Book Review – “Bilingual: Life and Reality” by François Grosjean, Ph.D.

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We live in an age in which self-help books of all kinds abound. And, although I swore off reading the Internet forums, blogs, and parenting books while I was pregnant with E. (okay, well, I read a few, but that’s for another post), I have made it my mission to resurrect all my graduate school notes and purchase almost every book – both popular and academic – written on the topic of bilingualism. (Nerd: guilty as charged.) 

I imagine that there are many multilingual families interested, like me, in purchasing a book to guide them in their linguistic journey. So, I thought I would share what has been one of the most helpful (in my opinion) books on the topic of bilingualism. I don’t know about you, but when I’m sitting in front of my computer on amazon (or wherever you purchase books), I can feel overwhelmed with the quantity of book choices on any given topic.

So, with that in mind, the first book I’d like to review on the blog is one by bilingualism expert, François Grosjean, entitled Bilingual: Life and Reality. Although it is not a new book (it was published in 2010), it is new to me (I purchased it last summer when E. was just a few months old), and it is one of my favorites, truly. In his book, Grosjean sets out to show that bilingualism is a reality, a fact of life (hence the title “life and reality”), not a rarity. There is a spirit of empathy for bilinguals throughout his book, a sort of homenaje a ellos.

Here’s what you can expect.

  • The goal of the book:
  1. With a “general readership” in mind, Grosjean sets out to “demystify who bilinguals are” since many monolinguals are unfamiliar with what constitutes being bilingual and because “many bilinguals do not consider themselves to be bilingual and are critical of their own language competence.”
  • The book is divided into two parts:
  1. Bilingual adults (most popular books on bilingualism on the market today are geared solely towards raising children).
  2. Bilingual children

Points of Interest.

1. Summary of the research – 

Grosjean has gathered together much of the important research on bilingualism and second language acquisition into one place. So, if you don’t have the time to scour multiple sources on these topics, this book is a great place to start.

2. Bilingualism as Continuum –

Another unique feature, and one that I greatly appreciate as a later-in-life (i.e. twelve years old) bilingual, is that, in the section on bilingual adults, Grosjean paints a picture of bilingualism as a continuum on which bilinguals find themselves over their lifespan. Our language use and abilities are continually waxing and waning, yet this linguistic reality in no way devalues our being bilingual. (How refreshing for me to hear this as I am someone who is intensely critical of her language skills.) Similarly, Grosjean provides several examples of how bilingual children, due to life changes like moving countries or changing schools, move up and down on the language continuum just like their adult counterparts.

3. Bilingual and Bicultural –

Also in the section on adult bilinguals is a discussion of the distinction between bilinguals and bicultural bilinguals. (Those two terms aren’t always synonymous.) While most people assume that language and culture are inextricably linked all the time, Grosjean reminds his readers that this isn’t always the case. For example, in my case I consider myself Spanish English bilingual, but culturally American-dominant.

4. Special Bilinguals – 

This is another sub-topic of bilingualism that many other books don’t address, and one which I found to be an especially interesting point. Special bilinguals are those who earn a living with their language skills. According to Grosjean, “special bilinguals” include second-language teachers, translators and interpreters, and even, yes, special agents (cool!).

What books can you recommend on the subject of bilingualism? Have you read Grosjean’s book? Your thoughts?

6 thoughts on “Book Review – “Bilingual: Life and Reality” by François Grosjean, Ph.D.

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