The Man Behind the Book: François Grosjean, author of Bilingual: Life and Reality (Part Two)

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Prof. François Grosjean in Corsica

Meeting François Grosjean, the author of
Bilingual: Life and Reality

The world over knows Prof. François Grosjean via his research and publications. As Emeritus Professor of psycholinguistics, Neuchâtel University, Switzerland, and via numerous books and papers, he has greatly influenced our understanding of language on many levels. His holistic view of bilingualism has helped us embrace our languages for what they are: integral parts of our own unique humanness. With his most recent book, Bilingual: Life and Reality, Prof. François Grosjean has further helped us embrace our own multilingualism as the most natural thing in the world.

But what about the person behind this research and these books?

Multilingual Living is honored to have the opportunity to share the following interview with François Grosjean – man, father and husband. He shares with us his personal insights about what it means to be a multilingual as well as offering us a deeper view into who he is as a person. We feel greatly privileged to be able to get to know this wonderful man who has contributed so much to the field of multilingualism.

To start, read the first part of this interview: The Man Behind the Book: François Grosjean, author of Bilingual: Life and Reality (Part One).

Part Two continues below…

You have proposed some innovative ways of considering bilinguals such as the fact that the bilingual is not two monolinguals in one person. When did you start thinking that way?
François Grosjean: As I was growing up, I quickly realized that a handful of other boarders and I shared the fact that we spoke several languages and had roots in several cultures. Then, when I moved back to France after a ten-year absence, I was very conscious of going through a real, and sometimes difficult, adaptation period.

As my linguistic and cultural configuration was changing, it dawned on me that I remained the same person throughout – a human communicator – but that I was different from monolinguals, both linguistically and culturally. It is only many years later that I put all of this into words.


When you fleshed out this view and started writing about it, was it hard to get it accepted?
My colleagues in the bilingualism research field have been very welcoming to this particular idea. There is more resistance, though, in the world outside academia where stereotypes still exist concerning  the “real” or “true” bilingual. That was one of the reasons I wrote my recent book – to present some of the myths that surround bilingualism and to explain why they are wrong.

You have been a defender of bilingualism in Deaf children also. Why is that?
FG: It’s a topic that has always been very close to my heart. It all started in Boston in 1974 when I started working on the psycholinguistics of sign language. I was simply enthralled by the beauty of that language and by the history of Deaf people.

But the real trigger for this “push” for bilingualism came the following year in Washington DC when I heard that a young Deaf adult has been robbed during the Word Congress of the Deaf. He had been brought up solely with the oral (speech) method and had not gone very far with it. In essence, he could not speak or write. And, of course, he didn’t know how to sign as sign language was forbidden in schools for the Deaf. So he was without a language and could only mime what had happened to him. Several years later I wrote my “The right of the deaf child to grow up bilingual” thinking of this young man.

A few years ago, you had a major change in your life. How are things now?
Back in 2003 I developed an inflammatory disease which led to a heart attack a year later. I had been very active until then running a research laboratory, coordinating and editing an academic journal, teaching, doing research, etc. and it was a wake-up call that told me that I should slow down a bit. This is what I have done and things have stabilized now.

I do miss teaching though as I had taught continuously for forty years and never missed a single class (except when I had my heart attack!). However, I make up for it by having a blog where I can continue to tell people about the aspects of bilingualism that fascinate me.

You have achieved many things in your career spanning several decades. What still pleases you the most?
I love it when bilinguals come up to me (or write to me) and tell me that they have read something I have written and that it speaks to them or motivates them. Of all the perks that an academic can have, that’s the one that I prefer!

Thank you very much for this interview, Professor Grosjean. We are delighted to have had this opportunity to get to know you better.
You are very welcome. It has been my pleasure.

If you missed the first part of this interview, you can find it at: The Man Behind the Book: François Grosjean, author of Bilingual: Life and Reality (Part One). We hope you enjoyed this opportunity to get to know Prof. François Grosjean. Make sure to visit his website and blog (see links below).

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:

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