Family Language Plans: Why and How?

This month we published Bilingual Families: A Practical Language Planning Guide by Eowyn Crisfield. In this post the author explains what Family Language Planning is and how to go about it. 

When I first set out to write this book, many years ago, I wanted to share knowledge with parents about the key ingredients for successful bilingualism. My idea was to communicate the research base in order to support families’ decisions to raise their children as bi/multilinguals. Over the years of procrastinating instead of writing, I came to realise that most families already understand the why, what they need support with is the how.

Over the 15 years I’ve been working with families, I’ve had to do very little to support their conviction that bi/multilingualism is the right choice, and a lot more to help them design how bilingualism will happen for their children. This process is called Family Language Planning. Many, many bilingual families do not need a plan. People living in multilingual parts of the world may find that bilingualism happens naturally for their children, as it did for them. This is the case in India, and in many African countries, for example, where multilingualism is a way of life, and monolingualism is rare.

When parents are faced with raising their child with two or more languages without the support of community for each of those languages, things become trickier. We know that input – hearing a language spoken directly to them – is the key to child language development. This is true if you have one language or if you have four. If you have one language, you can be fairly sure that your child will hear enough of it to develop properly. The more languages you have in your family language ecology, the more you need to think about and plan to ensure that your child will have adequate input in each of those languages.

The process of Family Language Planning starts with goal-setting. Parents need to agree on the languages that will be a part of your plan. This will include languages spoken by the parents, the language of school, community, and any other languages that a child will need to communicate in their environment. Once goal-setting is done, then you can move on to planning. For each language you need to consider who will be using it with the child, in what contexts, and for what purposes. Thinking forward to schooling, there are decisions to be made about school choice, developing literacy, and future prospects. The final plan is a dynamic document, and can be changed as needed, when you move house, have a new family member, or need to change schools, for example.

My new vision of my book, seven years on from the first, is that it needs to help parents understand the research base on bilingualism in development first, but then also needs to provide support in the many decisions that parents will need to make on their bilingual journey with their children. I hope that you find it useful whether you are on the beginning of your journey, or further along.

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this blog post interesting, you might also like Raising Multilingual Children by Julia Festman, Gregory J. Poarch and Jean-Marc Dewaele.