LINGUIST List 28.4124

Mon Oct 09 2017

Review: Applied Linguistics; Language Acquisition: Dewaele, Festman, Poarch (2017)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 28-Jul-2017
From: Zehra Palta <>
Subject: Raising Multilingual Children
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Julia Festman
AUTHOR: Gregory J. Poarch
AUTHOR: Jean-Marc Adrien Dewaele
TITLE: Raising Multilingual Children
SERIES TITLE: Parents' and Teachers' Guides
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2017

REVIEWER: Zehra Melike Palta, University of Toronto

REVIEWS EDITOR: Helen Aristar-Dry


This book is part of the series ‘ Parents and Teachers Guides: 23 by ‘Multilingual Matters’ that aims to provide strategies to readers who have no prior knowledge of multilingualism, who are about to become multilingual parents or who are wondering ‘’ what kind of linguistic policy to follow to maintain or develop their child or children’s multilingualism (pp.vii). ‘’ A short preface by the authors contextualizes the need to focus on multilingualism by identifying that ‘’ most books on this topic are focused on typical issues in the US, and limited to bilingualism (p.viii).’’ The authors adopt an ‘’issue-related approach to keep the book reader-related and not overly scientific (pp.viii).’’

In Chapter 1, the authors list ten advantages of raising children as multilinguals. Authors indicate that the acquisition of more than one language will ‘’contribute to the future linguistic capital (pp.2), ’’ ‘’cultural capital (pp.2), ’’ and to the ‘’economic capital (pp.3)’’ of the child. The child will be able to become aware of the linguistic rules and how they differ between the languages and understand the ‘’cultural values linked to them (pp.2).’’ As a result, they will be able to reflect on the relationship between culture and language. Concerning its contribution to the economic capital, authors explain that being a multilingual will facilitate social mobility as they can ‘’expand their social network (pp.4)’’ and have a greater chance of finding a job in a business world that favours the knowledge of multiple languages. Moreover, previous studies (Dewaele & Li Wei, 2013; Dewaele & Stavans, 2014) have found that multilingualism has social advantages as multilinguals ‘’ tend to have more cultural empathy and are more open-minded (pp.2).’’ The study of Bialystok and Poarch (2014) also found that multilinguals have a cognitive advantage since they are ‘’better at ignoring irrelevant information (pp.2) ’’ as they can ‘’inhibit the languages not in use (pp.2).’’ Lastly, authors explain that learning multiple languages at an early age requires less conscious effort however ‘’ the child’s skillfulness will depend on the amount of input they receive (pp.2).’’

Chapter 2 consists of the three authors sharing their experiences with teaching multiple languages to their children. Dewaele tells the multilingual journey of his daughter, Livia, who was raised learning French, Dutch and English at an early age. The family had an exclusive language policy of ‘one person-one language’ in order to balance the amount of exposure to input in each language. Dewaele starts the chapter by providing brief information on the language milestone development of monolingual children before providing examples from his daughters’ speech to demonstrate that the language acquisition process of ‘’children with multiple first language is typically very similar (pp.7)’’ and that ‘’early multilingualism was not linked to any delay in her acquisition of English, French or Dutch (pp.31). ’’ Although there were cross-linguistic influences and transfer errors, Deawaele explains that ‘’ the errors she made were generally comparable to those made by the monolingual children of the same age (pp.15).’’ Furthermore, as a multilingual, even at an early age, Livia had language awareness as she was able to realize that different words were used in different languages to refer to the same object, and she was able to choose a language according to context and reproduce family’s language pattern while talking to her toys during playtime. Dewaele concludes his section by emphasizing that although parents can be an influence in the language choice of the child, ‘’ the linguistic and cultural influence of the child’s environment is much more powerful (pp.18).’’ Second experience was on Festman’s children Aya and Noam, who did not have an equal amount of exposure to their parents’ languages as the father felt marginalised using his native language, Hebrew, whereas the mother, Festman, used only German with her children. Aya’s English language journey was also activated once the parents started to address her in English. This section outlines the importance of input in language acquisition and the difficulties that linguistic minorities can face while trying to maintain their language. The last section focuses on the experiences of Poarch’s son Loïc who continuously changed his language choice. Poarch believes that the variation in his language proficiencies is correlated with the amount of exposure and the active usage of his three languages.

Chapter 3 suggests family language policies and strategies to ensure that children have a successful multilingual acquisition. Authors indicate that repetition is one of the key strategies in language learning as it allows for the establishment of connections in the brain consequently forming a memory trace. Another strategy to introduce new words to children is by using techniques such as ‘fast mapping’ that establishes a connection between the object and the name for the child. Last strategy is to use ‘play’ in which children can use ‘’words they know in different contexts and situations (pp.49).’’ Authors explain that emotional environment encourages language acquisition hence children should ‘’ receive attention and affection through all the spoken language (pp.51).’’

The first family language policy is what is seen in the case of Livia, ‘one parent-one language’ (OPOL). Authors claim that this policy is an ideal situation for successful multilingual acquisition ‘’ if the child has the opportunity to be exposed, and is actively involved in the multilingual environment (pp.54).’’ The second family language policy is ‘one other person-one language’ (OOPOL) in which another family member or someone outside the family speaks the third language. In this situation, if the child develops a personal relation with the third language speaker and has a constant exposure to the third language, he or she might be able to progress well in the language acquisition process. The last language policy is the ‘occasional language use’’ (OLU) in which the language is used in certain situations such as during weekends, or dinners. In this case, since the child has reduced exposure to the language, the language competencies would also be reduced.

In Chapter 4, authors emphasize the importance of a family to agree on a language policy beforehand in order to establish a pattern that can be followed. The authors indicate that parents should not expect multilingual children to be like monolingual children as ‘’multilinguals will display either a narrow or broad vocabulary knowledge (pp.63)’’ depending on the quality and the quantity of input and their active usage. Hence, ‘’ multilinguals will have very diverse language repertoires (pp.63).’’

Chapter 5 consist of answers to questions that authors came across when reading blogs about multilingual acquisition. Authors indicate that although educational materials such as DVDs can expose children to a language, it will ‘’ never displace the necessary personal interaction with a real-life speaker to whom the child is emotionally attached (pp.68).’’ It is also important to expose children to other native speakers as ‘’ cultural knowledge and pragmatic cues are passed on (pp.71).’’ Authors also touch on ‘ language shift’ and explain that children might decide to abandon or refuse to speak a certain language in order to be accepted by their peers who do not speak the same language. Lastly, the authors provide a short list of strategies that can be applied in the classrooms to promote multilingualism.


The book is successful in clearly communicating the processes involved in multilingual acquisition to readers who might not have a prior knowledge. It is effectively organized in a way that leads readers to understand why it is important to acquire multiple languages, what to expect during this process, and how to assist children to successful acquisition. The cases of the children provide real-life examples to illustrate and simplify concepts such as code switching, cross-linguistic interference, transfer errors and language awareness, which might be foreign concepts to individuals without a background in the field of linguistics.

Although the authors indicate that this book is reader-related and not excessively scientific, I believe that providing more scientific evidence to support their claims will help the reader comprehend their conclusions. As this book is also intended for teachers to use as a guide in the classroom, language acquisition theories could have been used to explain linguistic phenomena such as cross-linguistic transfers or transfer errors. This way, teachers would be able to become more aware of the complex process of multiple language acquisition and understand the reason behind the mistakes that are made by multilingual students. Nevertheless, the strategies recommended to teachers are very applicable and will allow teachers to create a classroom environment in which the linguistic repertoire of the students are valued and promoted.

It would also be interesting to further observe and elaborate on the perception of children regarding the languages they speak and the development of their linguistic identity. For example, in the case of Livia, the lack of societal dialect in Dutch triggered her to have an identity crisis as she declared that she was not Belgian: she indicated that she was British with Belgian roots as she could relate better to British ways of communicating. Furthermore, at one point in her life, to not stand out and be accepted by her peers, she decided to inform her parents to speak English with her as her peers spoke this language. As can be seen, linguistic identity is prone to change and is influenced by various factors such as societal value attached to a language and acceptance, as seen in Livia’s case.


Bialystok, E. and Poarch, G.J. (2014) Language experience changes language and cognitive ability. Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft 17, 433-446.

Dewaele, J.-M. and Li Wei (2013) Is multilingualism linked to a higher tolerance of ambiguity/ Bilingualism: Language & Cognition 16 (1), 231-240.

Dewaele, J.-M. and Stavans, A. (2014) The effect of immigration, acculturation, and multicompetence on personality profiles of Israeli multilinguals. International Journal of Bilingualism 18 (3), 203-221.


Zehra Melike Palta is a PhD student in the Language and Literacies Education Program and Comparative, International and Development Education Program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. Her research interests include plurilingualism, language education, language politics, and the construction and development of linguistic identity.

Page Updated: 09-Oct-2017