The Pleasure of Raising Multilingual Children

4 April 2017

Last month we published Raising Multilingual Children by Julia Festman, Gregory J. Poarch and Jean-Marc Dewaele. In this post, Jean-Marc discusses his own experience of bringing up a multilingual daughter and explains what inspired him and his co-authors to write the book.  

Parents everywhere in the world want the best for their children. It means looking after their physical and psychological health as well as their education. I remember reading books with my wife when she was pregnant with Livia about the best ways to raise children. We felt a little overwhelmed by the amount of information and the occasionally contradictory suggestions on how to be good parents. We were also struck by the strong opinions people had about early multilingualism. Many expressed doubts about it being beneficial for the child “before a first language” settled in: wasn’t there a risk of the child ending up with a “muddled” linguistic system, unable to distinguish between the languages? Others wondered whether growing up with multiple languages might lead to an absence of clear linguistic and cultural roots for the child.

Having read my former PhD supervisor, Hugo Baetens Beardsmore’s (1982) book, Bilingualism: Basic Principles, my wife and I decided that the potential benefits of early multilingualism outweighed the potential drawbacks, and when Livia was born in London in 1996, my wife used Dutch with her, I used French, with English spoken all around us. She picked up Urdu from her Pakistani child-minder, who spoke English and Urdu with the English-speaking children. We were a bit concerned that the introduction of a fourth first language might be too much for Livia, but this fear turned out to be unfounded and her languages developed at a normal pace – though Urdu faded away after the age of two and a half when she moved to an English nursery school. From the moment she started speaking, she was perfectly capable of separating her languages, and switching from one to another effortlessly depending on the linguistic repertoire of her interlocutor. She still sounds like a native speaker in her three languages and consistently got some of the highest marks for English during her primary and secondary education. The brain of a baby is like a sponge: sufficient and regular linguistic input will allow it to absorb the languages in its environment. There is no danger of the brain ‘overheating’ because of exposure to too many languages.

Livia’s case is the first story in the book Raising Multilingual Children that has just come out. It includes Livia’s own view on her multilingualism at the age of ten and sixteen. My co-authors Greg Poarch and Julia Festman tell the story of their trilingual children. Greg’s son, Loïc, speaks two minority languages (English and Dutch) at home and uses German outside of his home. Julia’s daughter and son, Aya and Noam, grew up as trilinguals from birth, with two minority languages (English and Hebrew) at home and German outside. The situation changed when Julia’s husband passed away and the input in Hebrew dried up. Now German is the majority language spoken inside and outside of their home and English is the language used at school. Greg, Julia and I decided to pool our family experiences with three languages to produce a book for the general public informed by the academic research. We adopted an issue-related approach and agreed that we would present tips based on examples from our daily lives to highlight things that worked, and strategies that backfired with our children. The book contains concrete and practical ideas to implement multilingualism in the household.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism by Colin Baker, Language Strategies for Trilingual Families by Andreas Braun and Tony Cline, and Xiao-lei Wang’s books, Growing up with Three Languages and Maintaining Three Languages.


Psychology and Language Learning Conference in Graz

3 June 2014

Last week I was fortunate enough to travel to the Psychology and Language Learning conference in Graz, Austria. This conference was the very first of its kind and Multilingual Matters was honoured to be invited to attend. We have recently published several books of relevance to the theme of the conference so it was a fantastic opportunity to share our publications with a group of scholars dedicated to the topic.

Laura at the Multilingual Matters book display

Laura at the Multilingual Matters book display

The conference was hosted by the Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz and seamlessly organised by Sarah Mercer and her efficient team of student helpers. The 3 day conference schedule included seminars, workshops and 6 plenary sessions related to the theme “Matters of the Mind: Psychology and Language Learning”. The sessions were sandwiched between Zoltán Dörnyei’s engaging opening plenary on the significant role of narratives in the psychology of language learning and Jean-Marc Dewaele’s closing plenary in which he presented a solid case for the defence of individual differences peppered with many entertaining anecdotes!

10 most popular titles at the Psychology and Language Learning conference

10 most popular titles at the Psychology and Language Learning conference

Outside of the sessions, I was kept busy in the book exhibit as our new books, Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA (edited by Sarah Mercer and Marion Williams) and Capitalizing on Language Learners’ Individual Differences (by Tammy Gregersen and Peter MacIntyre), were snapped up by the delegates. As ever with international conferences, it was a pleasure to meet some of our authors for the first time. I was particularly pleased to meet Kata Csizér who I have recently been working with as her book The Impact of Self-concept on Language Learning has just been approved for publication in September.  She edits the book together with Michael Magid and I was amazed to hear that they have never met each other in person!

Laura enjoying the Austrian wine region

Laura enjoying the Austrian wine region

The conference also had a packed social schedule and I really enjoyed catching up with both familiar and new colleagues as we sampled typical Austrian wine and schnitzel! Having not been to Austria before I was glad that some of my expectations about the country were correct – the food really is delicious; the city was enchanting and the countryside absolutely stunning and my ability to speak German is just as rusty as I feared! I was also interested to learn new things about the country (and region in particular) that surprised me – pumpkin seeds (or their by-products) are served with almost everything; I actually do quite like Sauvignon Blanc (or at least that from the Styrian region) and Austria is one of a few EU countries where smoking is still permitted in some bars and restaurants.

At some point in the conference it was mentioned that, on average, each delegate sends 4 emails to the conference organiser before the event. For a conference of this size, that makes well over a 1000 emails demanding to be answered, on top of the usual correspondence involved in conference organisation and of course the continuing commitments of daily life. I think I echo the sentiments of all the delegates in saying how grateful we are to Sarah Mercer for arranging such a vibrant and successful few days. At the beginning of this post I referred to the conference as “the first” and I don’t think I’m alone in hoping that there will be a second “Psychology and Language Learning” conference in the future…

If you’d like to see more of the photos from the conference please visit our Facebook page and search the photos albums.


An Interview with Danuta Gabryś-Barker

14 May 2013

The Affective Dimension in Second Language AcquisitionThis month we published Danuta Gabryś-Barker’s new book The Affective Dimension in Second Language Acquisition and she took a couple of minutes to answer a few questions about her research.

Well, I have to confess that a lot of the themes of my research derive from personal and intuitive feelings concerning my own experiences of foreign language acquisition and use. Looking back at my first language learning experiences, I can clearly recall feelings of frustration and negative perceptions of my own language ability, resulting in mental blocks and failures, as well as the moments of success in part ascribable to the words of praise given by my first language teacher. Also when in the 1990s I first started researching multilinguality by means of introspective methods – mostly simultaneous introspection – I did observe how much cognitive processing in language tasks as reported by the subjects was determined – either enhanced or impeded – by the affective states that they went through.

What makes your book different from others that have been published before?
First of all, I would like to say that although affectivity is the major factor in language learning (and not only in this context), not that much has been published on it in the domain of bi- and multilinguality. The book The Affective Dimension in Second Language Acquisition, edited together with Joanna Bielska, is an example of a monograph contributing to this field in that it gathers papers on various themes dealing with affectivity and not all of them just focusing on the usual and most often discussed topics of motivation and attitude. A whole variety of contexts and types of language learners are the focus of the empirical studies presented in the volume. Some of them look at the author’s own affectivity and teaching and learning experiences. Also the research methods used in the studies reported are helping to promote qualitative methods such as introspection and narrative inquiry, which in my view are more relevant in the context of studying affectivity or at least complement the quantitative data.

Danuta Gabryś-BarkerWhich researchers in your field do you particularly admire?
Ok, this is quite an easy question to answer. Although there are quite a few scholars who research issues connected with affectivity in language learning contexts, there are two names that I would like to mention: Aneta Pavlenko and Jean-Marc Dewaele. They are pre-eminent both in relation to their individual research and their joint projects on the emotions of multilinguals. I would also mention the researchers in Geneva Emotion Group and particularly Klaus Scherer, who inspired me to study appraisal systems in the context of  multilingual affectivity. I was very happy that Aneta Pavlenko kindly agreed to contribute to this volume.

What is next for you in terms of research projects?
Last year I published a book on teacher reflectivity, a substantial part of which deals with affectivity in the context of foreign language teacher training, which is very relevant to the other side of my professional interests (working with pre-service teachers of English).  At the moment I am exploring the possibilities narrative and autobiographical methods offer in researching multilinguality, in studying the languages of thought and of dreams of multilingual speakers.

The image on the cover of your book is very picturesque – can you tell us a bit more about where it was taken?
With pleasure, as it brings back a lot of happy memories from the places which I associate with sun, wine and holidays. It was taken in Lisbon on one of our romantic walks with Tony, my husband. And it seemed to me when I was looking through the photos I took last summer (and I can’t resist taking hundreds of them) to choose one for the cover of the book on affectivity, that the sight of an unknown young couple in the archway of one of Lisbon’s cosy side-streets would be most appropriate.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing/editing books?
Well, I have to say that I do enjoy my professional duties, which constitute a very important part of my life. I mean here, lecturing and teaching – especially my M.A. seminars on language teaching and learning. Although I have been teaching for almost thirty years now, I still feel pretty fresh and treat it as an adventure and something of a challenge with every new group of students. But enthusiasm has to go beyond one’s professional life, too. I have to admit to one weakness, which may sound a bit silly in the context of being an academic and researcher. I love branded and vintage handbags and not only collect them (you can’t imagine how big my collection is), but also study their history. My life is so busy at the moment that another passion of mine, painting (though I’m not very skilful at it), has had to be put aside for a while as it requires too much of my concentration and devotion. But I will return to it some day. Perhaps when I retire.

Morphosyntactic Issues in Second Language AcquisitionIf you liked this book you might also like Danuta’s other book Morphosyntactic Issues in Second Language Acquisition.

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