Bilingual By Design examines the design of bilingual talking toys and their potential uses in the bilingual family. It argues that talking toys combining two languages give a child opportunities for bilingual identification that a world of monolingual toys does not. The study is informed by the theories of toys and children’s culture developed by the play theorists Brian Sutton-Smith and Ellen Seiter.
The Bilingual By Design study involves two parts: the first consisting of toy studies observing the interaction of bilingual children with two talking bilingual toy prototypes created for the study, and the second consisting of interviews exploring the general material culture and media language preferences of bilingual children and families. The study uses a sample of bilingual French and English children at ages six to eight, their parents and their teachers.
According to the observations of the toy studies and interviews, bilingual children exhibited a strong tendency to use English, the majority language in the United States, as their primary language of social interaction. The bilingual development of these children was made possible by the dedicated and consistent efforts of parents and teachers to expose children to personal contact and media in both languages, and especially in French, which is the minority language in this situation. According to the toy testing observations, the social uses of the toy, rather than its solitary play aspects, have more potential to influence the linguistic development of bilingual children. The diverse cultural backgrounds, family practices of bilingualism, and language skills sets of the children, suggest that bilingual families require that toys for bilinguals have features to support language development at different stages, as well as a more sophisticated understanding of each culture that the family shares with their child.