Ask François Grosjean: Can I Change From One Language Or Method To Another?

by Corey · 0 comments

While Prof. Emeritus François Grosjean was working on his wonderful book Bilingual: Life and Reality, he asked me to send him a list of questions that I felt weighed the heaviest on the minds of parents raising multilingual children. It is my honor to present both my questions and Prof. Grosjean’s answers here at Multilingual Living over the course of the next few weeks.

This the third of the 11 Q & A, which originally appeared in The Bilingual Family Newsletter, one of my favorite publications for families raising children in more than one language (in addition to my own Multilingual Living Magazine, of course)! After each of of Prof. Grosjean’s answers you will find a list of the specific chapters from Bilingual: Life and Reality in which he addresses each question.

Is it all right to change from one method to another or one language to another in the home?

The circumstances of life can change language habits in a family such as when the family restructures itself or when it moves to another country or region where a different majority language is used. When that happens, it is normal that parents also readjust aspects of language behavior in the family. If the aim is to continue to bring up a child as a bilingual, two points need to be considered.

First, the crucial factor of need for both languages must continue to be present. I am talking here of a real, communicative, need for the languages and not a need imposed by the parents. Children are very good at judging whether it is worth maintaining a language or letting it wither away. If they know that both parents master one of the two languages, then they will have a tendency to speak just that language and to let go of the other language. Children can go in and out of languages very quickly depending on the need they have, or no longer have, for them. Parents should therefore think about ways of maintaining a need for each language in their children.

The second point is that it is important, if the child is old enough, to talk to him or her about changes in strategy. Children go through a period where the language-person bond is quite strong. If the change in strategy requires that an adult speak a different language, care will have to be taken during the transition phase, and the child’s reaction to the change will have to be monitored and reacted to. I would suggest that the strategy change not take place suddenly but over a short period of time; the precise length will depend on the child’s reaction to the change.

Relevant chapters in Bilingual: Life and Reality which addresses this question: chapters 14, 15 & 17.

Past Ask François Grosjean Q&A in the series:

  1. The first in the series is Ask François Grosjean: Are My Bilingual Children Getting Enough Exposure?
  2. The second in the series is Ask François Grosjean: What is the best method for helping children become bilingual?

François Grosjean, the author of Bilingual: Life and Reality, received his degrees up to the Doctorat d'Etat from the University of Paris, France. He started his academic career at the University of Paris 8 and then left for the United-States in 1974 where he taught and did research in psycholinguistics at Northeastern University, Boston. While at Northeastern he was also a Research Affiliate at the Speech Communication Laboratory at MIT. In 1987, he was appointed professor at Neuchâtel University, Switzerland, where he founded the Language and Speech Processing Laboratory. He has lectured occasionally at the Universities of Basel, Zurich and Oxford. In 1998, he cofounded Bilingualism: Language and Cognition (Cambridge University Press). Visit his website at: and his Psychology Today blog, Life as a bilingual, at:

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