Date: Tue, 12 Jul 2005 19:47:36 +0200 From: Magdalena Fialkowska Subject: Growing Up with Two Languages: A Practical Guide
AUTHORS: Cunningham-Andersson, Una; Andersson, Staffan TITLE: Growing Up with Two Languages SUBTITLE: A Practical Guide PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis) YEAR: 2004
Magdalena Anna Fiałkowska, School of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland
The book aims to serve as a practical guide for parents whose everyday life involves using two or more languages. The authors attempt to describe how families are affected by living with two languages and cultures and how these aspects are related to each other in a bicultural and bilingual environment. Many issues are discussed "cross-methodologically", i.e. are based on opinions provided by informants living in various linguistic arrangements. Throughout the book the authors convince the readers that a bilingual home is not a privilege of exogamic couples and, and even though it may involve issues unknown to a monolingual home it is less complicated that one may think. The book presents data from 150 individuals and families. It provides new and updated Internet resources, gives information on the problems faced by teenagers and their possible solutions, reports on new research into language acquisition, and offers first-hand advice and examples.
The book consists of nine chapters, four appendices, a glossary, a bibliography, and a term index.
CHAPTER 1: Families with two languages The first section discusses the origins of family bilingualism. The authors show how reasons for moving from one country to another are influenced by people's diverse expectations and motivations. In the second section language choice, language mixing, language switching, and communication are discussed. The language that parents decide to use at the beginning will influence the future system of communication in the family. The last section focuses on the minority language families, i.e. immigrants, refugees, international employees, and visiting academics who move to another country. These families are in a better position since, if necessary, they can close their door to the majority culture in order to feel "safe" at home using the minority language. The authors make it clear, however, that these families are not free from problems.
CHAPTER 2: Expecting a child in a bilingual home In this chapter the most important question is: "What do you want for your child?" People's reasons for raising children bilingually vary depending on plans, e.g., if the family intends to stay in the majority language country, or not. The first section stresses that a child should be able to become a part of the minority language community if there is one in the area, and whatever the situation, it should be vital for the parents to ensure that their children should not only be able to communicate with their minority language relatives, but also be aware of the cultural background of the minority language parent. Parents are also advised to speak their native languages to the child. The second section of the chapter focuses on planning, e.g., who is going to speak which language to the child, and in what way any unusual conditions, e.g., child's disability or a sudden need to move away, may influence this system. The problem of giving names to children is also introduced here and several solutions are suggested. The last section draws parents' attention to issues such as children's willingness or unwillingness to be exposed to public attention by speaking the minority language to them, negative opinions about the minority language, reactions from minority language grandparents, and others.
CHAPTER 3. The family language system Chapter three attempts to distinguish between three types of systems: One-Parent-One-Language method, One-Parent-One-Location strategy, and several types of "artificial" bilingualism, such as placing children in an international school or employing a foreign au-pair. Each strategy is discussed separately. The authors explain that any system will work if it answers the needs of the family members and is flexible enough to be changed if necessary. It is underlined, however, that no system is allowed to interfere with the siblings' choice of language to communicate. Many aspects, e.g., the child's unbalanced input in the OPOL method or being strict about the system established at home, are supported by the informants' opinions.
CHAPTER 4. Language development Chapter four briefly describes the moment when a child recognizes speech and starts producing sounds. The importance of an equal input in both languages is stressed and advice is given on how to correct a child who mixes newly acquired words when addressing the parents without disappointing the child. The question taken up is why it is essential for the minority language parents not to avoid using their native language unless it is necessary. These parents often do so in public so as not to expose their child to public attention, or switch to the majority language when talking to their offspring in front of monolingual children so as not to let them feel left out. Because of these practices, such parents often become hesitant speakers unable to cope with discussions with their teenage children, whose knowledge of the minority language soon becomes passive. Interference and mixing is the focus of the second section, which convinces us that "what is true for one child may not be for other" (p. 55), and, consequently, with two or three children parents may witness very different ways of linguistic development. There is no need to worry, though, if the interference and mixing phase gets sorted out with time in the case of one child and in the case of the other some encouragement is necessary to make the child use appropriate words. The chapter ends with a brief overview of the critical period hypothesis.
CHAPTER 5: The child with two languages This chapter focuses on schooling as well as the pros and cons of bilingual upbringing. During early childhood, any attempts to analyse the stream of sounds made by a child are hindered by the existence of two languages, while the amount of words that the child has to learn is doubled. For older children being different from the peers turns out to be a problem and a question arises as to what can be done to make children feel proud of their atypical childhood. The advantages of growing up in two languages include having access to the rich world of language and literature, and the ability to communicate with one's relatives with ease. Also, if necessary, passive knowledge of the minority language can easily be activated. In the second section, the authors consider it vital that children learn their two languages at their own pace, and stress that literacy in both languages is the only way to help children discover the true value of being bilingual.
CHAPTER 6: Practical parenting in a bilingual home Chapter six opens with a list of instructions helping children make the most of the bilingual situation around them. Home language education and Saturday schools are suggested, and additional ways of enhancing children's exposure to the minority language are listed, e.g. networking (i.e. meeting monolingual minority language speakers), mini-immersion (when a child attends school in the minority language country for a few days), trips, TV, books, and others. The second part gives some ideas how to obtain materials in the minority language and concentrates on what should be done at home to help a child become fluent in the minority language. These involve: talking to a child about things a parent is/was/will be doing, listening to the child with gentle corrections of his/her speech, keeping track of the child's development in order to compare its stages, reading to and with the child.
CHAPTER 7: Competence in two cultures Chapter seven is concerned with raising children in two cultures. In the first part the authors present two groups of parents having contrasting views on bicultural upbringing. Yet, the authors stress that regardless of whether the parents want their children to be bicultural or not, every family must make a firm decision which must be made active. It is also explained that "while parents alone can give children a second language, they will not be able to give them a second culture without the help of others and the support of the society" (p. 88). The difference between helping children "feel at home" in the two cultures and merely showing them how to "be polite" in both of them must be remembered. The second section deals with religion and briefly explains why religion and culture are intimately associated with each other. The last section focuses on traditions, hospitality, and social behaviour with its consequences. This section stresses the assets which are offered by the intercultural upbringing not only to young people - by showing them how the same aspects may be viewed differently - but also to adults who can see their own culture through new eyes.
CHAPTER 8. Problems you may encounter This chapter analyses several problematic areas. The first is concerned with the parents' linguistic competence and the quality of input that a child receives. Parents are advised to use their native language, since the use of other language than their own may result in the child's acquiring non-native features in their speech. Minority language parents are advised to support their language so as not to let it become old-fashioned. These parents may try one of the methods recommended in the subsection on language attrition. The second issue deals with semilingualism, defined as a lack of native- speaker competence in either of the speaker's languages. The notion of semilingualism is applied to children who have a limited exposure to the minority language. The chapter ends with two sections devoted to such problems as divorce, death of a parent, moving away, or bringing up a child with disabilities.
CHAPTER 9. The way ahead In the last chapter such aspects as motivation, identity, self-image, encouragement for teenagers and improving language proficiency are discussed. It is emphasized that motivation will fluctuate and that parents' motivation strongly influences the children's willingness to speak the minority language. This is why working with children systematically is extremely important, and, at the same time, very difficult. Children often feel disappointed that they are not indistinguishable from their monolingual peers, and parent's encouragement may be of help to them. As regards identity, teenagers are the most sensitive group and convincing them that a visit to the minority language country can fill most gaps left in the minority language may ease most of their doubts. However, the book rightly points out that the parents' main aim should be to ensure that their children feel at home in the majority language country, while it is secondary to help them feel at home in the minority language country. Improving one's linguistic proficiency is also discussed.
APPENDICES Appendix A: Organising a workshop on raising children This appendix may function as a guide for parents, teachers, and others interested in the mutual exchange of experience and tips concerning raising children in two languages. It provides readers with a sample of a programme for a two-hour high-level workshop, and helps them prepare a similar meeting in their own communities giving them a list of issues to be considered.
Appendix B: Ways to support a child's development in two languages This appendix discusses three types of meetings supporting children's bilingual development. The goal of The Parent and Child Group is to make families with the same minority language meet and exchange opinions. The Minority Language Play School is a place where children are left with teachers or leaders. Smaller children may need a settling-period, thus is it better suited for pre-school and school children. Finally, Saturday School is a good idea for children of all ages, but as this type of meeting needs extra motivation, children are rarely willing to sacrifice another morning at school. All these ways of supporting children's bilingualism require good teachers, materials, location, and funds.
Appendix C: Documenting a child's linguistic development The third appendix is a set of three photocopiable sheets for parents to keep track of their children's linguistic development: Vocabulary Development sheet consists of four columns ("Object", "Language 1", "Language 2" and "Comments"), Mean Length of Utterance and Language Mixing sheet (one column for "Sentence", one to count words and one to count mixing) and the Pronunciation sheet (one column for words and the other to explain problems a child has with pronouncing them).
Appendix D: Internet resources The last appendix enumerates Internet addresses grouped into three categories: Web links, Meeting places and Locating material. They are a helpful starting point providing links to many resources, including discussion panels, mailing lists, online communities, Internet bookshops and others.
What made the book especially intriguing to me was the authors themselves: brought up in Northern Ireland, Cunningham-Andersson studied Spanish, French and Irish as a foreign language learner, was a second language learner living in Spain for a year, and first came into contact with Swedish at the age of 20, while Andersson uses a language which he has not fully mastered to communicate with his wife. Their book covers a wide spectrum of aspects concerned with not only raising children to be bilingual, but also their future, their relations with friends and family, the parents' linguistic situation and development, and many others. All these aspects are supported by creative ideas and opinions provided by informants coming from various corners of the world and speaking different languages, e.g., English, Japanese, Spanish, Hebrew, Swedish, Taiwanese, Portuguese, Slovak, German, Chinese, French, and others. Much attention is paid to aspects omitted in other books, such as close and distant plans, death of a parent, sharing religious plans for children or feelings of other "parties" involved, e.g., grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, friends, peers etc. The authors do not claim that their methods are ideal, but show both strong and weak sides of many choices, which makes most of their advice easily applicable, helpful and practical. The section about literacy is worth mentioning as one of the most comprehensive and useful parts (Chapter 6), stressing the importance of reading to and with children (especially those raised bilingually) before and after they learn how to read. Mostly, I appreciated the authors' optimistic approach towards unforeseen turns in life which force parents to change or give up their plans for a bilingual family. I was also happy to find a comprehensive overview of problems and rewards of introducing two cultures, as well as many social and individual challenges resulting from living "in two cultures". It was also intriguing for me to observe how reading about other parents' experience helps me understand the authors' explanations. One of the greatest advantages of the book are the appendices which I found to be an invaluable source of information and ideas showing that a workshop can be more than just a meeting for the parents.
As to the drawbacks, first I would like to point to the confusion in the use of the term "bilingual". In the preface, the authors explain that their avoidance of the term "bilingual" results from the difficulty in providing the criteria to measure one's bilingualism (p. xii). Later in the book, they do not provide any comments when quoting parents using this term with reference to the children's abilities. I find this situation perplexing, as it seems clear that informants use the term "bilingual" to describe their children's ability to communicate in both languages, not necessarily being balanced in both of them. Since positing a generally accepted definition appears to be so difficult, why to abandon the term so soon? And why do it at all?
I feel a similar ambivalence towards certain limits that the book places on itself. Firstly, the authors mostly refer to groups, organizations, and families in Sweden, i.e. their own home country. Secondly, some advise might be given from a family in which children have to learn an alphabetic as well as a non-alphabetic writing system, e.g., an English- Japanese family.
CHAPTER 2: The section "Making plans" (p. 18) seems to deal with similar aspects as the previous section ("What do you want for your child" (p. 12)), i.e. planning and choosing what is best for the child. They might have been included under one heading.
CHAPTER 3: Naming one of the sections "'Artificial' bilingualism" (p. 41) seems contradictory and unfair to me. The authors avoid the term since defining a bilingual without going into details is too complicated. They claim that it is almost impossible to be truly bilingual unless one receives the same amount of input of the two languages, which in reality is a very difficult task. Thus, trying to raise a child to be bilingual (which is already doubtful) with the use of "artificial" methods seems to be even more impossible. In addition, why should we call it "artificial" at all, if a family wants to change the place of residence for some time to help their children pick up a foreign language?
CHAPTER 8 The authors advise parents bringing along a pre-school helper to the country they are going to move to in order to maintain the children's skills in the minority language. Since such a scheme is very costly, it may, however, not be available to many bilingual families. In the subsection "Death of a parent" (p. 113) the authors claim that if it is the minority language parent who dies, the children's competence in this language is seriously jeopardized. I believe that if the majority language parent dies, children's linguistic and psychological development is equally endangered. There are families where minority language parents do not learn the majority language and in such cases these parents' competence in the majority language may be too low to communicate with children immediately after the death of the majority language parent. Although there is still the minority language to use, it is often the children's weaker language, and talking, e.g., about school may be difficult for the first few months.
APPENDICES My only criticism here applies to Appendix D. Some of the pages are old (e.g., Bilingual Families Web Page was last updated in 1998), while some URLS are not valid (e.g., Bilingual Families Web Page > Resources > Nordic Languages > Barnesiden). In addition, there occurs some permanent error when one tries to subscribe to the mailing list under Biling-Fam Internet mailing list.
The book is generally nicely edited with very few spelling errors.
Overall, this book is aimed for all parents who would like to give their children a chance to grow up in two languages. It may be valuable not only for families where parents have different native languages, but also for any family where children are taught a minority language, be it in the kindergarten, from an au-pair or at school. Problems to consider are often similar in there families, and this book collects them all in one place. This book may also appear useful for teachers working with children brought up in mixed families, as it helps them learn what kind of problems such children deal with and how to help them.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Magdalena Fiałkowska is currently a PhD student at the English Department at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland, but in two months she will transfer her PhD to the University of Surrey, Guildford, England. She will spend three years in the Department of Linguistic, Cultural and Translational Studies working on her PhD, which is going to be focused on the acquisition of morphology by Polish-English bilingual children.