Extracts from Bilingual: Life and Reality – Chapter 14

by Corey · 1 comment

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 two posts in this series:
Extracts from
Bilingual: Life and Reality – Introduction and
Extracts from
Bilingual: Life and Reality – Introduction, Part Two.

Chapter 14 of Bilingual: Life and Reality
– In and out of bilingualism –

As adult speakers, we never fail to be amazed by children who speak a second or a third language. Some four-year old little girl will tell you something in English and then switch over to Spanish to answer her mother’s question, or a twelve-year old boy will offer to translate into French what his German friend is saying. How do they do it? we ask ourselves.

The main factor leading to the development of a language is the need for that language (…) the child has to feel that he or she really needs a particular language. If that is so, and other factors are favorable, then the child will develop the language. If the need disappears or isn’t really there (…), and other factors are unfavorable, then the child will no longer use the language and there is a fair chance that it will be forgotten.

Language input is another factor that plays a role; children need to have input in a variety of situations from people who matter to them (…) the type of input they receive is also important (…) if one can find ways of giving children moments of “monolingual” input, as naturally as possible, then it is all for the better.

A third factor is the role of the family (…) parents and caretakers should be aware of what their children are going through as they are acquiring (or losing) a language. They should adopt family strategies to reinforce the home language if it is the minority language and if it is in danger of being replaced by the majority language spoken outside the home.

I should stress here how important schools and communities are in the acquisition of a language, or in its loss. If the minority language is not given support in the school or in the community, there is a good chance that it will lessen in importance, if not simply be put aside,

The final factor (…) concerns the attitudes people have toward the language and culture that need support, as well as toward bilingualism. Children are extremely receptive to the attitudes of their parents, teachers, and peers.

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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