S1 E3: The women who keep Bilingualism Matters rolling – Dr. Katarzyna Przybycien & Christy Brewster

Episode 3 – 29 October 2020

In this episode, we talk with the two members of staff at the Edinburgh Bilingualism Matters (BM) office, Dr. Katarzyna (Kat) Przybycien and Christy Brewster. Before joining BM, both Kat and Christy were navigating life, family, and work as bilinguals across many countries and continents!

Christy Brewster is the Bilingualism Matters Centre’s Administrator, based at the University of Edinburgh. She is responsible for event organisation, communications and general administration. 

She has an MA (Hons) in History from the University of Glasgow, and a CELTA Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) qualification. She taught English in Argentina for three years and is part of an English and Spanish speaking bilingual family. 

Dr. Katarzyna Przybycien is the Bilingualism Matters Centre’s Research and Outreach Coordinator, based at the University of Edinburgh. With experience in science communication, community work and a PhD on best practices in knowledge exchange, she is responsible for liaisons and finding links and opportunities between disciplines and people. Kat is raising a multilingual family including Polish, Spanish, German, English and Gaelic.

Listen here!

Episode Transcript


[Brittany] Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Much Language Such Talk. Today you’re hearing from me, Brittany, not to be confused with the pop sensation Britney Spears. I’m joined today by Dr. Katarzyna Przybycien, to be known as Kat moving forward, and Christy Brewster the two members of staff in the Edinburgh Office of Bilingualism Matters. Kat is the organization’s outreach and research coordinator and Christy is the center administrator. The two of them help everything within Bilingualism Matters run smoothly, keep us all up to date, and generally be quite happy. I’m very happy to be with Kat and Christie to pull back the curtain and learn more about the behind the scenes of Bilingualism Matters. Thank you for joining me today.

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[Christy] Hi, nice to be here.

[Kat] Hi! Hi, Brittany, and Christy.

[Brittany] Hello. So the first question we would have, what is your role within the center? Christy, if you’d like to go first?

[Christy] Yeah, sure. I’m a center administrator. So I deal a lot with event organization and the Communications of the center like the website, the blog, the social media. And also just General Administration setting up new contracts with new branches. And we have several meetings groups, we’ve got the program directors group, we’ve got the Edinburgh branch volunteer group. So, I kind of do General Administration for these groups as well.

[Brittany] And Kat?

[Kat] So what my role is made of several different components, I, I mostly work on coordinating and stimulating activities within the international network. So, making sure that the network is going ahead, that people know each other, that people know what to do. I also convene the international board meetings which take place every month and are attended by our board members from across the network. I also, I’m sort of involved more in the development activities of the center. So I make new partnerships, I try to develop projects with the partners external to Bilingualism Matters. And I also represent the center at various university wide meetings or groups. And yeah, mostly work with people from variety, different walks of life, so to say.

[Brittany] Lovely, thank you. Yes, you both have very, very complicated jobs. I would say you do far more than either of you have just said, but yes. So both of you are bilingual yourselves. Which languages do you speak?

[Kat] Christy, do you want to start?

[Christy] Yeah, I’ll be the simplest so I can go first. And I’m essentially a monolingual by upbringing. And, and in my kind of mid 20s I started learning Spanish. And then, I found myself in a Spanish speaking relationship with an Argentinian. And I lived there for three years. So I’m a, for some people, a controversial bilingual and that I wasn’t born speaking two languages and I’m certainly not natively-like proficient in my second language. But Spanish is used regularly around my house, we speak often to our relatives in Argentina. My children are both bilingual. So I live in a bilingual household, and I am a very unbalanced bilingual; in that I have one native language and one that I’m quite proficient in, but not native.

[Brittany] Very interesting. And Kat?

[Kat] When I was growing up in a communistic Poland, it was very difficult to imagine that I might work internationally and for me languages were the way out. So I picked up German as I was going along also at school, but the opportunities to do stuff abroad and internationally were coming through German. So that’s how my German came along. And I then via German met my Spanish husband. So then Spanish joined my arsenal of languages. And then I moved to Scotland and in Scotland, there is Gaelic and I didn’t, not initially, intended to embark on Gaelic. But as my children were born and the opportunity to have a bilingual education came up, I thought it would be a nice one, for my children to have also Gaelic, as Gaelic belongs to this community. And so we have now also Gaelic in our household. So I suppose there are four languages spoken regularly in my home by myself and my family.

[Brittany] And when did you pick up English then?

[Kat] It was in primary school, I had a really, actually very funny situation. When the system changed from communism to, to end of communism, to democracy, we had from one day to another change of languages. So one day I went, and I had Russian. And the next day, I went to school, and I had English.

[Brittany] So just, literally just the next day? Interesting.

[Kat] The next day, I can’t remember whether that was over the weekend. But it was just as simple as that. So yeah.

[Brittany] Oh wow. Interesting. Okay, and so, at home… you both are raising bilingual children, and you have a multilingual household. Would you say that you have a 50-50 or 25-25-25-25 split? Or how are the languages? But you know, like, in quarters, or do you have a dominant language at home? Or does it flow sort of just with whatever language is being first used in conversation? How does that work? Kat, if you would like to start?

[Kat] So in my household, or in our house, the languages are mixed up. We do not, we try to stick to the OPOL method: so one language, one parent. But there’s more than one language per parent, I suppose. And it all got mixed up. And so it’s very difficult for me to say what proportions there are. Certainly there is larger proportion, when I speak to my children, of Polish than other languages. There is larger proportion when I speak to my husband, so there’s mostly German, I address him in German. Spanish comes when my husband speaks to our children, and Gaelic comes at a variety of different school related occasions. But I suppose German is the language of love for me. And English is the native language of my children, despite the fact that they are fluent in Spanish and Polish as well.

[Brittany] And Christy, what would you say?

[Christy] So our situation has fluctuated quite a lot. My daughter was born in Argentina. So I guess the first couple of years of her life, the main language for her was Spanish. And then we moved here and obviously, English kicked in as the main language. I have to say that both my children are quite resistant to me speaking in Spanish, they don’t really enjoy my Spanish accent, or the the conjugation of verbs or the incorrect gender endings that I use. I mean, they do ask me to speak in English when I speak in Spanish. But my, my husband is very dedicated to speaking to them in Spanish. He did say very early on that there was no way he was going to speak them, to speak to them in English, and let them have the upper hand in any arguments. So, he does stick to that, they have to discuss things with him in Spanish. But yeah, definitely, because we live here and they go to school, in an English speaking school, English is their dominant language. But it fluctuates throughout the year. I mean, usually, we tried to get Argentina every year for about three weeks. And the grandparents also come over here for anywhere between one and two months every year. And even during lockdown, and my youngest who is five years old, is spending a lot of time, I mean, two to three hours a day speaking to his grandparents in Spanish on WhatsApp. So it fluctuates, it depends, what’s happening. And I guess that’s probably the case for bilingual households, families, you know that it probably goes up and down depending on where they are and who’s around, and what input they’re having.

[Brittany] And did you both actively choose that you wanted to raise your children bilingual? Was that something that you made the conscious decision of? Or did it sort of happen more naturally, maybe as you were both bilingual and your partners are bilingual as well?

[Christy] I have a quite funny story about that, because my daughter was born in Argentina. And I remember my mother-in-law saying to me: “you’re not going to speak to her in English, are you? She’ll get really confused!”. So she had the expectation that because my daughter had born in Argentina, that we would speak to her in Spanish and the introduction of another language could be confusing. Of course, I kind of knew that that wasn’t the case. But I, you know, I didn’t have anything to hand and I do remember googling it and coming up with Bilingualism Matters, I think as one of my sources. Way back then. Yeah, that helped me confirm what I thought I knew that children do not get confused if they hear two languages or more, in Kat’s case.

[Brittany] Was that the first time that you encountered Bilingualism Matters that then, went searching for this?

[Christy] Yes.

[Brittany] Okay.

[Christy] Yeah, as a parent. Just trying to reassure myself that it’s completely normal to speak more than one language to a child.

[Brittany] And Kat, what would you say? Did you actively choose to raise your family as bilingual? Or multilingual?

[Kat] Yes. So once I mean, once it was settled, who’s going to be my husband, I think that was a decision that couldn’t be other… we couldn’t have chosen to settle on one language. We also had an opposition in a family of my mother-in-law, she thought it would be awful, and the kids will be confused but she’s an academic herself. So she got and Googled some, well, or searched for academic papers and she consulted her academic friends and she said then “No, no, go ahead speak different languages to the kids”. But I have to say that this is one of those, this is one of those areas which are, which people think that you choose to be bilingual and some families do choose to raise their kids bilingually or rather than choose actively not to, but there’s a whole range of families who just end up in a situation that they marry or they have children with another language speaker and they, they, they are, you know, connected to their identities and dropping languages is a bit like dropping part of your identity. So you don’t have a choice you just you just land in this situation and then you just make the best of it. But yeah, I think conscious decision is rather to drop one of the languages because you have to control yourself not to speak it, I suppose, something that comes naturally.

[Brittany] Right, that’s that’s a very interesting point. That’s true, especially with language being something that is that is so ingrained with identity, it would really be difficult to say I’m actively choosing to hide my identity, maybe, or not show your full identity and express yourself fully in the home environment with your children. Interesting point of view. So Kat, when would you say you first heard of Bilingualism Matters? So, Christy has shared that this was when she was looking at her daughter whether or not to raise her bilingual or whether or not indeed, as was suggested that she might become confused if English was spoken in the home. When did you first encounter Bilingualism Matters?

[Kat] I came across Bilingualism Matters before I had kids, but I was working already in the science communication field. So I was coming across various academics trying to communicate research to general public and I came across a Bilingualism Matters leaflet at one of the Beltane events. And I brought it home and I showed it to my husband and said, well, when the time comes, we can look up what we should do. So I think it was very important reassuring moment for me that it’s normal, that is something that people already know about, and there’s a place you can go and find out. So yeah, so that was a long time ago, I would say.

[Brittany] And then what, what happened or what was the reason that you decided to then become involved in Bilingualism Matters? So both of you, both of you have heard about Bilingual Matters before deciding to become involved. So what what sort of happened in your life, like, that’s actually that’s a career path I’d like to go down, that’s something I’d like to dedicate more time to. Kat, you can start?

[Kat] So I suppose in my case, as I mentioned, I was already working in the science communication field, I was working for a different university. And I was sort of at the level where I work with researchers and projects. But it was a level up from actually engaging with people. And I was missing that engagement. So you tell people how to do things that that are really the the activities that bring you satisfaction, that are meaningful. And so when I came across the job in Bilingualism Matters. I was thinking it’s within my field, but it’s actually hands on. And it’s so much related as well to my own life, not to my background, because my background is not linguistic. But I thought perhaps my experience in science, communication and public engagement can benefit the organization and will basically redirect my career into something I hold close to my heart, so to say.

[Brittany] And what is your background in if not linguistics?

[Kat] My background is in Geography and my PhD was located within Civil Engineering. But everything that I was doing in different fields was related to people and you know, humans and social sides of the other sciences. So in that way, it’s very similar to Bilingualism Matters because I don’t deal with the science, I deal with the people who are then communicated to science. So in that way, all the fields, all my background links, so to say, so the different components are linked.

[Brittany] That’s an interesting thing. I think as well, that not everyone within Bilingualism Matters, whether or not we’re volunteers, are studying actively say languages. In some cases, yes. So like I am in some ways, and also, you know, Caren and Eva, other co-hosts of the podcasts, are in linguistics, but not everyone is. And there’s there’s an appeal to Bilingualism Matters outwith just studying say languages, specifically. Christy, what would you say was your sort of driving factor to wanting to become involved with Bilingualism Matters?

[Christy] Well, I’ve been teaching English in Argentina. And I came back here with a young child and knowing I was probably going to have another one. So I got a part time job at the University and another Research Center when I first arrived, but it wasn’t really in my area of interest. And I was looking around for something else that I could be more involved in. And I saw that the job at Bilingualism Matters came up and it was part time and it was the same hours I was working, and I knew it was something that I would enjoy finding out more about and being involved in. So it was just an opportunity to move with the University.

[Brittany] And so, do you, would you say you categorise as someone who has a background in languages? You said you were you were teaching English. Or was it the research? No, yeah?

[Christy] Yeah no, it was because of like, the kind of family thing like, you know, I was very interested in it. ‘Cause when you’re at the start of the kind of journey, raising children in a bilingual household, you’re very interested in everything, you know, especially when they’re young and they start using different words when they start mixing languages or code switching, and you kind of want to know what’s going on. And I knew that working in that kind of environment, I would find out more just on the job, which is quite useful.

[Brittany] Interesting. Yeah. And so as you now obviously, both of you are well established in Bilingualism Matters, have worked for a while with us. What would you say your favourite part of your job is?

[Kat] Yeah, I really like the part where you take what you learn, what you’ve learned about, and you find creative ways of working around this topic with others. So when you normally in your job, the majority of jobs, are very restrictive in terms of what you do and who you work with. And there’s an obvious group of people or of companies or stakeholders that you would engage with. In Bilingualism Matters, it can be literally anyone. It can be, you know, across the different… as you said, people are drawn, and it’s relevant to them from across the different walks of life, whether it’s the family, whether it’s a, you know, anyone just a passer-by on the street, to a policymaker, to a company developer. So that’s really interesting, because you’d never know where the interest will come from, and what sort of project might be developed from it. And then you multiply it by the international dimension, or you transfer it onto international dimension. And it’s a, it’s an incredible richness, I suppose. So you get to work with those people abroad, but you learn about their contexts. You learn about their organizations, their environments, their specific local situation and context. And you can see so many differences, but at the same time, you see the similarities. And that just makes you feel like, I don’t know, that you’re making a difference, I suppose. So. It’s, this is what drives me in this job, I suppose.

[Brittany] I think that could drive anyone, that sounds lovely. Yeah. Christy, what would you say? Your favourite, favourite part? I know, it’s kind of a difficult question to say pick one thing, but generally, what would you say one of your favourite things about your job is?

[Christy] I think I enjoy working with the range of people that we have in Bilingualism Matters, you know, we’ve got a great group of volunteers that do some really interesting work like podcasts, they develop activities, they come along with us to events and there’s always a really good atmosphere. You know, when we go to some of the bigger events, or we have a bigger event, and everything is pulled off smoothly; there’s a really good feeling there. And because we have the international network as well, it is, it’s a big group of people kind of pulling together. Quite enjoyable.

[Brittany] So in terms of events, I guess not all of our listeners will be too familiar with the types and variety of events we do. So recently, for example, we had a very successful if you say… I can say, Research Symposium that we transition to be online thanks to the great efforts from both of you and I think it went off wonderfully. But what sort of, if you could describe for some of our listeners with various types of events that we sort of put together or are involved in, what would you say? Maybe Christy, if you want to start.

[Christy] Yeah, well, Antonella does a lot of individual talks on her own. So she, she talks all around the world. She also does local talks for community groups in schools around Edinburgh and in Scotland. And, so those are the kind of the smaller ones, and then we have, we have larger events we get involved in like, there’s things like Explorathon and things for researchers that are about science communication. And then we also have our own in-house events, you know. We have our Bilingualism Matters Edinburgh Annual Event that we have, usually around about June every year, that’s for anyone who wants to get involved. And and we have the Edinburgh Multilingual Stories Festival, which I’m sure Kat will want to talk about in more detail, which is… we’ve been it’s been around in the last two years, we might not be able to do it this year. But it’s, you know, a big one.

[Kat] Perhaps what I could ask, so what Christy described is, I see the events in sort of various specific categories. So this variety that we organize ourselves, they wouldn’t have existed without us and Multilingual Stories Festival is one of them. And Multilingual Stories Festival is one that I really liked as well, because it, it was created in a conversation between four or three organizations, at the coffee sort of table, basically. And all of those three organizations, which is ourselves, and it’s a Polish Cultural Festival Association, and Theater Sans Accent, we were all talking about the same desire to have a cultural event about sort of projecting the challenges and joys of bilingualism through art. And so it was born from collaboration and from sort of shared vision. And it became an event that we as Bilingualism Matters kept on, and the other stakeholders get involved as well. But depending on funding, they may get involved more or less. And we still hoping that we’re going to pull this year’s one, in fact, not in 2020, but 2021, this is going to happen as well, virtually this year. There is certainly plans being put forward for it to happen. But it’s also we are trying to join all the mainstream events. So like Christy said Explorathon is one of them, the Edinburgh Science Festival, the London Live Event. So variety of public events that are organized by external stakeholders that we are invited to be exhibitors, and we are trying to be present there as well.

[Brittany] And if you had to choose sort of a favourite event or project that you’ve worked on, during your time with Bilingualism Matters, what might that be? Not to say the rest are not as good, but maybe the one you enjoyed the most or you got the most out of. What would you say that would be? Kat, you can go first.

[Kat] Yeah, I think it was the Multilingual Stories event. It was, and I think the reason for it apart from the fact how it originated, was that it was a collective effort that then people started to join in. So that different stakeholders started to join in and there were different strands that were going and developing alongside each other. And that was you could feel the sort of, the collective, the energy, right? We were all looking the same direction and trying to deliver something. And it was all personally and professionally important to us. So there was those two dimensions. I think it’s worth mentioning the bilingualism is not only research, it’s touching very closely people’s lives. And this makes it so special, I suppose. Also, the involvement of Bilingualism Matters, volunteers and, and other local stakeholder was pretty amazing as well, we’ve managed to, to learn a lot about working together and sort of testing each other, so to say and seeing what works, what didn’t. So, for me, it was on a variety of levels, a very successful event. I’ve learned a lot and the satisfaction was amazing when that was completed. And the feedback afterwards with sort of many people getting in touch with us and saying, well, we want to be part of the next year’s event. It’s just, I don’t know, it feeds your energy, right?

[Brittany] Yeah, definitely. And to know that people enjoyed it as much as you, maybe we were a little stressed I’m sure, but enjoyed putting it together all those different aspects but to know that people enjoyed it so much that not only would they want to attend again, but even be involved. It must be a really sort of the best feedback you could get.

[Kat] Yeah, yeah.

[Brittany] And Christy what would you say in terms of a favourite event or favourite project maybe?

[Christy] I mean, I agree with Kat that the Multilingual Stories Festivals have been pretty, pretty special occasions, you know, in terms of the mixture of people there, you know, delivering workshops or the activities that people can do, and also the people that they attracted and how they were interested in learning about bilingualism and taking part. And another thing I always quite like is the London Language Show. We’ve done a couple of times promoting various research projects. And there’s something about being in the buzz of a huge venue like that, with thousands of language enthusiasts around who are all exceedingly excited to meet Bilingualism Matters. And to know that there’s an organisation there promoting evidence-based facts about bilingualism and language learning. And just to answer queries from so many different people from parents, from educators, from other organisations involved in languages. It’s it’s quite a buzz being there.

[Brittany] That sounds lovely, like really energizing. I’d say both of the things you’ve mentioned were like very energizing sounding projects to be involved in. So, since you’ve been involved with Bilingualism Matters, would you say that there’s anything in particular that you have learned in your own life or reflected on and thought, oh, that research really, actually reflects your experience as as bilingual people?

[Kat] Yeah, I think for me, joining Bilingualism Matters, there was several, they weren’t like your Eureka moments, they were more like, I don’t know, accepting… the accepting the reality of of being bilingual and raising bilingual children. So, maybe there’s there’s two important ones. So first, when you when you start raising a bilingual family and you see how your children pick up or… or the languages and the various speed at which they pick up the various different languages and all your efforts. And you realize that the results can be very different for… they can differ between children, but they can also differ in different stages of development. And you worry, you naturally worry, my child doesn’t know enough vocabulary, my child mixes languages, my child, you know, all these different worries that just layer up and add to any other usual worries that parents have. And I think I was put at peace, basically, I thought, “oh, this is normal. Oh, this is normal.” And you know, it’s like, “Whatever I do, as long as I continue at it, it’s fine. I’m not going to destroy my child’s brain by mixing languages.” I’m not, you know, it’s just you’re just more relaxed about this, and you take it as it comes, basically. So I think that was a major thing for me. The other major thing for me was to see my own bilingualism and my own attrition. So first of all, I didn’t know the word attrition when I joined first, and I thought, and this was frequently a subject of conversation amongst my friends, Polish friends, that we can no longer speak Polish without, you know, inserting English words. And how is that that I cannot speak in Polish, and I have to support my language with English words. And, and this is viewed very negatively, in your own country, in your own community. And as soon as you realize this is a normal process, it’s a reversible process is not necessarily a bad process. It’s a sign of opening as we now starting to understand, this also puts your mind at peace, you suddenly see yourself as a, as a part of a bigger picture of a system that is dynamic and can change. And you basically just have one stress less in your life, you just see, you know, I’m mixing, that’s fine. I am perceived in that way by others, that’s fine. You know, I make mistakes, I will never use correctly use the “the” in English because my language doesn’t have it. And that’s fine. And my employer accepts it and my employer makes efforts to pronounce my name. This is a whole it’s a whole package that comes with working within a job that reflects an important part of your life and identity. So for me it was a game changer. Really.

[Brittany] Sounds very, I mean, that’s a very powerful I will be honest. Yeah. Christy, what would you say? Maybe something in terms of your family, yourself? Any any other thoughts?

[Christy] Yeah, very similar to Kat. There’s a lot of new things I learned about. Also into being a parent, I don’t worry as much as I did at the beginning, as I assume that I would if I wasn’t regularly hearing about the latest research and understanding all about the language acquisition process. And I think one of the things that always stays with me is when Antonella is talking about, there’s no such thing as a balanced bilingual. I think a lot of people have it in their head that you, if you’re bilingual, you speak two languages and you’re equally proficient in both of them and, you know, life is a journey. But you have exposure to different types of vocabulary in different languages, or you’re using certain things at one point in your life and not at the other. And I think when I think about my children, I feel like they’ve got a really solid grounding in Spanish, they’ve past that bit where they have got the accent effortlessly, and they can laugh at mine. You know, all those little important detail things about language. They have that and the vocabulary that you don’t have, because they don’t use regularly, if they choose to live in a Spanish speaking country at some point in their life in the future, you know, that it’s going to come much more easily for them. You know, and I don’t worry about them being perfect like I don’t worry about me being perfect when I’m speaking Spanish.

[Brittany] I think that’s really important. Yeah, because this, the drive for perfection will always essentially lead to failure, and then just disappointment. And that’s not really how anyone wants to be spending their time, much less… it’s not… you don’t have to be perfect, because it’s almost impossible. My native language is English. And I make mistakes in English all the time, including, of course, other languages I might be learning. And so if I were to say that I have to be perfect in English all the time, I think I would just not talk anymore. Or just, you know, sort of just be too, too scared to speak. So for myself, all of the languages that I have learned or tried to learn, I have been at least 15 or older and I am now trying to learn Spanish actually, that I’m definitely not a child anymore and I’ve found some interesting differences, I would, say some from when I was trying to learn… now learning Spanish versus when I was trying to learn French when I was maybe a bit younger. So, Christy, you mentioned that you learned Spanish in adulthood. So outwith the normal range of say, becoming a bilingual within childhood. So it was in adulthood. What was your experience in trying to learn a language in adulthood?

[Christy] I mean, like I did French at school, like really badly, so badly. Like I, I just scraped by the exam, and I left school thinking that was a complete waste of time. I don’t know why I did French, I can’t saw anything, I can’t have a conversation. And, and I don’t know, I just, I was living in San Diego in California and I decided that I wanted to learn Spanish and I started going to some classes, and I just, yeah, I found it so difficult, like, I felt like I would never get there. And I think actually, it’s probably the full immersion of living in Argentina, and having to use it on a daily basis that helped me kind of get over that hump where it became a total effort to speak to then some things, you know, just coming kind of naturally. But I think like a lot of people who are speaking in the second language, you get really exhausted really quickly. Having I mean, your brain is working overtime, having to kind of process it, especially in the initial stages. But, but one of the interesting effects of learning Spanish is that I now find that I understand French, I can’t, I can’t speak it at all. But, you know, the learning that I felt was completely lost, you know, it’s all in there. And I can now, you know, if I eavesdrop on conversations, I can understand a whole lot more than I used to be able to, you know, it felt like a wall of I don’t know what before, but yeah. And also I spent a couple of months in Italy, and I picked up so much Italian, you know, in that two month block. It’s almost like unlocking a door, isn’t it? Like once you… I mean, they’re closely related languages. So there’s some kind of transfer vocabulary and structures. But it’s it’s a great feeling; coming from a monolingual 18-year-old who thought she was absolutely hopeless at languages to have a good grasp in one but feeling that, you know, another couple are quite accessible.

[Brittany] Sort of like unlocking a superpower.

[Kat and Christy] (laughing) Yeah!

[Brittany] You mentioned that you, you move to Argentina and were living in a country where the dominant language isn’t, say, your native language or one that you were incredibly comfortable in. Kat, you also have the same experience of moving to a country where the dominant language or the dominant set of languages aren’t ones that is maybe your most proficient. What was that experience like? Because to me, that sounds terrifying. But what was your experience with that? Was it just getting getting over the nervousness and forcing yourself in like, pushing yourself, because you needed to or what was, what was your experience with that?

[Kat] So I suppose I did it twice, I first moved to Germany. And then so, but I was I was a student there. And I think in the student environment, there were more people like myself. So I suppose we always helped each other with English. So, it was German, but, but I suppose German was easier from English in that way that it’s more structured. So once you’ve gone over the structure, it’s sort of the way people pronounce it. Although I was working, I was living in Saxony, so in Dresden, which have a strong sächsisch accent and so. But it didn’t seem too difficult to me, I found it relatively comfortably that I could relatively comfortably navigate within that. But then I started working with, you know, I started doing my research there and trying to talk to to normal people, not students. I mean, people that were not used to speaking to foreigners. And this is where I was, you know, you would come across vocabulary never heard of, or the speed of speaking that you were not prepared for. So it is very nervous. And I… what Christy said, just this feeling of being tired all the time, that your brain is just racing was very common. And then it was funny situation. I mean, obviously, I was going as well learning English still, as I was going to university, and I just couldn’t say a word in English. Everything I was trying to say in a foreign language was was German-ized, so to say. I would be asked a question at an English class, and I would respond in German. I just couldn’t. English was buried. At some point, it was buried so deeply. And then I moved to Scotland, right? And in Scotland, I was totally overwhelmed by the streets-Scottish, Scottish accent. I just couldn’t make a word. I just didn’t understand people. And I was thinking, what language have I been learning all these years at home? Because that certainly wasn’t English. So yeah, so I suppose, but then once, I suppose, once you are immerse for a while you start understanding and, and then you’re over-enthusiastic about being able to understand. I think that those little rewards that you get, that your brain gets, that you realize, “ooh, gee, I am functioning in a society that speaks another language.” So yeah, but it wasn’t, I mean, it wasn’t easy at points, and it was very rewarding at others.

[Brittany] And Christy, what would you say with your, your experience in, I guess, moving moving to Argentina and needing to acquire or become more proficient in Spanish? You said, that was maybe the thing that really helped you get over that initial hump.

[Christy] Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I think there’s a, there’s a there’s an interesting thing about the status of languages, which I think is really important. Like, if you go to Argentina, as an English-speaking European, people accept that your Spanish might be rubbish, and they’re very accommodating. And, you know, and I don’t think the reverse works for people coming to monolingual English countries. Which I think is a very important point. And so, I, I never, I don’t know, I never felt embarrassed about making mistakes. I was always just really pleased that I could communicate with pidgin Spanish and it just kind of developed from there. Which, again, is a huge contrast from learning French at school, where you feel like you have to get every sentence correct or something and there’s that kind of pressure. But building on that and improving as you go. It was quite, it was quite, quite relaxed, really. And I was teaching English I guess. So. Yeah. I was using English in a controlled way in a classroom.

[Brittany] Yeah, I guess you weren’t getting marked on it. Right? When you’re learning a language in school, you’re getting graded on that. And you can gauge, I guess: I got an A on this one, or I didn’t do so well with this conjugation; whereas when you’re using a language in practice is just a case of, did they understand me? Yes. No. Move on from there. It’s a success if there’s understanding and then you sort of just move on.

[Kat] I think it’s interesting as well. What is the country that you are that you’re are in that situation. So, both Scotland and Germany for me were countries where people are used to having foreigners trying to speak their language. So, they also accommodate, just used to a little bit more to being, the words being mispronounced or pronounced in a different way. If you tried to do the same in countries where it’s not common that others, like Poland, for example. I used to work in the Polish school. And I, my students had such a hard time going to shops and, people was just, and they would be expressing themselves in an understandable Polish way. But the but the others were not used to basically, to hearing it. The bad accent… well, “bad accent”, different accent or different pronunciation, just they wouldn’t be understood. So I think that was easier for us in that respect. Not sure in Argentina.

[Brittany] That is an interesting point, yeah. I guess if the people you’re speaking to are used to accommodating or have the practice in this sort of accommodation, it might be a little bit of a smoother process.

[Kat and Christy] Yeah, yeah.

[Brittany] So sort of final set of questions, which this one may be sort of a big question, but maybe you have prepared an answer for. If there was to be one message about bilingualism that you could share with the world, or indeed, the people listening to this podcast, what would that be?

[Christy] I’d like to go first, before Kat steals it. (everyone laughs) The easy one, its the easy one. I think that bilingualism is completely natural and, actually, monolingualism which, you know, maybe as people living in Great Britain, or the United States of America or other countries, you feel like, that’s normal. And I don’t think it ever was, you know, I think there was such a range of dialects and languages and people had to travel to do things. And you look at other countries where people easily manage three or four languages in their everyday life. And, and, yeah, I feel like that’s really important to get across that actually. And it’s worth the effort putting in, to get over that hump, and actually have another language that you’re comfortable with, because it makes you feel more comfortable with other languages generally, I think.

[Brittany] Definitely, yeah. And Kat, what would you say?

[Kat] No, I think partially, perhaps, I would say that, if you’re in a situation of… if you are in the multilingual environment, and you’re trying to raise a family, just relax, and just do your best, and just go with the flow, just react. So that’s the best way to maintain languages and to introduce languages, so as little stress as possible. And you will be rewarded by a richness in your life that you just cannot get otherwise. There’s many things that enrich life, but languages are so important in doing so. You can see and understand other people in a way that you would never otherwise be able and this is a gift that you can give to your children. That is more important than any other I think qualification, I have to say. And then just a little anecdote, I briefly had a boyfriend that was only speaking English, and all my other language insertions that would better reflect what I wanted to say were going into nowhere there. So I dropped that boyfriend and came back to my now husband who could understand all those other, you know, so I just cannot imagine to be in a relationship where I have only one language.

[Brittany] Would you say that that will be your sort of one of your favourite or kind of a fun anecdote of like, all time, language-related story or like memory of that specific incident where you’re just like, “this isn’t working. You can’t understand me.”

[Kat] I think, I think, to be honest, in my particular case, I think it’s the stories my children can come up with all the time. So the way they mix language, there is no single one, there are new ones coming up over and over again. But it’s just so nice, how they pick up on certain things in languages and drop others. And then you can you can, you can see how their brain are selecting the information and you can see yourself through the caricature of how they use your language or how they interpret the meanings. And that leads to so many funny situations. So yeah, it’s my children that provide me with those and their mixing.

[Brittany] What would you say Christy? Do you have a fun story? Or a favourite story maybe, or memory relating to languages.

[Christy] I think you know, when, when the kids get old enough when I realized that they’ve overtaken me in Spanish, which I think has been around about four or five for both of them, and they start correcting me. I really enjoy that, that, you know, that they’ve, they’ve proceeded beyond where I am with my now 20 years of experience speaking Spanish. When they’re correcting me. It’s quite, it’s a lovely feeling that you know they’ve gone so far in so little time.

[Brittany] Oh, that’s lovely. Well, thank you so much for your time today.
Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoyed it and learned some cool things, or at least some thought provoking information and have a better understanding of Bilingualism Matters from our amazing guests, Kat and Christy. If you’d like to learn more about the projects and events that Kat and Christy are working on at Bilingualism Matters you can check out our website and social media at @bilingmatters in the episode description. Stay tuned for our next episode, stay healthy and…

[Kat] Do widzenia! [Polish for ‘goodbye’]

[Christy] Hasta lluego! [Spanish for ‘see you later’]

Links to the Events mentioned in the episode:
EMSF
London Language Show
Edinburgh Explorathon
BM Annual Event

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