Extracts from Bilingual: Life and Reality – Chapter 17

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 posts in this series:

Chapter 17 of Bilingual: Life and Reality, by François Grosjean
Family strategies and support

Making children bilingual, and keeping them that way, is a responsibility that many families give a lot of thought to.

Whichever family strategy parents adopt, once bilingualism has started to take hold, the family has to keep monitoring the environment to ensure that the child has a real need for both languages, and that he or she is receiving enough exposure to both languages. Exposure should come from active human interaction (speaking to, playing with, or reading to the child) and not from passive activities such as watching TV or DVDs.

Not only should bilingual children receive support from their family if at all possible, but also the family itself should get help from others. (…) One cannot expect parents to develop the expertise in various aspects of bilingualism that linguists, educators, psychologists, speech therapists, and members of the medical world may have. But it is important that they be able to differentiate, with the help of these professionals, between the myths that surround the field and the reality.

For example, parents must understand why it is that some children go through a period when they refuse to speak the home language, in large part because they do not wish to be different from other children.

There are bound to be times when the going is difficult and frustration occurs because of a communication problem, an unkind remark by an adult or a child, a bad grade in the weaker language, and so on, and it is crucial that bilingual children receive encouragement and assistance. As they grow older, they must be able to talk with others about what it means to be bilingual and bicultural and express some of the difficulties they may be having.

Becoming bilingual and bicultural should be a joyful journey into languages and cultures. When children undertake it, it is important that they be accompanied by caring and informed adults who will ease their passage from one stage to the next, and with whom they can talk about what they are experiencing. When they have that kind of support, there is every chance that the bilingualism and biculturalism attained will be a success.

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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