UCL Grand Challenges


UCL Bi/Multilingualism Information and Education Service

Small grant awarded by Grand Challenges Cultural Understanding in 2016.

Bubbles showing number of languages spoken by UCL community

1 October 2016


Grant: Grand Challenges Small Grants
Year awarded: 2016-17
Amount awarded: £4,000


  • Dr Merle Mahon, Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, Faculty of Brain Sciences
  • Dr Froso Argyri, IOE
  • Professor Li Wei, Culture, Communication and Media, IOE

 A GCCU small grant facilitated the creation of BiLingo, UCL-based Bilingualism/Multilingualism Education and Information Service that aims to provide the community and key agencies with the most up-to-date research-based advice, information, support and training on childhood bilingualism/multilingualism and learning English as an Additional Language.

UCL BiLingo has led to new collaborations between disciplines, public engagement through work with parents and teachers of bilingual and multilingual children, and community and business links, with parents’ networks, schools, local authorities and speech and language therapists, among others. As Dr Argyri has commented, “Grand Challenges has been useful for enabling me to come in close proximity with the participants of my research, talking with bilingual families and what sort of concerns bilingual families may have about raising bilingual, or multilingual children.”

One of the key objectives is to bridge the gap between researchers and the wider London community by disseminating recent research findings which highlight the cognitive, educational, and social advantages associated with the experience of acquiring two or more languages in childhood, including the importance of maintaining the child’s home language(s). The team note that, “the unique thing about BiLingo is that we provide research led workshops so we bring research to the community. People feel empowered that any decisions they make in terms of bringing up their children multi-lingually are based on the most recent research evidence.”

The project has grown and UCL BiLingo is now well-established with the initiative benefiting extensively from its members’ ability to work across disciplines. Cross-disciplinary interaction is highly valued and continues to inspire, shape and nurture the team’s work. This interdisciplinary initiative has led to new collaborations with UCL colleagues in different disciplines and the formation of successful links to the community.

Whilst the money from UCL’s Grand Challenges small grants scheme enabled the team to develop and build a comprehensive website, the award also prompted the team to consider further research grant proposals. Recently, Dr Argyri and Dr Wei were awarded a major grant from the Leverhulme Trust to examine the effects of early childhood bilingualism on the brain function and brain structure, in conjunction with the UCL Institute of Child Health. This idea was born after a UCL BiLingo session.

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://youtu.be/TGx1WAdrI0c


Outputs and Impact

  • BiLingo website
  • Video
  • Conducted UCL staff language survey, showing the incredible linguistic diversity at UCL
  • Event at the UCL Festival of Culture exploring multiculturalism in London
  • Follow on grant of over £300,000 from Leverhulme Trust
  • Blog post

UCL Bi/Multilingualism Information and Education Service project exhibition panel at the Grand Challenges, Grand Impacts exhibition, 2023