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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Review of  Bilingual Families

Reviewer: Yevheniia Hasai
Book Title: Bilingual Families
Book Author: Eowyn Crisfield
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 32.2459

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This book aims to provide strategies and a language planning guide for parents trying to raise their children with more than one language. Drawing on her long experience working with hundreds of families, Crisfield gives practical advice and useful tools to facilitate language planning and “to share key information with parents and educators about why bi/multilingualism can be the right choice for any child, and how best to plan for success” (p. 1). A short introduction describes the rationale for writing this book, as well as for giving her seminars “Parents as Language Partners” and working on the blog “On Raising Bilingual Children”. The author describes the six building blocks for success with bilingualism “for developing a strong, consistent approach to each aspect of your language journey with your children” (p. 3). Worksheet 1 at the end of this section helps readers reflect on their decision to raise their children bilingually, their reasoning, and feelings about this choice.

In Chapter 1, Crisfield gives the most relevant information on the basics of mono/bilingual language development to help families become more confident and consistent in their approach to embrace bilingualism. She debunks the most repeated myths, such as “children are language sponges”, “earlier is always better”, “being bilingual means being equally good in the two languages”, “bilingual children start speaking later than monolingual children”, etc. The author gives short answers to the common questions surrounding bilingualism by providing findings from academic research and summarizing the most important information at the end of the section. Worksheet 2 assists in reviewing the popular myths and the facts, demystifying bilingualism and defining the questions that need further investigation.

Crisfield continues in Chapter 2 by moving to the next building blocks for success in raising children bilingually. She explains the most important points to consider when setting language goals and making a Family Language Plan. This chapter describes various scenarios that influence individual choices and can have an impact on the decision to raise children with more than one language, like immigration, community bilingualism, adoption, and parents’ choice to use an additional language. Crisfield highlights the importance of understanding the goals of using more than one language: “The next step is deciding how you want your children to be able to use each of the languages that you have chosen” (p. 29). She briefly describes the difference between communicative, basic literacy, and academic literacy goals, and suggests to “consider language priorities in the following order: languages of the parents, language of school, language of the community, other languages” (p. 31). Worksheet 3 is provided to set language goals for children.

Moving on to Family Language Plans, Crisfield talks about their most important elements, quality and quantity of linguistic input, and activities that are extremely useful for raising children with more than one language. She recommends creating a language input map in various circumstances that might require a shift in plan and/or when it appears that one of the languages is lagging behind the plan. Chapter 2 discusses the OPOL (one-parent, one-language), MLaH (minority language at home), and domains of use approaches for simultaneous bilingualism, and addresses the limitations and complications of these approaches. The key element in choosing or combining them is that they should give the best opportunity to achieve the planned results.

The central challenges of sequential bilingualism and the key elements of success in the school context are touched upon, too. Based on previous research, Crisfield emphasizes that obtaining literacy skills in the mother tongue is beneficial for language maintenance, especially if one is not surrounded by users of this language. Moreover, “the level of development of children’s mother tongue is a strong predictor of their second language development” (Cummins 2001: 3, as cited p. 47). The author discourages parents from following the still-popular advice to stop speaking their heritage language at home and choosing the majority language instead, as this can be detrimental to the child’s cognitive development: the child is hardly capable of accessing the same kind of thinking in the majority as in the heritage language. Forcing the majority language will result in the lack of appropriate, age-level input and will deprive the child of the possibility to develop normally. At the end of Chapter 2, there is a list of further resources for those who would like to learn more about raising children bi/multilingually. Worksheets 4 and 5 provide templates which help to move from choosing to planning how to achieve language goals. Appendices A and B exemplify how a Family Language Plan and a School Planner could look like, what leads to meeting the communicative, basic literacy, and academic literacy goals, and the advantages and disadvantages of choosing certain types of educational institutions with or without bi/multilingual support.

In Chapter 3, Crisfield describes the strategies that help to support a Family Language Plan. She emphasizes the importance of explaining to children why they should use more than one language. Ultimately, children should understand the rationale for this choice to be able to cooperate. Crisfield explains how language status and a monolingual environment can influence children’s choices and what parents can do to encourage bi/multilingual development of their children. Special attention is given to creating a supportive environment in childcare, educational, and medical institutions. Parents should talk to caregivers, educators, psychologists, and medical professionals about their children’s linguistic journey and be able to advocate for it if needed. “If you know what research says about bi/multilingualism, and aren’t afraid to tell them, they will most likely defer to you rather than persist in trying to advise you” (p. 82). Crisfield talks about the importance of supporting bi/multilingual language learners and the possible ways of embracing multiple languages in the school context, such as integrating knowledge about language into the curriculum, translanguaging (seeing language “as a multilingual, multisemiotic, multisensory, and multimodal resource” for thinking and for communicating thought (Li 2018: 26)), and allowing bi/multilinguals to use their languages for socializing and learning. Worksheet 6 can be used as a tool for preparing to talk with one’s children about the reasons for raising them with more than one language and possible motivations unique to them. Worksheet 7 helps to think up the most important things one might need to discuss with other key people (family members, friends, caregivers, and educators). Although “bilingualism does not cause language delays or learning difficulties” (p. 88), raising children bi/multilingually has all the challenges that raising children monolingually has. There is an overview of situations which can indicate that children need professional help and that getting speech therapy and/or educational support might be a good idea. When choosing a specialist, it is important to keep in mind that language professionals need to have sufficient knowledge about bilingual language development to be able to help bilingual children. Finally, one finds a list of language assessment and therapy resources for parents and language experts, as well as links to some free online courses, websites, blogs, and academic articles.

Crisfield concludes with a summary of the “building blocks for success” (p. 95) for parents who want their children to grow up with more than one language. The Glossary of Terms and the Index will be useful for non-specialists who read this book. It is worth noting that the use of terminology is overall consistent and clear in the text; however, the terms “translanguaging” and “code-switching” are used as synonyms on p.18. Normally, they are not used interchangeably in the literature (e.g., Coronel-Molina & Samuelson 2017, García & Li 2014; Li 2018, to name a few). For instance, Li (2018: 27) states: “Translanguaging has never intended to replace code-switching or any other term, although it challenges the code view of language. It does not deny the existence of named languages, but stresses that languages are historically, politically, and ideologically defined entities”.


Crisfield does a very good job of communicating the factors involved in bi/multilingual language acquisition to families that have little prior knowledge on raising children bi/multilingually. The book is well-organized to help families understand why it could be beneficial for children to learn additional languages, what obstacles and challenges they might expect, and what support they need in their language journey. The author provides examples from her personal and professional experience to illustrate the most common situations of bi/multilingual language development and to prevent making common mistakes.

This is a reader-friendly guide for parents who would like to raise their children with more than one language. The book is not excessively scientific, although the prevailing myths surrounding bi/multilingualism are debunked by references to well-known research. The Bibliography presents a list of both older and more recent studies which investigate (bi/multilingual) language development. It could have been beneficial to provide a short list of further references at the end of the section “Moving from Fiction to Fact” for those parents who would like to deepen their knowledge on the research surrounding the stereotypes of language acquisition and learning. This scientific evidence would not only support the author’s claims, but also would come in handy in situations when parents need to advocate for their language choice (see Chapter 3 “Supporting Your Family Language Plan”).

It would also have been valuable to give some advice on handling situations when the environment—in particular caregivers, educators, psychologists, and medical professionals—do not allow bi/multilinguals to use their languages for socializing and for learning. This can be due to their lack of understanding of language acquisition, little knowledge of the additional languages, lack of confidence, the absence of specific examples, attitudes, etc. (e.g. Bailey and Marsden 2017; Bonnet and Siemund 2018; Hobbs 2016; Üstunel 2016; Woll 2020; Zhu 2008). Furthermore, the question of handling (linguistic) identity crisis is hardly touched upon in this guide. It would have been extremely helpful to provide some recommendations for families facing such a crisis and for those who would like to avoid it, as language has been demonstrated to be one of the most influential identity factors (Burck 2007; Lin 2007; Rozanov 2016). Overall, Crisfield’s guide meets its goal—providing valuable information and practical tools in a suitable format for parents who are interested in raising their children with more than one language.


Bailey, E. G., Marsden, E. J. (2017). Teachers’ views on recognising and using home languages in predominantly monolingual primary schools. Language and Education. 283–306.

Bonnet, T., Siemund, P. (2018). Foreign Language Education in Multilingual Classrooms. Hamburg Studies on Linguistic Diversity 7. 1–29.

Burck, C. (2007). Multilingual living. Explorations of language and subjectivity. Basingstoke, England and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Coronel-Molina, S., Samuelson, B. (2017). Language contact and translingual literacies, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 38(5). 379–389.

Cummins, J. (2001). Bilingual children's mother tongue: Why is it important for education? Sprogforum 7 (19). 15–20.

García, O., Li, W. (2014). Translanguaging. Palgrave Macmillan.

Hobbs, R. D. (2016). The Global Child: How Experts Would Change Education: Research-Based Acquisition of Languages. LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing.

Li, W. (2018). Translanguaging as a practical theory of language. Applied Linguistics 39(1). 9–30.

Lin, A. (2007). Problematizing identity: Everyday struggles in language, culture, and education. Lawrence Erlbaum.

Rozanov, T. (2016). Language and Identity Explored. Journal of Arts and Humanities 5(6). 1–8.

Üstunel, E. (2016). EFL classroom code-switching. Turkey: Palgrave Macmillan.

Woll, N. (2020). Towards crosslinguistic pedagogy: Demystifying pre-service teachers’ beliefs regarding the target-language-only rule. System 92. 1–11.

Zhu, H. (2008). Dueling language, dueling values: Codeswitching in bilingual intergenerational conflict talk in diasporic families. Journal of Pragmatics 40(10). 1799–1816.
Yevheniia Hasai is a PhD student and a research associate at the Institute for English and American Studies, Hamburg University (Germany). Her research interests include language acquisition, multilingual development, psycholinguistics, bilingualism, multilingualism, learner corpus, lexical transfer, and language education.

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