Multilingual Families in Barcelona [A Study]

You may already have seen one of Francesca’s posts, posters, emails or articles somewhere in virtual or real space over the past couple of months as she’s been campaigning hard to find as many English-speaking parents in and around the Barcelona area as possible to fill out her questionnaire.

A family having a picnic

Multilingual Families in Barcelona

If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, read on! I put a few questions to Francesca to find out why she wants to know so much about us.

Who is Francesca Walls?

Francesca WallsI am a PhD student at the University of Barcelona, as well as a part-time English teacher. I came to Barcelona about three and half years ago to study a Masters in Applied Linguistics at the UB. At that time I did a small-scale study about British parents bringing children up in Barcelona and that was so interesting it’s turned into a much bigger PhD thesis on multilingual families.

What’s the study all about?

The study is about what languages people speak at home in situations when there is at least one English-speaking parent in the home. I would like to find out:

  • What language combinations there are at home;
  • What kind of strategies parents use to help their children develop linguistically;
  • Whether there are any key moments of change in children’s language development.

Surprisingly, this area’s not something that’s been widely studied and there’s not a lot of literature available that caters for this specific situation, so I hope to be able to provide some context-specific advice based on my findings.

What are you expecting to find?

I’m expecting to find quite a variety of language combinations, ranging from only-English at home to English + Spanish + Catalan + other languages (and yes, I really do have some examples of this scenario!). The more languages present, the more complex the parents’ strategies for developing them all are likely to be and there might well be a greater potential for the loss of one or more languages.

I might also find some interesting differences in children’s language use according to their age.  I’ve heard from several parents who report having difficulties maintaining English as their language of communication as their children get older. I would like to take a look at cases where this has happened and be able to identify possible reasons for it happening, as well as strategies that help keep English going. This could be helpful for parents of younger children as it might help them avoid these difficulties.

Do you have any advice for parents you could give us now?

My advice so far would be to think of language in terms of input. To be able to speak a language, children need sufficient input – that is, that language being spoken to and around them for a significant proportion of time. As long as children have enough of that language around them and enough opportunities to be able to use it once they’ve started speaking, they are much better at dealing with language learning than us adults are! That said, if there is no input or there are few opportunities for children to use the language, they won’t be able to pick it up from nowhere.

One thing that many parents do to keep English alive for their children is to organise playdates and meet-ups with other English-speaking children. This way, children have the opportunity to build friendships in English and it becomes even more relevant for their lives in and outside the home.

Literacy development, however, is quite different to speaking and will probably need extra support alongside school. Parents of older children who have responded to the survey seem to undertake literacy support activities at home or organise private classes to ensure their children can read and write English.

Who is eligible to take part in your survey?

You are eligible to take part if you…

  • are an English-speaking parent (meaning somebody who was brought up in an English-speaking environment and considers English to be a mother (or father!) tongue)
  • have children aged between 0-16
  • are resident in Barcelona, el Maresme, el Vallès or el Garraf

Note that it doesn’t matter if your partner is an English-speaker or not as long as you are. The questionnaire covers all kinds of families and I would be particularly interested in hearing from more families with three or more children if you’re out there!

Where can I find the survey questionnaire?

The questionnaire is available via the following link and should only take you about 10-15 minutes to fill out – Family Language Questionnaire.

What’s in it for me?

Multilingual Families in Barcelona logo

Multilingual Families in Barcelona

In return for your contribution to one of the biggest pieces of research on the topic of multilingual families carried out in Catalonia so far, you will have access to context-specific advice gained from real experience gathered from over 150 other families (so far!) who are dealing with the same issues as you! As well as publishing insights on my blog and Facebook page, I have pledged to send a copy of the main results to all parents who are interested. There is an option at the end of the questionnaire where you can request a copy upon completion.


So there you have it. I think Francesca’s study could be very valuable for children growing up in English-speaking, but multilingual families.

If you think so too and you fit the criteria I encourage you to take the time to fill in the questionnaire. Obviously the more data Francesca gets the more we could all learn from it.

You can also watch Francesca’s interview on El Punt Avui TV.

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