Well, I promised a post from Parma, and here it is, almost a week later. It was such a whirlwind conference, book-ended on each side by long days of travel, that I’ve hardly had time to settle into the experience.
Here are a few thoughts:
1. It’s really, really hard to try and function in another language. Being in Italy was a good reality check for me – very few people spoke English and I had to work hard using all my multilingual skills to be understood and understand. This included at the conference, where several of the panelists spoke in Italian and French. The French I can handle, although it’s been a long time since I did any “serious” comprehension in French, rather than day-today stuff (domains of use…). The Italian was hard work! I chose not to get the translation head phones, as I wanted to live the experience of being a student in a classroom who doesn’t master the language – mentally difficult, socially marginalizing, and emotionally challenging. I’ve renewed my dedication to bringing training to school teachers who work with language learners in the classroom – these kids need the best support available.

2. There are so many truly multilingual people in this area of the world – some of the panelists spoke in four languages or more at different points, using their language skills to help include those who didn’t master the main languages of the conference (English, Italian and French).

3. Alexander Rawlings – Most multilingual student in the UK. Alex Rawlings looks like a typical young English man. He is a student at Oxford, and enjoys travel and chatting with people he meets – in 11 languages. Yes, you read that right, he speaks 11 languages, at the age of 20 years old. How? Well, the best way to find out is to watch this clip:

What I was impressed with was not so much his linguistic abilities, but more his linguistic motivations. He didn’t learn to speak so many languages to be cool (is being multilingual cool?) or to impress people, he did it out of a desire to communicate with people and understand them through their own languages. He brought a friend along to the conference, Sam (sorry Sam, I can’t remember your family name!) who is also studying languages (French and now Russian), and to meet young people who are dedicated to learning other languages is a breath of fresh air. All too often these days, people think (especially English speakers) that English is “enough” and don’t bother with other languages. That’s a shame in many ways, and meeting students like Alex and Sam renews my hope that people haven’t given up on learning foreign languages.

So, those are my initial thoughts from Parma, although I still have a lot to ponder on…

And now for a more practical matter; Next week I am co-hosting a parent seminar with Delft Mama and Nomad Parents.
This seminar is a 2-hour introduction to the theory and practice of raising bilingual children, and is taking place in Delft, on November 28.
For more details (there are a few open places left) follow this link: