New research center to support Chicago’s bilingual population

The University of Illinois at Chicago is teaming with four other Chicago-area universities to establish the first consortium of multiple institutions in North America dedicated to the advocacy, education and support for issues surrounding bilingualism, multilingualism and linguistic diversity.

The Chicago chapter of Bilingualism Matters, an international research and information center, will bring together scientists and linguists from UIC, Northwestern, DePaul, Loyola and the University of Chicago to provide scientific-based support to schools, parents and the community to help navigate the benefits and challenges of bilingualism.

An event to celebrate the launch of Bilingualism Matters Chicago will be held from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. March 19 at Loyola University’s Corboy Law Center, Kasbeer Hall, 25 E. Pearson St., 15th floor. Admission is free and open to the public, but online registration is required.

“We will talk to parents, teachers, health care providers and community groups about the cognitive and social advantages of bilingualism, about the models of bilingual education that we know work best for kids, and about how to raise bilingual children in the face of pressure to abandon any language but English,” said Kim Potowski, UIC professor of Hispanic and Italian studies and an expert on heritage language development. “By combating harmful policies and attitudes that discourage bilingualism, we will change the conversation around language learning and help solidify Chicago’s position as a truly global, multilingual city.”

According to the U.S Census Bureau, more than 150 languages are spoken in the Chicago area and 2.5 million residents speak a language other than English at home.

While bilingualism is known to enhance attention and improve information processing, raising kids who speak more than one language is often riddled with challenges, as well as myths.

“Some doctors and teachers repeat harmful myths and say that speaking more than one language to children will cause confusion,” said Bradley Hoot, assistant professor of modern languages at DePaul. “The research shows that children in bilingual education programs tend to do better than their peers in English-only programs in all their classes, including English.”

Bilingualism Matters was established in 2008 at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and features partner branches in Europe and the U.S.

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