Ask François Grosjean: What About More Than Two Languages in a Multilingual Family?

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 eighth of the eleven 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 our 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.

How should one deal with more than two languages in the family and how can one add an additional language to an already bilingual household?

Many families live with more than two languages as when each parent speaks his or her language and another caretaker (or teacher in school) uses a third one. Two points need to be underlined.

First, the need factor (and other contributing factors) have to be present for the child to pick up two or more languages.

Second, some thought should be given to the kind of exposure the child will receive from each language and how moments of monolingual interaction can be set up.

If parents realize that the exposure to a third language won’t be sufficient, and a real need for the language cannot be induced, then they may want to postpone bringing it in.

Relevant chapter in Bilingual: Life and Reality which addresses this question: chapter 14.

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?
  3. The third in the series is Ask François Grosjean: Can I Change From One Language Or Method To Another?
  4. The fourth in the series is Ask François Grosjean: What Does Research Say About the Benefits of Multilingualism?
  5. The fifth in the series is Ask François Grosjean: Is It OK for Parents to Raise Bilingual Children in a Non-Native Language?
  6. The sixth in the series is Ask François Grosjean: What are the golden rules that bilingual families should follow?
  7. The seventh in the series is Ask François Grosjean: Is just a little bit of language exposure with a bilingual child worth it?

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:

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: