A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference hosted by an organisation called Families in Global Transition. It is a group that works to better understand how to support families who are mobile, from a business and educational perspective. It was a very interesting experience, as I normally attend academic conferences rather than industry-type conferences.
One of the things that surprised me was how many different aspects of the mobile world can be impacted by language. Companies who offer moving support and school choice support need information on bilingualism, to better advise their clients on critical issues such as mother tongue maintenance, school language support, special needs services etc. Organisations that support international adoptions need access to information and research on the issue of language loss by adopted children. Coaches and therapists who work with Third Culture Kids and their families need a better understanding of how language issues can impact the expat experience.
For the first time, I found myself presenting the opposite perspective from my usual message – that bilingualism is not for every mobile family. In some situations (age of children, length of stay, special circumstances), choosing to add another language for a child is not always the right choice. However, I do believe that if a family chooses for monolingualism in an international lifestyle, there are ways to do so that can still benefit the children.
The bottom line, for me, is that everyone involved in an internationally mobile lifestyle needs a basic understanding of the principles of bilingualism, from a cognitive and sociolinguistic perspective, in order to navigate the language aspects of a global lifestyle in an informed manner.