Saturday, February 21, 2009

Multilingualism Literature

SmE from Tampa Bay, Florida as well as Hanna, a young Swedish mum residing in Brussels, have been asking me for books to advise on multilingualism. I don't have a long extensive list, but I did come across some useful sources in the last few years and I'm happy to share them.

When pregnant with my first son, I begun my quest for information on multilingualism, as in France I could not find much support from the childcare specialists nor the pediatricians. Thanks to the Internet, I stumbled across some amazing blogs from other multilingual families. Then we found out about the BBFN, which then produced Multilingual Living magazine. I also corresponded by email with some pediatricians from Canada, Belgium and Switzerland (all multilingual countries). Finally I read a few books. Among all of these sources, I was able to draw some conclusions and come up with some sort of family language(s) strategy, a concept which I think is very important and at the same time should remain flexible, suiting the family evolution.

There are two books that were particularly helpful in the process: the first I read was "Raising Multilingual Children," by Tracey Takuhama-Espinosa; although I found it more taylored for an American readership (whether in the USA or abroad), it offered a very broad and well organized vision of all the elements that can contribute to a successful multilingual child, from an academic/pychologic/linguistics as well as personal point of view (Tracey is married to an Ecuadorian, and with their three children they have lived in the US, Japan, in Ecuador and in Switzerland; her personal experience is very refreshing throughout the book). The book is very pertinent for a bilingual family as well as a multilingual one (trilingual or more). The author identifies specific time windows of opportunities from birth to old age, which should be used purposefully in passing on the family languages; she also introduces variables such as the child personal aptitude, the siblings ranking, gender and even hand use as all having a strong influence on the end result, that is given that a proper strategy, motivation and consistency from the parents have been in place, wisely mixed with the environmental opportunities to strenghten the language skills. Although I never found my particular family scheme quite spelled out in the book, I did retained several notions that helped me considerably throughout Milo's first 4 years.

Another book which was very fulfilling and provided an endeless array of case studies is "The One-Parent-One-Language Approach, Language strategies for bilingual families," by Suzanne Barron Hauwaert. We did choose the OPOL method and if that is your case, this book is THE source on how to apply it, but not only: where did it came from, the pre-school years vs the schooling years, interaction between family members etc. All brillianty supported by surveys and case studies, making it all very accessible and full of common sense. The author is coming out very soon with another book on siblings comunications within multilingual families, which I'm very eager to read.

If you are starting out with your first child, there is a book which I would recommend that has nothing to do with multilingualism, but that has been of immense help to me: "How to parent," by Fitzhugh Dodson, a 1970 classic on pedagogy (I read it in French and I love the prophetic title in the French translation: "Tout se joue avant 6 ans," that is all is defined before age 6). There are a lot of hands on advices on how to anticipate the challenges linked with each age, and how to maximise the potential of the child at each stage. There's a lot of attention to language. And despite the fact that it was written almost 40 years ago, I did not sense at all a generational gap, it all makes perfect sense for our contemporary crazy life.

Another good source of information is the editor Multilingual Matters, which issues a quarterly newsletter called the Bilingual Family Newsletter, collecting several case studies and providing answers from experts. You can dowload a free past issue sample from their site.

Finally, the last issue of Multilingual Living is focused on trilingualism. If this pertains to you, check out Alice Lapuerta's interview to Xiao Lei Weng, author of the lastest book
on trilingualism "Growing up with three languages." Haven't read it yet, but I loved the interview!

Should you readers have any particular book you found helpful that you'd like to share, don't hesitate to write me at , would love to know what you guys are reading!


Alice said...

Funny that I find this now, I just sent off a long list of book recommendations to someone who emailed me about this as well! ;-)

In my list, I included:

THE BILINGUAL EDGE (Kendall King & Allison Mackey) - might be of particular interest to bilingual families parenting in a non-native language

RAISING A BILINGUAL CHILD (Barbara Zurer) - superbly comprehensive book! My favorite so far.

A PARENT AND TEACHER'S GUIDE TO BILINGUALISM - by Colin Baker, more of a reference guide in FAQ form.

Glad that you liked the interview!


Clo said...

Thanks for your precious input, Alice!

Letizia said...


The Bilingual Edge is also my favourite, by far. I think it's a book written with passion but also very well documented and complete. (I am parenting in a language which is not my native, so may be Alice is right on that, although I hadn't seen it that way at first...)

I agree a Parent's and Teacher's guide to bilingualism is a good reference, I found the FAQ formaqt very impractical, but I have to admit it is very complete (if one is patient enough to llok for what one needs throughout the book).

The Bilingual Family by Harding Esch and Riley is also interesting because it has 18 case studies of different scenarios.

Also, if you'd like to share your experience with other parents, I'd welcome you to check my page on Facebook for Bilingual For Fun:



Best4Future Blog said...

I just finished a post about learning a second language is beneficial to children’s growth. Learning a second language can bring children invaluable skills, such as viewing the world with different lens, better reading abilities, better academics performance and etc. It can help boost children’s brain power, making them stronger, quicker and smarter.

So I agree with your opinion. That is why we should encourage parents bring up their children bilingual!

best4future said...

Glad to find another person who promotes bilingual life. Me too! I am a big fun of bilingual education, bilingual parenting, and bilingual life as you are. Right now I am teaching my baby to learn Chinese, hoping she will become a bilingual in the future.

Can we exchange link? My reciprocal link goes like this:

Best4Future Blog: Bringing up baby bilingual!
Devoted to bilingual learning, parenting and teaching!

You can submit your link at and click "links". Thank you!