University launches service to help dual-language speakers

The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in partnership with the University of Edinburgh, has launched a ‘two languages’ service to provide information and support to people charged with the upbringing and education of children in a language other than their mother tongue.

Increasing globalisation and the rapid international movement of populations has led large numbers of people to live and work in countries where their language skills are insufficient.

This is particularly acute for children who find themselves using one language at home with parents and family and another at school.

For Greece this is a recent but growing phenomenon.

It has moved from a net exporter of people in the 1950s and 1960s to a net importer in the past 30 years. The early waves of immigration came from neighbouring countries (Albania, Romania, Bulgaria) and more recent influxes are from Asian countries, mainly Pakistan. As a result the country now faces an acute phenomenon of ‘dualingualism’.

The ‘two languages’ service will attempt to answer questions and iron out difficulties that arise for speakers of two languages. It will also give information on the benefits of dualingualism and multilingualism, as well as outlining the latest developments and recent scientific discoveries in the knowledge and use of a second language. Finally, it will meet demands for education and training by individuals and communities who use two or more languages.

According to the organisers, it is not an uncommon phenomenon for children in well-developed industrial countries to speak more than one language, but Greece has only relatively recently experienced the phenomenon.

It stems mainly from two sources: children of mixed marriages and children in immigrant families. A third, smaller category is children of people who already know more than one language and choose to send their children to a private foreign-language school.

According to a recent survey, the number of children with the ability to speak two languages is close to 10% of the total student population nationally. In almost every class the attendance includes one to four students who speak two languages from different nationalities, including Albanian, Russian, Turkish and Roma.

The total number of students who speak two languages was estimated a decade ago to be more than 96,500, and the mother tongue of these students covered a wide spectrum of nationalities. Today it is believed that the number is much higher.

Educational authorities are concerned that lack of knowledge on the subject of dualingualism and multilingualism often leads to misconceptions and negative reactions in the upbringing of children.

Also, the existence of two languages can often be a source of confusion for children, and they are treated differently from their peers by those lacking information, experience and the necessary sensitivity to deal with multilingualism effectively.

The service will help everyone concerned with the upbringing of such children by providing a range of information on the positive effects of dualingualism and multilingualism, and by encouraging families, teachers, education experts and organisations to support the development of children who know and use two or more languages.