Book Review: Growing up with Two Languages

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Jul 18 14:10:45 UTC 2005

Forwarded from Linguist-List,

AUTHORS: Cunningham-Andersson, Una; Andersson, Staffan

 Growing Up with Two Languages: A Practical Guide

Routledge (Taylor and Francis)  2004
Announced at

Reviewed by Magdalena Anna Fialkowska, School of English,
Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, 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

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

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

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.


Magdalena Fialkowska is currently a PhD student at the English Department
at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, 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.

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