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About our research

The 2in1 project is trying to provide answers to various questions, including:

  • How and when do a bilingual child’s two languages influence each other?
  • What does this tell us about the way in which two languages are acquired and used in the same head?
  • Is the way in which the languages influence each other the same for all language combinations, for example, Dutch-German and Dutch-Turkish, or are there differences?
  • Does it matter which language is dominant in the child’s environment?
  • Does a language need to be particularly active in the child’s mind for it to influence the other language?

Our research goals explained

A child growing up bilingually usually knows which language to speak with which person: for example, Dutch with Daddy and German with Mummy, or Spanish at home and Dutch at school. When bilingual children are speaking Dutch, you often can’t even tell that they know another language. At the same time, bilingual children sometimes don’t sound quite the same as their monolingual age-mates. This is of course not so surprising: bilinguals are different from monolinguals simply because they know two languages instead of one. Take for example ‘de beker van Sharon’, a perfectly normal expression in Dutch, literally translated as ‘the cup of Sharon’. It wouldn’t be wrong for a Dutch-English bilingual to say ‘the cup of Sharon’ in English, but monolinguals would hardly ever say this. Instead, they would say ‘Sharon’s cup’. Bilinguals may thus accommodate the preferred structure from one language into the other. The goal of this project is to understand how and under what circumstances bilingual children’s languages influence each other. In doing so, we hope to discover how exactly a child’s one brain can acquire and use two languages at the same time.

Ultimately, we want to be able to explain why one language does or does not influence the other. On the basis of what we know from previous research with bilingual adults, we think that this has got to do with how “active” your other language is. For example, if an Italian-Dutch child has just had a conversation in Italian, the chances that Italian will influence her Dutch are greater than if she has just been speaking Dutch. But only if the structures or words in the two languages are in some sense similar. Sometimes, one language can help the other, for example when words share the same meaning and form, such as Hund ‘dog’ in German and hond in Dutch. And sometimes the one language does not help at all, namely when words share the same form, such as brief in English and brief in Dutch, but differ in meaning (brief in Dutch means ‘letter’).

By looking at several different language combinations we hope to discover when this influence takes place: does this depend on which two languages you’re learning, on the dominant language in a child’s environment, or how well the child can speak the two languages in question?