As I’ve written previously, I didn’t run out and purchase every last parenting book I could get my hands on when I learned I was pregnant.
But, I did scour the bookstores for any and all books on bilingual parenting. While I didn’t know whether I’d be into attachment parenting or sleep training, baby purees or baby weaning – I figured I’d see as I went along – I did make the decision to raise my daughter bilingually.
Today’s book under review centers around that premise: bilingual parenting is a choice and that choice requires active and intentional support on the part of parents. Bilingual by Choice: Raising Kids in Two (or more!) Languages (2009) by Virginie Raguenaud is another great resource for parents undertaking the daunting and exciting journey of bilingual parenting.
You probably know already that there are tons of resources for parents raising children in more than one language, so many that it can feel overwhelming when deciding on which ones to purchase and read. So, I thought I’d periodically post book reviews here on the blog with the hope that they might help you decide which ones are best for you and your family. You can find my reviews of Bilingual: Life and Reality by François Grosjean here and of The Bilingual Edge by Kendall King and Alison Mackey here.
Raguenaud’s book is both practical and encouraging, and it reminds families that not only is bilingual parenting possible, but that it’s fun, too!
- Intended audience –
According to the book’s cover, “parents, educators, immigrants, and expatriates.” I find that this book is mostly directed at parents and families who have chosen to raise their children in more than one language.
- Book’s objective and tone –
Raguenaud’s goal is to provide parents with ample strategies and ideas to successfully raise their children bilingually. The author, citing a line from Taeschner’s The Sun is Feminine, writes “Not all children who grow up in bilingual families become bilingual.” (73). Just because parents are bilingual doesn’t mean that our children will become bilingual. It requires parents making a conscious choice to dedicate ourselves to helping our children become bilingual.
- How it’s divided –
There are ten chapters that cover a wide range of sub-issues related to parenting in more than one language. Like most other books on bilingual parenting, this book includes a section on the myths and misconceptions surrounding bilingualism, as well as the benefits it carries for children. It also dedicates a chapter on the various schooling options for parents, including homeschooling and the possibility of attending school in the home country. And, if your child is an adolescent, then you might find helpful the chapter on “bilingual and recommended for English honors,” a topic geared towards adolescents in advanced secondary classes.
What I like about the book:
- First-hand account –
Although not a researcher and professor in the field of linguistics, Raguenaud does write from personal experience (always backing up what she writes with sound research). She emigrated to the United States (to the state of New Jersey) from Compiegne, France, at the age of twelve. So, long before becoming a parent of bilingual children, she herself experienced what it is like to grow up with two languages and two cultures.
- Practical –
Raguenaud dedicates an entire chapter to the “logistics” of bilingual parenting, including one of the most fundamental steps: defining your goals. If you are a soon-to-be parent and are considering raising your children in more than language, have you defined the linguistic goal(s) you have in mind for your children? Did you know that there isn’t just one type of bilingual? Are you and your partner on the same page regarding the language strategies you hope to employ? And, have you conveyed these ideas to your extended family and close friends? These are some of the questions that the author addresses – and supports through personal experience – in the book.
- Creative –
Finally, the book contains two more chapters packed with creative advice on how to promote, support, and expand a child’s language development. Raguenaud reminds parents that language learning can – and should be – fun if we use creative strategies and engaging activities with our children in the minority language. Here are a few of my favorite activities:
- Use a voice recorder to record your children’s conversations while, for example, playing. Kids love to hear their own voices and this serves, as Raguenaud writes, as a distraction and calming technique during temper tantrums.
- Host an international student: contact a local university to learn about their foreign exchange program. If your family has the space at home, why not consider inviting a student to live with you for a summer or a semester?
- Design a scavenger hunt in the target language. To this day, I still remember the neighborhood scavenger hunt my own mother put together for my ninth birthday. My friends and I had a blast!
- Sister Cities: Sister Cities International is an organization that matches U.S. to other cities around the world in order to raise global awareness. Check out their website to see if your hometown has a match for your family’s target language. If so, consider contacting that city’s local government for educational materials or for ideas on a possible home exchange with another family.
- City Tour: “Gather a group of friends who speak your heritage language or who want to practice it, and contact your local Chamber of Commerce or Visitors Center and ask for a guided tour of your town in your heritage language.” (167) What a fabulous idea! I had never thought of this.
I’ve limited myself to listing just five of my favorite activities from Raguenaud’s book; there are so many more great ideas!
In closing, I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite quotations from the chapter “Listen Up! Helpful Insights from Experts in Childhood Bilingualism and Second Language Acquisition and Encouraging Advice from Fellow Parents.” (Emphasis mine)
Let it be natural. Don’t force it on the children. Just let your enthusiasm for your language and culture be the driving force.”