Extracts from Bilingual: Life and Reality – Introduction, Part Two

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It is our great honor at Multilingual Living to publish this series of extracts from Professor François Grosjean’s new book Bilingual: Life and Reality, which has been nominated for the Edward Sapir Book Prize 2010. Prof. Grosjean knows intimately what he writes about: not only is he “one of the grand old men of research on bilingualism” but is himself bilingual.

Over the course of the next eight weeks, we will be presenting extracts from the introductory chapter as well as six chapters on childhood bilingualism. The information presented is intended to dispel the myriad of myths that abound about bilingualism as well as give us a glimpse into the life of someone who has spent a lifetime living and researching the life of bilinguals.

In addition, we encourage readers to read Prof. Grosjean’s Q & A series as his answers are packed with information and wisdom. For more information about Prof. Francois Grosjean, please visit his website as well as his Psychology Today blog.

You may want to start with the first post in this series: Extracts from Bilingual: Life and Reality – Introduction

Introduction of Bilingual: Life and Reality, by François Grosjean
– Part Two –

This book has two parts: the first concerns bilingual adults and the second bilingual children. Each part is broken down into short chapters that discuss various aspects of the bilingual person. In Part 1, I examine the reasons why people are bilingual and show the extent of bilingualism. I then describe bilinguals in terms of language fluency and use, and look at the different functions of the bilingual’s languages. (…)

In Part 2, I explain how children can go in and out of bilingualism very rapidly and how this depends largely on the need they have for the languages they are in contact with. I then discuss the ways of becoming bilingual as a child: two languages are acquired simultaneously in infancy, or one language is acquired in infancy, followed by a second language at some later time. I follow this with a chapter on linguistic aspects of childhood bilingualism, addressing dominance in a language, adapting to the language mode, language “mixing,” bilingual children as interpreters, and the way bilingual children play with languages. I spend a chapter discussing the strategies families can adopt to ensure that their children become bilingual, and the support that they, and their children, should receive to maintain the family’s languages. A chapter on the effects of bilingualism on children’s development addresses a question on the minds of many parents. I cover the problems of past bilingualism studies and where the research stands today, and also say a few words about bilingual children and language disorders. In the final chapter I discuss education and bilingualism and review programs in which the educational aim is not bilingualism, as well as those where bilingualism is one of the goals.

As in Life with Two Languages, I let bilinguals speak for themselves about their personal experiences as people who live with two or more languages and cultures. I also present a few short extracts from the works of bilingual authors, including Eva Hoffman, Nancy Huston, Richard Rodriguez, and Olivier Todd, because their talent as writers allows them to express in just the right words feelings about, and experiences of, bilingualism that many of us have shared.

Electronically reproduced by permission of the publisher from BILINGUAL: LIFE AND REALITY by François Grosjean, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Copyright © 2010 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.  All rights reserved.

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: www.francoisgrosjean.ch and his Psychology Today blog, Life as a bilingual, at: www.psychologytoday.com/blog/life-bilingual.

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