University of New England-based Associate Professor Elizabeth Ellis, and Early Childhood specialist, Professor Margaret Sims, are leading a three-year project, Bilingualism in the Bush, which is working with children aged 2-7 and their families to document ways their home language is maintained at home and in society.

Research has shown that bilingual children, those who can speak more than one language, often have improved social and intellectual skills through using their language abilities. This also translates into greater employment opportunities, enhanced social identity and other benefits in life. However, maintaining their home language in rural and regional areas, where a critical mass of speakers, social networks and resources do not exist, is a challenge.

With ARC Discovery Projects scheme support, the researchers have recruited migrant families in regional Australia and have tracked their attempts to maintain their home language within the broadly monolingual environs of northern NSW. They are investigating how migrants in this part of regional Australia draw on their repertoire of multiple languages in different ways and employ a variety of strategies to assist their children to grow up bilingual.

Families report that being involved in the project has raised their awareness of language practices in their family and renewed their enthusiasm for bringing their children up bilingually. 

Associate Professor Ellis’ and Professor Sims’ research is being disseminated through parent networks and academic publications. Their work is also informing policy and community service  in regional Australia, filling critical gaps in our understanding of migrant family support.

Research informing community and educational services to assist children in regional settings realise the benefits of growing up bilingual, including improved cognitive, social and academic skills.

Stock image—Sheep in the backyard with washing on the line against morning fog.
Image courtesy: © 2016 Terry Cooke, used under license from Austockphoto.