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be bilingual

We thank Annalia for sharing her impressions on this interesting and useful book!

A couple of months ago I read Be Bilingual, the book on bilingualism by Annika Bourgogne. I was curious, because I had already read books on this topic, but they had all been written by pedagogists, not by mothers. I wanted to have an insight from someone who had directly been involved with bilingual children, rather than reading theories on how children behave in certain situations.

From the very beginning of the book, Annika provides practical examples and also suggests many websites she used while raising her Finnish-French daughter. One of these is:  kidworldcitizen.org.

Be BilingualThe first problem the author tackles is when to expose children to the foreign language, sometimes even to two foreign languages, in case they live in a country whose language is different from the mother tongue of both parents.

She suggests to expose them straightaway and constantly to both languages, and this exposure should be regular and long-lasting, so that they can learn how to express themselves.

It might be difficult to introduce a third language, but not impossible. She suggests to try if it all comes naturally and if the language is useful to the child, not otherwise.

One piece of advice I found brilliant is to chose a strategy that is efficient for the whole family. It is useless to chose a method that does not fit into family life, or the working rhythms of one of the parents (for instance in case one of the parents must travel a lot for work).

I will not describe the strategies here, since you find them all on the web and in the book; what is important is to chose one and stick to it as much as possible to get the desired results.

It is also important to find a way to link the language to fun and family relaxation; wrong sentences must not be corrected, it’s better to repeat them correctly. Take advantage of the night tale to improve the language.

Check regularly with your partner whether you are still on the same wavelenght on the method you have chosen for bilingualism.

Never forget that nobody is perfect, both with their children and with their partner.

Set realistic goals, based on time and on the involvement you are both able to give and to invest in this project as a family.

In case both parents work, a good idea can be to find a baby-sitter who speaks your own language. Here is a suggested website to find one:  mylanguageexchange.com

Don’t forget to always show interest and pleasure in the children’s progress in the least spoken language, even if you do not understand all they say. Make sure they understand that you approve and encourage their being bilingual.

Children should have the chance to spend some time alone with their grandparents in order to improve the least spoken language.

In case you live in a country which is foreign for both parents, it can happen that at a certain point the children speak the local language better than you; this is good, try to make them feel it. It will also happen that siblings will use the local language when playing, rather that that of the family. Don’t reproach them, it’s just natural.

It might happen that not everybody in the extended family (uncles, grandparents, etc.) agrees with your choice on bilingualism. However, it is important that they do not openly show their disagreement.

The chapter on grandparents gives useful suggestions that I want to share here:

– be proud of your grandchildren and their skills, but do not ask them to show your friends how good they are like trained dogs;

– show interest and refrain from critiques and other negative comments;

– help your grandchildren integrate with their peers when they come to visit you;

– help them reinforce the language;

– try to introduce bilingual persons in your friendship circle.

Choosing a school: here Annika asks you a question, “Would you chose that particular school, were it not for the way languages are taught there?

Sometimes it is necessary to understand what is best for the child rather than for his bilingualism, and be ready to change rapidly in case the school is not ok for him.

If you travel often and if the country where you happen to live allows it, you can try homeschooling; it is not easy, it requires parents to be heavily involved, and children miss the  social interactions offered by school. Though in countries like the United States, the system is by now widespread and there websites of parents who support each others and exchange opinions.

Should you decide to put your children in the local school, they will learn to read in the local language. It will be up to you to encourage them to read in the least spoken language. It might also happen that they learn to read a bit later than their peers who are surrounded by one language only.

As always, a good strategy is to expose them as much as possible to several languages, play different and stimulating games, and read stories.

Conversations at dinner when the whole family is together are important!

Remember to teach them how to write in the minority language little by little.

Exchange books with other families who speak the same minority language.

There is a very good group on Facebook: facebook.com/BilingualBookswap, plus many other websites:

https://www.mamalisa.com for songs
https://www.bookbox.com animated subtitled books

The book is full of suggestions and they are all practical and easy.

I believe this is a book you have to always keep close to find answers and reassurance. The path can be hard, but it is definitely worth the while. The author is the proof, since she has got two perfectly bilingual daughters. As many readers of Expatclic.

I suggest everybody to read it, even non anglophones. The book is English, but since the author’s mother tongue is not English, her language is easy and accessible to anyone.


Zurich, Switzerland
July  2015


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