AUTHOR: Una Cunningham TITLE: Growing up with two languages SUBTITLE: A practical guide for the bilingual family, 3rd edition PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor & Francis) YEAR: 2011
Karolina Dobersztyn, School of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland
SUMMARY The book “Growing up with two languages” is a guide for parents raising bilingual children, the third edition of a book originally published in 1999. It treats various aspects of life with two languages and two cultures. The changes that have been introduced in comparison with the second edition include two completely new chapters: “Looking back on a bilingual childhood” and “Research and further reading”. The former takes the form of case studies which look at ten different bilingual families from Europe, Africa and Asia, and cover the time span of fifty years. The latter provides an overview of studies on childhood bilingualism and suggestions for further reading.
The book is structured as follows. The Preface provides information concerning the author’s personal experiences with bilingualism as well as changes in the third edition of the book. In Chapter One, “Families with two languages”, different types of bilingual families are identified. The following chapters, from Chapter Two to Chapter Five, explore particular stages of growing up with two languages: expecting a child in a bilingual home, developing a family language system after the child is born and the child’s language development. While initially the discussion focuses on children, in Chapters Six-Nine it shifts to parents raising bilingual children, and deals with such issues as the parents’ expectations regarding the level of competence of bilingual children and various problems involved in bringing up bilingual children. In Chapter Ten, “Looking back on a bilingual childhood”, bilinguals share their experiences of living in a bilingual family. In Chapter Eleven suggestions for further reading are provided. The book includes three appendices, a glossary, a subject index and a bibliography.
Chapter One, “Families with two languages”, covers different types of bilingual families and the day-to-day problems they face. The author distinguishes between mixed language families and minority language families. For mixed language families, where parents do not have a common linguistic and cultural background, adapting to a new situation may pose a considerable challenge. Although at the beginning the minority language speaker may make mistakes while communicating, eventually he or she tends to gain language skills in the majority language. An additional difficulty arises when children appear, as they have to be accommodated in their parents’ linguistic arrangements. If parents choose to expose their children to both languages a new challenge may arise, namely, at some point children may refuse to speak the minority language in public because it leaves them with the feeling of being “an outsider” in their own country. In contrast, Cunningham argues that members of minority language families where both parents speak a minority language are in a more favorable situation as the parents share both a linguistic and cultural background. Their patterns of language use are affected by the degree of integration into the community and prospects regarding return to the home country.
Chapter Two, “Expecting a child in a bilingual home”, discusses the issue of establishing a code of language use within a family before the birth of a child. Cunningham points out that when a bilingual family expects a child the parents have to take into account the child’s linguistic development when making plans. For example, they have to decide whether they want their child to be able to speak a minority language in order to communicate with relatives from their home country. The parents may also consider their child’s ability to speak two languages an asset in career terms. In addition, Cunningham focuses on parental expectations regarding the level of competence of their children. She notes that raising children to be indistinguishable from monolingual speakers of either language appears to be unrealistic.
Chapter Three, “The family language system”, discusses two models of communication that may be used within bilingual families: “one person-one language” and “one language-one location”. Cunningham exposes major shortcomings of the “one person-one language” approach. For example, children may avoid contact with a parent who speaks their weaker language, and they may also receive too little input in a minority language. In contrast, in the “one language-one location” approach children receive a substantial input in a minority language at home, and are usually highly motivated to learn a majority language outside the home to communicate with their friends. While some purists may reject the idea of parents speaking anything other than their native language to children, Cunningham argues that children also benefit from non-native input.
Chapter Four, “Language development”, explores different stages of language learning, ranging from recognizing different sounds and producing words in isolation, to building children’s linguistic awareness. Cunningham argues that parents should have great sensitivity to a child’s linguistic development and should be consistent in their language use to help their child distinguish between languages. The author points out that different languages may be dominant at different times and language mixing is a natural characteristic of bilingual development.
Chapter Five, “The child with two languages”, focuses on the advantages and disadvantages of growing up with two languages. Cunningham stresses that, on the one hand, it is a unique opportunity for a child to learn two languages at home from the parents; on the other hand, being bilingual is a challenge that requires hard work and commitment. Various difficulties may arise depending on the age of a child and the circumstances. For example, younger speakers may have problems with distinguishing between two different sound systems and learning equivalent words, whereas older children who move abroad may lose a year or two in order to catch up before they develop majority language skills. In addition, bilingual children may suffer if education standards happen to be inappropriate.
Chapter Six, “Practical parenting in a bilingual home”, investigates the decisive role of parents in raising bilingual children. Cunningham offers practical advice to parents about seeking support in the community, encouraging children to interact with other children who speak a minority language, as well as using age-appropriate learning materials. The author argues that providing input in a minority language is as important as giving a child a chance to respond.
Chapter Seven, “Competence in two cultures”, explores the notion of biculturalism. Cunningham points out that the decision about exposing children to two cultures is not as straightforward as the decision regarding language choice. According to Cunningham while children may acquire a language wherever they are by simply being exposed to it, they cannot become integrated into a culture without the support of the community.
Chapter Eight, “Problems you may encounter”, presents two types of problems that parents may be faced with while raising a bilingual child. First, people who live abroad may find that their language skills in the native language have deteriorated in comparison with the skills they had in their home country. A language strategy may also be disrupted by unexpected occurrences, such as divorce, death of a parent and bringing up children with disabilities.
Chapter Nine, “Keeping it up”, focuses on the maintenance of previous linguistic strategies. Cunningham stresses the importance of motivation and systematic work in language learning as well as the positive effect of knowing a minority language for a child’s future career.
Chapter Ten, “Looking back on a bilingual childhood”, provides ten unique case studies in which people who grew up with two languages as children share their experiences. Most case studies are based on Indo-European languages, while two involve languages from other language families, i.e. Igbo (Niger-Congo) and Turkish (Altaic). In addition, Cunningham describes the lives of her four children brought up in a bilingual home.
Chapter Eleven, “Research and further reading”, focuses on bilingualism research. Cunningham discusses studies dealing with children’s bilingual language development and bilingual language acquisition, and suggests directions for further reading.
The book concludes with three appendices offering advice about organizing a workshop devoted to raising bilingual children, as well as supporting and documenting children’s bilingual development. The book is accompanied by a companion website which provides excerpts from interviews and information about the author (http://cw.routledge.com/textbooks/9780415598521/).
EVALUATION “Growing up with two languages” is an extensive survey of the lives of members of bilingual families who experienced benefits and faced risks as a result of living with two languages and two cultures on a daily basis. The book discusses difficulties involved in bringing up a bilingual child, but it also offers practical advice how to overcome them.
The book is primarily aimed at parents who raise bilingual children and professionals who work with them, such as teachers and educationalists. As it takes a practical approach to the bilingual families, it includes few references to theories of bilingualism. The book is accessible to readers without a background in linguistics, and provides a glossary of key terms. The book is written in a clear style. The chapters are illustrated with examples placed in grey boxes and individual contributions from members of bilingual families in block quotations.
One of the book’s greatest advantages is that it explores virtually all aspects of living with two languages. It considers issues connected with bilingualism from the perspective of both parents and children, and also describes bilingual families in relation to other people who interact with them. The book covers almost all domains of language use, such as family, friendship, religion, education and employment. In addition, it examines situations that occur on a regular basis, such as bilingual education at school, and unexpected occurrences, such as the divorce of the parents and the resulting restriction in the input in one of the languages. In addition, it provides real-life examples drawn from a variety of languages.
The book has limitations, though. It focuses on families in which either one of the parents speaks the dominant language of the community and the other speaks the minority language, or those in which both parents have the same linguistic background, speak the minority language and live outside their home country. It thus fails to adequately account for other types of bilingual families within the typology by Döpke (1992), i.e. families in which parents have different first languages, both of which are minority languages. While it is sometimes possible to generalize from the examples provided to wider contexts, members of such families would benefit from more detailed discussion of the issues they face on a daily basis. Moreover, the book does not treat families in which there is only one parent. In addition, the book’s coverage is unbalanced, with all linguistic examples from either English or Swedish, while examples of cultural contexts are drawn from a wide variety of languages.
Structurally, there is some repetition. For example, the issue of public perception of bilingual families speaking a minority language on the street is discussed not only in the section “Be prepared!” in Chapter Two, but also in the sections “Language switching” in Chapter One and “Being different” in Chapter Five. On the formal side, there are occasional misprints in linguistic examples from Swedish, i.e.: blåbar (blåbär) (p. 5), klattra (klättra) (p. 5), dar (där) (p. 36); gor (gör) (p. 58); snogubbe (snögubbe) (p. 59), manen (månen) (p. 59).
On the whole, “Growing up with two languages” provides a useful resource for parents of bilingual families who want to bring up their children bilingually.
REFERENCES Döpke, Susanne. 1992. One-parent-one-language: An interactional approach. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Karolina Dobersztyn is an MA student of English at Adam Mickiewicz
University, Poznan, Poland. Her research interest centers on contact
linguistics. She is currently working on patterns of language use of
members of bilingual families in the United States. She relates language
choices of bilingual speakers to the processes of language maintenance and