January 30, 2019

Travelling corner: Her first trip to the seaside

Whilst still pregnant, I started planning our travels together, specifically, our first trip as a family of 4! My daughter was born in mid-November, so when she was around 6 weeks old, she went away with us for 4 days to celebrate New Year’s Eve. We went to Cornwall: it’s obvious that I had to show her this beautiful land first before exploring the rest of the world 😉

How does travelling look with a new-born? Very simple, in a way: they need to eat, sleep and have clean nappies. The frequency and unpredictability – that’s a bit more challenging, as we had to have regular unplanned breaks in local cafes, or stop in the car for breast-feeding and nappy-changing. We rented a house not far away from some coastal paths and beaches, to make sure that we could quickly go home, if needed. We used a sling to carry her when we walked on the coastal paths and on the beach, and a pram to walk around the Cornish towns. After an intensive day, our daughter was a bit unsettled in the evening, but it didn’t last very long. Obviously, having a holiday in winter is limited by the shortness of day time, but I still so enjoyed the sea views, fresh air, walking and having a huge change to my day-to-day routine with a new-born baby. Would I repeat it? Definitely!

Kinga Macalla

January 23, 2019

Travelling corner: Belgium by train

What’s so great about travelling by train in Belgium? Ticket prices! Yes, the train tickets are not expensive and it does not matter if you buy them in advance or just on the day. They can even be 50 per cent cheaper at weekends! The trains are comfortable and modern. There is a train station right in the centre of Brussels, so do check your train connections before heading off. So, where did we go? We went from Brussels to Ostend and from there we wanted to go to Nieuwpoort by a coastal tram, but tram drivers were striking on this day! J So instead we stayed in Ostend and spent a slow day on the beach – walking, getting some sun-shine and playing. We also visited our friends in Antwerp where from the moment you’re off the train, you can fall in love with the architectural marvel that is their train station. Your appetite for architecture can only grow if you walk through the city and visit the Museum Aan de Stroom (MAS) where you can admire the whole city of Antwerp from the museum’s roof. We couldn’t miss Brugge with its medieval feeling, horses with carriages, cobbled pavements and tiny shops. It’s also a perfect hub for chocolate lovers! We also commuted by tram in Brussels, as we could observe the city from the tram windows or, for example, spot a perfect café (true story: we spotted a fab café and one day when our tram broke down, we were so happy, as we could finally go there for a delicious cocoa!).

I loved our train travels! Do you travel by train? What are your favourite destinations?

Kinga Macalla

January 16, 2019

New Year, New Language-Learning Trends for You to Try Out

Welcome to my first blog post of 2019!  Before I start, I would like to wish you all Buon Anno / Bonne Année / Prospero Año Nuevo / ةديعس ةديدج ةنس / Fröhes Neues Jahr / Gelukkig Nieuwjaar / Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku / Feliz Ano Novo / Поздравляю с Новым годом / Happy New Year!

We hope you are ready for and looking forward to your lessons with BLS this year.  In this blog post, we look at which will be the language learning trends you can follow in 2019 to help boost your language skills.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial intelligence in language learning is mainly found in online language-learning tools.  It means learners are accompanied and supported in their learning by intelligent programmes that can track their learning or even make their learning interactive.  When language learning is interactive, it is more effective.  Compare how much you learn and how motivated you are when speaking to people in your new language with your experience of learning from a book.  This shows you how interaction makes language learning more fun and therefore means that you are more likely to remember what you have learnt.  AI can foster interaction through “chatbots” that ask you questions or prompt you to give an answer, and congratulate you when you answer correctly.  Even though they are not real people, they make learners aware of how much progress they are making and therefore keep them motivated.  One article even goes as far as to say that people take less time to learn a language with the help of AI than they do using traditional language learning methods.

Adaptive Learning

Adaptive learning uses technology to deliver personalized, customised learning. Adaptive learning adjusts the trajectory and pace of learning, giving appropriately-pitched and relevant material to meet learners’ needs.  If learners need to learn something specific, such as business language in order to meet international colleagues or phrases to use on holiday, adaptive learning provides them with focused training modules.  Adaptive learning programmes use algorithms to gauge learners’ needs.  For example, when the learner takes a test, the algorithms measure the learner’s understanding and identifies gaps in the learner’s knowledge. The programme then and adapts the modules to be taken to the learner’s ongoing learning needs.  This approach helps the learner to focus on progress and what they need to learn rather than what they already know (although repetition is always useful!). This creates better learner engagement because they don’t get bored.  This will improve their performance.


“Gamification” or “game-based learning” means using the principles of gameplay in non-game contexts. Gamification is used to encourage user engagement, productivity, employee recruitment, physical exercise, voter apathy, and more by making engagement fun and by rewarding “players” for doing certain things.  It is meant to empower and engage learners.  Examples of how this can be applied in language learning is a computerised programme that allows learners to collect points for each correct answer and reach the next level of difficulty, or creating a language-learning board game.  Research shows that gamification mostly has positive effects on individuals, improves retention rates and helps learners apply their learning better.  Studies have also shown that games release happy hormones like dopamine and serotonin that will make learners want to return to their learning.

Video-Based Learning

Videos are a very popular training tool at the moment.  There is a wealth of language-learning videos on the internet.  They are popular because learners can choose which videos they want to watch and how many times they watch them, and because they break learning into manageable chunks.  The availability of this type of material means that users can pick and choose from a whole host of different teaching styles and content.  Individuals can create their own videos; it is not just language schools that create them.  This gives the content a personal touch that means that learners like them.  Users can also comment on videos and ask questions that means they engage with the content.

Social Learning

Thankfully, we still want to interact with our fellow humans and it has been proven (unsurprisingly) that learning with our peers is more effective than learning on our own.  “Social learning” harnesses that concept.  It can mean groups working on a specific project, conversation tables, sharing sessions (where one learner shares what they have learnt with the others and their interest in their chosen subject rubs off on the other learners), and learning circles, where learners share wisdom and work out a problem together, as well as practising listening and speaking skills.

We hope these different techniques inspire you to continue your journey into learning a language.  Happy language learning in 2019!

Suzannah Young

January 9, 2019

Important questions about children’s bilingualism

With globalisation and the ease of travel, more often than ever people find themselves living abroad and living a multilingual and multicultural life. That is why raising my daughter bilingually was more a natural consequence of my life trajectory than a thought-through process. I read some guidebooks on bilingualism to have a general idea on how to organise our bilingual life, but that was it. It was a natural decision which I thought all parents would follow, but since having met some parents who decided not to raise their children bilingually, I started to think about why we might want to raise our children bilingually and why we decide in favour of or against our children’s bilingualism. We as parents are the main people who are responsible for our children’s bilingualism and it is true that it can be overwhelming to learn, implement and follow the principles of bilingual parenting. Moreover, as immigrants we want to fit into society; through speaking two languages we may stand out on the monolingual landscape. At the same time, a bilingual upbringing can generate many advantages for people, economically, socially and culturally. What to choose and why? Parents’ decisions on bilingualism may be based on their personal beliefs, but they might also be influenced by others, for example, medical or educational professionals.

If you’re a bilingual family or planning to become one, you may want to think and form your own definitions/answers to the below questions (I added a short commentary to each question, please treat it as some form of inspiration to your further research and study of bilingualism):

What is bilingualism?

Because of the complexity of the term, you may want to create your own definition of bilingualism. Your understanding of the notion might be influenced by the fact that bilingualism is created and functions in various environments, family settings and countries/regions and may impact individuals with different talents and skills differently.

Is Bristol a good place to raise bilingual children (if you’re from Bristol)?

I think it’s important to have a better understanding of the local perception of bilingualism. If your children go to nursery/school, ask staff members some questions about bilingualism and see their approach to bilingualism. You can also check if there are extra-curricular language or cultural classes organised by the local council, schools or private people.

What influences parents’ decision-making on family bilingualism?

Here, we can think whether society and medical, educational or governmental authorities can influence our decisions on the bilingual upbringing of our children. Parental choice for or against bilingualism will influence a child’s life in many different aspects, e.g. their identity, cultural bonding or linguistic skills, among others. If parents decide not to form a bilingual family, they may make this decision based on the disadvantages linked with bilingualism, e.g. hard work, not being a ‘normal’ family, worries about language development and potential misunderstandings. (see Barron-Hauwaert) Through choosing monolingualism and full linguistic assimilation, immigrant parents can deprive their children of certain experiences, e.g. a bond with their linguistic, family or cultural heritage.

How do stereotypes around multilingualism influence our decisions on bilingualism?

To be honest with you I didn’t know any stereotypes around multilingualism until I started reading more literature on bilingualism. One of the stereotypes around bilingualism is that bilingualism can be linked with underachievement at school (see Marzán), but the most recent research suggests the opposite, that actually bilingualism “is now associated with a mild degree of intellectual superiority.” (Baker 2014: 54)

What are the advantages of bilingualism?

Bilingualism can be associated with many different benefits, in the form of communication (being able to communicate more effectively with others) and practical and social value (facilitating cultural exchanges and promoting multi-cultural understanding). Colin Baker also mentions cognitive advantages (creativity), character advantages (increased self-esteem), curricular advantages (easier to learn a third language) and economic advantages (employment benefits). (see Baker) We can add the following benefits to the list: more freedom to be mobile, an increased tolerance towards other languages and cultures and an understanding of other foreigners’ needs. (see Barron-Hauwaert)

Can you think of any other benefits of bilingual upbringing of your children? Please let me know in the comment below.



Baker, C. 2014. A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism. Bristol: Multilingual Matters

Barron-Hauwaert, S. 2014. Language Strategies for Bilingual Families. The One-Parent-One-Language Approach. Bristol: Multilingual Matters

Marzán, J. 2003. Found in Translation. Reflections of a Bilingual American. In: Sommer D. (ed) Bilingual Games. Some Literary Investigations. New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Kinga Macalla

January 2, 2019

Book review: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

Translated into 35 languages & with many positive reviews, I couldn’t resist the temptation of reading it. What’s more I rarely read fiction, so it was a treat.

I had mixed, bitter-sweet feelings when I was reading the book: On one hand I was laughing out loud and on the other the story made me very sad. I think the sadness was coming from the fact that I also lived in a formerly communist country, Poland, till I reached my early twenties, and I think the story brought some memories back. In the book, the economical, intellectual and cultural differences between East and West are portrayed in a semi-caricatured way. This division pinpoints some aspects of our history and culture that are uncomfortable to me and I think I would prefer not to remember them.

Overall, I think it is a wonderful read, as it doesn’t stop with the last page. You’re left with some unanswered questions and some ideas that you want to analyse and think about. If you wish to learn more about Ukrainian history, about refugees’ lives in the UK, and about human nature, all being presented in a rather comical way, this is the book you want to read!

What have you read recently that fascinated you? Let me know in the comments below.

Kinga Macalla