Raising a bilingual child: a personal perspective from a linguist mother



The purpose of this post is not to provide any tips on how to raise a bilingual child, but rather to share my personal dilemma on this issue. Let me put this straight; I am a Linguist and a bilingual mother. The juxtaposition of {Linguist} and {Bilingual} mother is probably rare. Let me treat each concept separately. A Linguist Mother. Yes, perhaps it might sound flashy, but what exactly does not mean? Perhaps I can first define the not so glittery aspect of being a Linguist mother. Knowing too much about language and developmental linguistics can be a heavy burden ! Perhaps unlike other mothers you can over-train your child (e.g. by talking or singing and reading aloud everyday), you want your child to learn foreign languages, you are more prone to panic if your child is slow in their speech development, you are more cautious about the ambient language/dialect/accent in such degree that this affects your social network and the country/city/neighbourhood you decide to raise your child. The crux of the matter is that you do I’m afraid become quite prescriptive and this is over-driven by your motherly instincts. I do hope I outgrow these habits in due course!

What about the positive aspects? Your child will receive more enhanced input simply because you can put all your knowledge into practice. Especially if your child is not learning a phonics language, such as English, you can provide your child with phonics instruction at pre-school age; you can better recognize your child’s speech development, so if they are showing variable output you know that this is a normal sign of U-shape development; if they are reluctant to speak you know that this is because they are going through the silent period, etc. The best part is you can collect longitudinal data from your child, especially if you specialize in developmental linguistics. In other words, they can end up being your guinea pig, and that’s perhaps not positive from the child’s perspective!

All said and done. What about the second concept? A Bilingual Mother. I confess, this is the part I am struggling most as an English-Turkish bilingual mother. I am a Heritage speaker (HS) of Turkish,  and typically HSs are understood as early bilinguals, whose first language, the heritage language they were exposed to from birth at home, is different from the main language of their society (Valdes, 2000; Polinsky & Kagan, 2007, among others). Hence, as the second generation of the Turks living in London, I speak both ‘Turkey-Turkish’ (when conversing with the first generation, or when in Turkey) and ‘Europe-Turkish’, or to be more precise ‘London-Turkish’. As part of my daily translanguaging practice in Britain, I use a hybrid language and the mixing of English and Turkish is somewhat inevitable (!).  Raising a bilingual child (for my son this means simultaneous acquisition) requires intentional planning and can be a lot of hard work. There is no consensus on which strategy works well and nor have I established a strategic plan. Perhaps the ‘one language one parent’ strategy might be the easiest way out, but the strategy is not my concern. My concern is the nature of the hybrid language input. This morning, for instance, I found myself asking my son the following: ‘oglum car-in nerde?’ (where is your car? my son). In most cases, while at home, Turkish remains as the dominant language, while English is the embedded language. I am an advocate for Heritage Language Maintenance, so my decision to use Turkish is a conscious one. Yet I find myself reading aloud in English and teaching my son most concrete nouns in English, but with the Turkish grammar, so I code-switch and -mix. It is reassuring to know though that his lexical repertoire is in equal proportion of English and Turkish words, and most importantly he continues to acquire the words associated with Turkish culture (e.g. abla ‘sister’; abi ‘brother’; amca ‘uncle’, etc.).

So, to keep a long story short, as a bilingual and a linguist mother I have to remind myself that every child is unique and I have to do what suits best for my family. I also have to be aware that monolingual children might initially outperform my son, but he will eventually catch up. After all he has to process more than one language! He will also like myself acquire Turkey-Turkish, London-Turkish, London-Turkish-English, London-English, British-English. Each concept I enlist here deserves a separate discussion, I know! The crux of the matter is that studies/models on child language acquisition needs to address this emerging population sample. Oh and to make things more complicated, there’s also biliteracy development, which I dare not discuss at this particular point. I will instead wrap up this post with a picture of my son’s library (a portion- not all)… güle güle

Leave a comment

Filed under Food for thought

Twinkle, twinkle, little star…

I’m sure you can all recall a few nursery rhymes you used to sing as a child (or sing to your child). I certainly can remember a few, but before I had my son I was unable to recall most of my childhood favourites. The good news is that I have ‘relearnt’ these songs and widened my repertoire, that’s thanks to our regular visits to our local children’s play centers.

In case you are thinking as to what I am doing this 2015/16 academic year,  well without any further delay let me explain! Yes, I am full-time mother and often this role is somewhat underestimated. As a professional mother, deciding to take a brief career gap was a conscious decision I made for personal reasons. As a Linguist, I mainly specialize in developmental linguistics, and know that the first few years of a child is critical. Yes, many aspects of child development is part of ‘nature’, but a parents’ role is to provide nurture in a loving and caring environment. In terms of the nurture or environmental component, a baby’s brain develops as a consequence of both ‘experience-expectant’ (e.g. vision, hearing, language) and ‘experience-dependent’ (e.g. socio-emotional and cognitive development) processes.It is these two components which I strive to enrich for his development, as my son’s primary caregiver.


Having said all this, the primary purpose of this post is to provide a partial explanation to those curious about my current situation. Hopefully, when the right opportunity crops up I consider going back to work, but until then my central goal is to spend quality time with my son and educate him AND myself. When I do have ‘me’ time I still actively do research and continue to build the Mehmet Osman Corpus. Trying to balance work with personal life, is probably the most challenging, but my profession is also an integral part of my identity. Although maternal instincts come naturally it is after all a completely new role and takes time to adapt! This is all the more difficult if you are a mid-career professional, since your daily lifestyle, social network, hobbies, and primary and secondary discourse is pretty much established. According to Gee (1990), a person’s primary Discourse is what they are socialised into within their face-to-face kinship group (their family). Our primary Discourse shapes our initial ways of speaking, our ‘normal’ ways of acting, views,
values, beliefs, experiences and our first social identity. Secondary Discourses
socialise people outside of their immediate family groups, within institutions
(social structures) and other forms of social groupings and social practice. My secondary discourse is the discourse I use at work and part of my profession, but with my new motherly role I have had to learn a new secondary discourse. It is precisely this aspect that I have struggled with, as the vocabulary set and all other conventionalized conversation patterns are totally different. The further details of these differences and the specific challenges I have encountered deserves a separate discussion, possibly for a journal article, which I am currently developing.

Nonetheless, being a full-time mother now means that I am singing, dancing, playing with my child and other children, and mingling with other mums; all of these activities have now become a part of my daily ritual. Mind you, I have also realised that English is not the mother tongue of the many children raised here in London. Japanese, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Polish, and Arabic are some of the many heritage languages I hear on a daily basis. It is a welcome to be surrounded with such diverse languages and cultures.

Ok, I have to leave now and do some singing 🙂 Below I have enlisted some of these songs. Those which are incomplete are the ones I already knew by heart, while the full lyrics are the ones I have ‘relearnt’! Oh before I go, I also sing Turkish nursery rhymes, but it’s pretty much limited in numbers and working on that as well!


Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are…

If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, CLAP CLAP, If you’re happy and you know it stamp your feet, STAMP, STAMP

The wheels on the bus goes round and round, round and round…

Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream…

Rowley Powley, Rowley Powley Up Up Up, Rowley Powely, Rowley Powley Down Down Down, Prowley Rowley, Rowley Rowley Clap clap clap, Rowley Powley Rowley Powley Put Your hands behind you back…

One two three four five once I caught a fish alive, six seven eight nine ten, then I let it go again, why did you let it go? because it bit my finger so, which finger did it bite, this little finger on my RIGHT!

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, We’re going to the moon. Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, We’re going to the moon.Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, We’re going to the moon. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, ZOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMM!

Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool? Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full! One for the master, One for the dame, And one for the little boy, Who lives down the lane

Wind the bobbin up, Wind the bobbin up, Pull, pull, clap, clap, clap.
Wind it back again, Wind it back again, Pull, pull, clap, clap, clap,
Point to the ceiling, Point to the floor, Point to the window, Point to the door,
Clap your hands together, 1, 2, 3,

I am the music man, I come from down your way, and I can play! What can you play?              I play the piano! Pia-pia-pia-no, pia-no, pia-no; pia-pia-pia-no, pia-pia-no

Oh, the grand old Duke of York, He had ten thousand men,
He marched them up to the top of The hill and he marched Them down again. And when they were up they were up. And when they were down they were down. And when they were only half way up, They were neither up nor down.

Head shoulders knees and toes, knees and toes, head shoulders knees and toes, knees and toes, and eyes and ears and mouth and nose, head shoulders knees and toes, knees and toes

Elephant has wrinkles, wrinkles, wrinkles, elephant had wrinkles, wrinkles everywhere, on their nose, on their head, on their tummy, on their ears, no one knows, no one knows, why aye aye aye!


Gee, J.P. (1990) Social Linguistics and Literacies, New York: Falmer.


Leave a comment

Filed under Food for thought

Call for papers

BAAL 2016. Taking stock of Applied Linguistics – Where are we now?

Source: Call for papers

Leave a comment

Filed under Food for thought

Mehmet Osman Corpus (MOC)

coming soon…


Leave a comment

Filed under Mehmet Osman Corpus (MOC)

A quick peek

Hello, merhaba,

I know I said I was back, but have been quiet for some time, as I was super busy for the last 2 months. Below I provide a brief summary of my scholarly engagements- also accompanied with some photos for events (1-4):

1) Between 14 and 15 May we held the 4th BUiD International Conference in Current Trends in Teacher Education. http://ctte.buid.ae/


2) I presented a joint research paper entitled ‘The role of social networks on the progress of English attainment: a study of Year 10 EAL boarding pupils’ with my former student Aimon Sabawi at the 5th International Conference on Foreign Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics, International Burch University, Sarajevo, between 7 and 9 May, 2015.


3) Both of my doctoral students successfully defended their PhD thesis and graduated in June. Below are the details of their thesis titles:

  • Ahmed Bourini (completed). Differentiated Instruction in the EFL Classroom in UAE Public Secondary Schools: Exploring Teachers’ Beliefs and Practices. Unpublished PhD thesis in Education, The British University in Dubai, 2015. External examiner Dr Nicos Sifakis.


  • Mohammad Samimi (completed). An Analysis of Emirati Undergraduates’ Multiliteracy Practices and Perceptions on English as a Medium of Instruction Policy in the UAE Higher Education: A Linguistic Ethnographic Approach. Unpublished PhD thesis in Education, The British University in Dubai, 2015. External examiner Dr Mario Moya.


4) Last, but not least, our graduation ceremony was held on 10 May. Many congratulations once more to all BUiD MEd and PhD graduates!



So now I am back at home in London and in between my holiday I am busy trying to finish two research papers and a book chapter for Routledge. Once published I will update my publications list.

In the meantime, I have nothing extravagant to report about my son’s speech development, as of yet! He will be 6 months next week, bless him. He certainly is more verbal though and babbles, giggles, and squeals. [bfu-bfu], which sounds more like a car engine, is his favourite open syllable. Once the ball starts rolling the official MehmetOsman archive will be available for scholars and research students who are working in the areas of child language development and biliteracy.

Wishing you all a very pleasant and productive Summer.


Leave a comment

Filed under Food for thought

The apple of my eye…



“This is Allah’s gift” these were the first words the doctor uttered to me in her Dubai surgery. She was wearing a big smile on her face and showing me the sac in the scan. Yes I was pregnant and what made this all the more special was that I received this news on Mother’s day- 11 May, 2014- according to Turkey’s calender. After such a long and exciting journey our prince Mehmet Osman (and first child) was born in January, 2015, in London (same city and borough I was born in). He is already 3 months now and still it has not hit me that I am a mum; despite those sleepless nights. It’s the most challenging, yet rewarding experience in my life. He truly is the apple of our eye and so much wish we had met him long ago. We love him to bits. Raising a child is, I know, no easy task. By default I want him to stand on his own feet and be well educated, but what I want most is for him is to be loving, caring, and merciful to all creations of Allah; that includes humans and animals.  I don’t want him to ever hurt anyone’s feelings and always live with dignity. There’s so much more I want for him and all children…all the very best…

So yes he is indeed Allah’s most beautiful gift and am cherishing every moment with him and feeding him with my endless love.

As a linguist, raising a child is all the more exciting, as I work closely in the areas of child language development and multilingualism. My son has started to giggle and babble but I can’t wait to hear his first syllables and words. Research has shown that children develop their perceptual skills in their mum’s womb and hence perception precedes production. This is why I try to speak in both English and Turkish and vary my intonation when speaking to him. I am an advocate of Cummins’ Linguistic Interdependence Hypothesis, which in principle holds that first language attainment is a prerequisite for second language attainment. One can think of this as the iceberg analogy (Cummin’s Iceberg theory); you can not feed or understand the surface level by neglecting the underlying level. Only with this accomplishment can one navigate between different languages or cultures. So I am hoping my child will be raised as a bilingual, biliterate, bicultural, bipalatal (something I coined) child, and and and very importantly I also hope he will be biscriptal. I am not biscriptal as I can only read and write in the latin/Roman alphabet (e.g. English, Turkish and German). There seems to be this rooted misconception, however, that the Turkish language uses the Arabic script, but in fact it uses the Roman script. During the Ottoman Empire, Ottoman Turkish used the Arabic alphabet, with Persian additions. However, in 1928, following the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of Republic of Turkey, the “new language” reform introduced by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk replaced the Arabic alphabet with the Latin one and many Persian and Arabic origin loanwords in the language were replaced with their Turkish equivalents. To keep a long story short, I would like my child to also learn different scripts, let it be Arabic, Cyrillic, Greek, etc. All of this, of course, needs to be accomplished before the critical age.

Having said all this, I guess this also explains why I haven’t been on this site for some time. I will try to update you all whenever time permits. In particular, I will report on my son’s language development. If you are interested in collecting naturalistic and longitudinal data your child could be your best resource. Prominent examples of such case studies in child phonology include Smith’s (1973) child Amahl, and Gnanadesikan’s (2004) child Gitanjali. These studies have provided invaluable data which has enhanced our understanding in the area of phonological development. I hope Mehmet Osman will also be a useful resource for those working in child language development in the same way as Amahl and Gitanjali. Mehmet will showcase examples of developmental biliteracy, phonetics and phonology.

Last but not least, I would also like to share some essential information about the origin of my son’s name. You can, I confess, become very fussy with names, especially if you are a linguist and never thought it would be such a challenge.  My husband is a software engineer, so I thought he wouldn’t be fussy as myself, but yes dads can be fussy with names too! It was also my father’s decision to name me Yasemin, so there you go. I am grateful that my name is an international name and comes in various forms- Yasemin, Yasmin, Jasmine, etc. Likewise, my son’s name had to be: traditional, not too funky, no umlauts (yes Turkish names have umlauts), Arabic or Turkish origin, and meaningful. The naming task became all the more difficult when I realized that I and my husband was unable to find a mutual name we BOTH liked. It was therefore my decision that we name our son after our fathers- this way we met in the middle and his name was deeply rooted and meaningful. Mehmet is my father’s name and his middle name, Osman, is my father-in-law’s name. In the Gulf region, Mehmet is mistakenly confused with Mohammed/Muhammed. Mehmet is the Turkishized version of Muhammed but in present-day Turkey its meaning has changed and now means ‘soldier’. My father was initially named as ‘Muhammet’ but back in those days you were not allowed to name your child after prophet Mohammad (s.a.a.w), as it was considered as a sacred holy name, so can understand why through time it was Turkishized. Now in present-day-Turkey Muhammet and Mehmet are used as separate names. Osman, is also of Arabic origin and means ‘honest’ and ‘sincere’. Othman I (Osman) is also who founded the Ottoman Empire and the Ottoman dynasty that ruled Turkey after the 13th century; conquered most of Asia Minor and assumed the title of emir in 1299 (1259-1326). This is why we speak of the Ottoman (derived from Osman) Empire.

As of now I will continue to update you all from this site on a more regular basis, not only as a linguist, but also as a proud mother.

Best wishes,



Cummins, J. 1979. Linguistic interdependence and the educational development of bilingual children. Review of Educational Research, 49, 222-251.

Gnanadesikan, A. 2004. Markedness and faithfulness constraints in child phonology. In: René Kager, Joe Pater and Wim Zonneveld (eds.), Constraints in Phonological Acquisition, 73-108. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, N.V. 1973. The Acquisition of Phonology: A Case Study. Cambridge University Press.

Leave a comment

Filed under Food for thought

11th Teaching and Language Corpora Conference Lancaster University, UK – 20th to 23rd July 2014

I am pleased to announce that my next upcoming conference paper will be at Lancaster University. I will be presenting the findings of my funded research entitled “The BUiD Arab Learner Corpus: Explaining Second Language Writing Systems within a Markedness Framework”.

Conference website: http://ucrel.lancs.ac.uk/talc2014/index.php

Abstract: TALC2014_abstract  Acknowledgements: This research is funded by The British University in Dubai.

TALC_Lancaster_2014 (21) (1)

Leave a comment

Filed under Upcoming Events & Announcements