Extracts from Bilingual: Life and Reality – Chapter 19

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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 posts in this series:

Chapter 19 of Bilingual: Life and Reality, by François Grosjean
Education and bilingualism

Education should help children and adolescents acquire a second or third language while retaining their first language (or languages). In addition, if possible, education should encourage the active use of those languages.

In regular second-language learning that takes place in most schools throughout the world (…) many of the students acquire a base on which they could build real language use, and hence bilingualism, if the situation were appropriate and the need arose. But they are not yet bilingual.

What really interests me here is how schools can encourage a child or an adolescent to acquire and use new languages as well as retain the language or languages already known. (…) If the minority language can be used in the first years of school, it not only has important social, cultural, and psychological benefits for children but it also helps them acquire the second language through the transfer of skills from one language to the other.

The immersion approach has been used with children from dominant language groups, such as English-speaking children in English Canada, but also with minority children. (They learn) a language by using it in context instead of by acquiring it through formal instruction.

Many parents and educators wonder whether literacy in one language helps or hinders literacy in the other. (It is now clear that) the literacy skills a student has in one language help the student develop literacy skills in the other.

(Another) type of educational program that promotes bilingualism and biliteracy, as well as a very real understanding of the people and cultures involved (is) the dual-language program (also called a two-way program), in which two languages are used throughout schooling and the students come from both language backgrounds.

Just like the early immersion programs, (it is) establishing a model for what can be done to help students acquire two languages, discover the culture of the other language group, interact with speakers of that language and culture, and have a better understanding of what it means to be able to help someone else who does not understand what is being said and to be helped by someone when you are in the same situation.

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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