, designed to connect researchers with local communities, will make its West Coast debut at UCR

A banner advertising Bilingualism Matters

Judith Kroll and Covadonga Lamar Prieto will head UCR’s branch of the language program Bilingualism Matters, the first on the West Coast.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) —The ability to speak two languages is considered a coveted social and professional advantage in an increasingly globalized society. Less frequently discussed, however, are the cognitive benefits that bilingualism offers to speakers.

According to the University of California, Riverside’s Judith Kroll, distinguished professor of psychology and director of UCR’s Bilingualism, Mind, and Brain Lab, bilingualism’s consequences are evident over the entire life span. People who can speak more than one language develop “mental flexibility” that increases openness to new learning, while code-switching, the practice of alternating between multiple languages in a single conversation, becomes an act of cognitive athleticism.

“Some of the most dramatic consequences are seen in older adults,” Kroll said. “Studies show that while bilingualism doesn’t protect people against dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it does seem to protect them against the onset of the symptoms. On average, the age at which bilingual people present symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is roughly four to five years later than monolinguals.”

Such findings inspired Kroll to connect with Antonella Sorace, professor of developmental linguistics at the University of Edinburgh and founder of the original Scotland-based branch of the groundbreaking research program Bilingualism Matters. Working with Sorace, Kroll and her colleagues established the first U.S. branch of Bilingualism Matters during her time as director of Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Language Science.

“What Bilingualism Matters tries to do is take the science of bilingualism and make it available to parents raising bilingual children, to school systems implementing dual-language education, to language educators, and to government officials,” Kroll said. “The idea is to bring together the academic community and the local community of language users and individuals who are engaged in everything from instruction to parental decision-making.”

Kroll, Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies Covadonga Lamar Prieto, and a team of fellow faculty organizers are set to debut the third U.S. branch of Bilingualism Matters – and the first on the West Coast – at UCR. The effort is funded by a Partnerships for International Research and Education grant from the National Science Foundation.

“Most of our students at UCR are bilingual, and many are from the surrounding community, so there’s a really unique opportunity here to build a bridge between the research and the local community,” Kroll said. “Our students and bilingual speakers in the larger community represent a diverse range of language experiences — some have been bilingual since early childhood, and others are heritage speakers who grew up with a home language other than English and acquired English when they first entered school— so it’s an ideal setting for a program like ours.”

As a Spanish sociolinguist with a focus on California Spanish, Lamar Prieto approaches the program from a different angle.

“In addition to helping the community embrace more awareness about bilingualism, we want to help dissipate some outdated ideas about what it means to be bilingual,” she said. “For example, I have students every year who speak perfectly fluent Spanish, but if I ask them about it, many of them will tell me their Spanish isn’t good enough for them to be considered bilinguals — that they don’t speak ‘real’ Spanish. But people in California are speaking Spanish just like people from Spain or Argentina are speaking Spanish; California Spanish is just a younger dialect.”

Kicking off the program’s launch are three days of activities co-sponsored by UCR’s Center for Ideas & Society and the psychology, Hispanic studies, and comparative literature and languages departments.

“Knowing a second language allows children and even adults to be more aware of other cultures, other people, and other points of view,” said Georgia Warnke, director of the Center for Ideas & Society. “These virtues are same ones the humanities, arts, and qualitative social sciences instill, so the fit between Bilingualism Matters and the Center for Ideas and Society is a natural one.”

All events are free and open to the public, although registration is requested for those on Oct. 5 and 6:

  • On Tuesday, Oct. 3, from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., Paola Giuli Dussias of Penn State will present “Knowing a Second Language Affects the Native Language (in Good Ways)” in Interdisciplinary South 1111. Her lecture will explore the consequences of bilingualism on a person’s native language, particularly when it comes to grammar.
  • On Thursday, Oct. 5, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sorace will host a training workshop in Interdisciplinary South 1113. Among other topics, the workshop’s two sessions will cover the effects of bilingualism over the life span, common misconceptions about bilingualism, its benefits and disadvantages, the Bilingualism Matters experience around the world, and the myriad ways the program can influence both communities and policy. Parking for the event is free in Lot 1. Parking permits may be obtained at the kiosk on West Campus Drive at the University Avenue entrance to campus.
  • On Friday, Oct. 6, from 8:15 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., a conference at the Alumni & Visitors Center will highlight research from published language scholars — many of whom are based in Southern California — and community participants. Parking for the event is free in Lot 24. Parking permits may be obtained at the kiosk on West Campus Drive at the University Avenue entrance to campus.

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-1287
E-mail: tess.eyrich@ucr.edu

Additional Contacts

Judith Kroll
E-mail: judith.kroll@ucr.edu

Covadonga Lamar Prieto
E-mail: covadonga.lamar-prieto@ucr.edu

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