The worlds largest video-linked
database of children becoming bilingual has been produced by researchers
in Hong Kong.
children from four families practising a one-parent one-language
strategy are subjects of the database which includes about 170 hours
of audio and video files.
additional segments soon to be added, Principal Investigator Prof
Virginia Yip of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and her husband
Co-Investigator Dr Stephen Matthews from The University of Hong
Kong, are setting out to break their own record.
The database encapsules the early bilingualism
development of Hong Kong children from 15 months to four and a half.
|Dr Matthews and Prof Yip with their database
on bilingual children
the original recordings to transcribing them and converting them
into a browsable Internet format linking video, digitised speech
and text has taken 10 years.
database is accessible at http://childes.psy.cmu.edu, the Language
Data Exchange System website of Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh,
US, and has proved to be a useful study resource for researchers
in linguistics, psychology and cognitive science around the world.
can view video clips of the children in their natural family learning
environment, listen to associated audio tracks, and follow text
versions of the audio tracks all on one screen.
text, in English and Cantonese, both romanised and in Chinese characters,
is highlighted as the video files progress, similar to subtitling
in a feature film.
recordings have given interesting insights into how children learn
to be bilingual. Prof Yip and Dr Matthews, who kept diaries of interesting
dialogue used by the children, supplementing the video clips, identify
what they call bootstrapping; using the structure of one
language to influence the composition of the other.
example, instead of asking in English why are you carrying me?
one child based the construction on what might be the Cantonese question
equivalent: Zou mat pou ngo aa? (literally do
what carry me?)
phenomenon they identified was code mixing where the children
used both Cantonese and English in the same sentence.
of our main objectives, Dr Matthews said, was to produce
a multimedia state-of-the-art database. Researchers in many fields
can use it for their own special interests.
the database has been used in studies on child language acquisition,
childhood bilingualism, and developmental psycho-linguistics. The
database focuses on Cantonese-English bilingual children but the same
format could be used for any other languages, he said.
the one-parent one-language approach, each parent communicates with
their children in a different language.
one parent speaking one language is definitely an advantage but it
is not a necessary condition to becoming bilingual, said Prof
Yip. Many parents, for example, speak Cantonese and a bit of
English, and were looking at further research to examine how
children become bilingual in these families.
added: Its important to expose the child to more than
one language to activate the language-relevant parts of the brain
to work early. Many linguists and cognitive scientists believe that
a childs first few years are golden years for language acquiusition
when the language instinct is fully functioning
Matthews added: There are definite advantages to being bilingual.
Tests show it can lead to flexibility of thinking and it helps the
learning of further languages.
misconception is that the more languages you have filling your head,
the more confused you will be but research shows the opposite; the
more languages you know, the easier it is to learn others.
Prof Virginia Yip : firstname.lastname@example.org