Saturday, October 13, 2012

Quick break from bureaucracy: bilingual parenting

Back before we were expecting David...let's see, that was actually when we were engaged-I downloaded a book to read called "Bilingual By Choice: Raising Kids in Two (or More!) Languages," by Virginie Raguenaud.

Reading it on my Kindle made it harder to flip through and mark my favorite sections and take notes. I regret never having written that book review, because I really enjoyed the book.

The author writes from her own experience. She grew up speaking 3 languages and is raising her twins in French and English. I loved reading about her childhood memories, as she did her homework in one language and then would check her answers with her parents in another language.

I think the book's title (Bilingual by CHOICE) is key. Any family could promote bilingualism in their children, but it takes planning and intention. Although kids are resilient and learn fast, they can lose a language just as easily if they aren't given a chance or a reason to use it.

At the end of the book is a lengthy list of language-promoting activities to do with kids: things like going to the zoo or even observing a construction site and learning all the associated vocabulary.

The book contains a lot of good ideas, though there is no guarantee that what worked for the author would work for others as well.

I would love to hear how Virginie Raguenaud's children are doing now with their two (or more?) languages. I want to go back and read the book again, as well as the other one I liked, "Raising a Bilingual Child.." (read my review).


  1. I'm an American living in Croatia, married to a Croat. I speak to the kids (4 yrs and 2 yrs) in English - my wife in Croatian and we're so glad we made the decision to do so. Some people warned us that the kids would be confused, and early on there was a little confusion. But at this point they speak both languages equally well (at a 4 yr old and 2 yr old level). It still amazes me how they do it, but it just goes to show that language learning is easiest as a child.

    I enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work!

  2. From what I understand, it works best if you do as Jeremy suggested above--one parent speak to the child consistently in English, the other parent consistently speak to the child in the second language. It has to be consistent and each parent has to be comfortably fluent in the language s/he is using.

  3. Sounds good. One question-do the kids know if you speak the other language? What language do the spouses speak with each other? Can't the child figure out that his parents both understand English (or Croatian) and refuse to speak the other?

  4. In our house we speak English to one another and my wife sometimes slips into English if she's not thinking about it. But yeah, the kids know we both know both languages. I'm not sure if they even think about which language they're speaking. When they're in preschool in Croatia they just naturally speak Croatian, when they're in America (as we are now) they naturally speak English with my parents. The other day our four year old told my dad "I love this dorucak...I mean, I love this breakfast." Believe me, there are times in which our four year old tries to be contrary, but I've never seen it come out in his use of language.

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  5. I surely mentioned to you the home of my Russian teachers. My HS Russian teacher was married to the head of the Russian department at the University, so of course in due time I knew them both well and spent time at their house. With them, in this lovely old home near campus, lived my teacher's parents who were Greek,and spoke only Greek, and Eleni's sister and her husband - both professors in the French department at the university. The sister and her husband had two children who could greet me politely at the door in English, run to get their aunt and uncle speaking Russian, explain to their parents who was at the door in French and respond to their grandparents in Greek. I found that beyond impressive, struggling as I was with learning the ONE language. I wrote a letter last year to my elderly professor and mentioned that memory - as it happened, he was staying at the home of his nephew at the time, and said that those children not only remained fluent in all those languages - but became language professors themselves!

  6. Thanks for the info., Jeremy! I do "slip" into Russian a lot, but I am trying to focus on English while around the baby.

    Annie, that is fascinating! If all my in-laws were together we would have English, Russian, French, Spanish, and a handful of Congolese tongues...but alas (or for the Lord's glory), we are all scattered!

  7. This is so fascinating and cool! A good friend of mine is from Quebec living in the U.S. now so her kids are bilingual in English and Quebecois French. She told me she teaches the kids basic words in French first (her first language) and then put more emphasis on English as they grow to be more vocal toddlers. She has tons of children's books in both languages and it's fun to look through them. Bilingualism is awesome, I wish I knew more than just English! :)

  8. Yeah, I think people end up assigning certain activities or people to one particular language. I know if I usually speak Russian with someone it is awkward to switch into English. Someone who is "bilingual" might also find it easier to read for fun in one language but do school subjects in the other, for example. That's what I've heard. I know for me, I don't think I would ever feel comfortable reading the Bible in anything but English. Of course I can STUDY it in other languages, but not really feel the essence.


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