Reflecting on Family Language Planning

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Crisfield Educational Consulting Family Language Planning

Two interesting things happened the other day that led me to reflect on family language planning. The first was seeing a session description on a conference website claiming that the job of “family language advisor” is a new field of work that has developed due to the rise in multilingual families. The second was running into a family that I worked with eight years ago, and hearing their family update.

I can admit to some surprise at reading that family language planning is a new field of work, given that I have been working with families since 2005, and have acted as a “family language advisor” for well over a hundred families in that time in an official capacity. In an unofficial capacity, I’ve answered questions, concerns and strange queries from many, many more via email and my blog. It is true that there has been sudden upswing in people selling their services as family language consultants, for better or for worse. It’s an unregulated field, and anyone can call themselves an expert, but as in all services, buyer beware! The unfortunate truth is that many families could use support on their journey to raise bi/multilingual families, and good support can be hard to find, and costs money. I choose to blog (even though I find it hard!) to provide free information for as many families as possible, as not all can access my professional services for a variety of reasons. I often ask families that contact me via email if I can answer their questions in a blog post, as the answer will surely be helpful to other families as well. If you find yourself in the position of needing help and not having it available, please do send your question for upcoming blog posts.

The second incident happened at a community event where I live. I was approached by a couple with whom I had worked when they were expecting their first child (lucky for me that I have a very good memory and remembered them!). That child was now a seven-year old boy and well on his journey with three languages. It was lovely to hear their updates, and how their son is developing in his languages. It was especially nice for me because he was quite a textbook case, so all the advice I had given them was accurate and reflected his journey (I don’t get it right all the time, I’m sure!). I don’t often hear back from families I’ve worked with unless they come up against issues that they need help with, so it was nice to hear a pure success story. If you are a family I have worked with, please do feel free to send me updates –  your stories are helpful for me in growing my professional understanding of language development in families.

Family Language Planning isn’t always easy. Language in general, and in families in particular, can be a very emotional subject, and one that can cause disagreements between family members. Parents who are concerned about their children’s journey to bi/multilingualism often have been given conflicting advice from well-meaning friends or family, and sometimes professionals as well. Families put their trust in us, and hope that we will be able to provide the answers that they need. In return for that trust, we who are working in this “new” field need to ensure that we are professionally qualified and certified, and acting ethically in all regards.

4 thoughts on “Reflecting on Family Language Planning

  1. eacrisfield says:

    That is a great post – and so true! When I first joined FB, a lot of people started adding me to their groups about raising bilingual/multilingual children. In the end, I left all those groups, plus most local parenting groups, because I had to choose: either spend all my time correcting misinformation/bad information/irresponsible information, or ignore it and let them all make their mistakes… I couldn’t handle it so I just removed myself from all groups like that. It’s unfortunate that people thing that having a child who is bilingual makes them an expert on everybody’s bilingual child, when really, the expertise comes from years or study and professional development in the area of language acquisition. Thanks for sharing your post!

  2. lenfantbilingueblog says:

    Thank you very much for your blog post.

    I follow your posts primarily for personal reasons. I am raising three bilingual children in a setting which is probably one of the most favorable. Still I have come across many questions and challenges. In this journey, I have found many good resources in English but very few quality resources in French, my native and dominant language.

    Over time I have gathered some experience and knowledge through extensive reading and have seriously considered starting a blog and / or consultancy in French. However, I have quickly come across the impostor’s syndrome ! My knowledge and research is certainly biased by my personal experience. On the one hand, it would be valuable for French speakers to get access to quality information and counselling in French, on the other hand I certainly do not want to offer unprofessional advice !

    I would love to hear your suggestions on ways to get suitable qualifications and certifications and to get started.

    Best regards,

    Margot FC

    >

    • eacrisfield says:

      Thanks for your comment Margot. The answer is a complex one though. I can tell you that in the last few family consultations I have done, I have drawn on a wide variety of knowledge from my background as a teacher and a linguist. I’ve needed to know about typical child language acquisition (including speech sound onset), atypical language acquisition for children with special educational needs, the linguistic background of Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, the curriculum of international schools and especially approaches to literacy, and also the phonetic systems of different languages. Families who find me are usually experiencing difficulties (not always, but often) and these can be connected to any number of factors that have little to do with the topics covered in mass-marketed books on bilingualism. Because I have a language-teaching degree, I’ve studied a number of these subjects at the graduate level, and because I work with schools I keep up my own professional development in all these areas.
      I think two things are very important. Firstly, make sure that the resources you are relying on are valid. I would never use a self-published book as a source, no matter how interesting it is, simply because anyone can self-publish a book with without any external quality control. If I am looking for valid and reliable information I expect the author to have been through the publishing process with a reliable publisher, which allows a certain level of confidence. Secondly, I think that what you would need to do to set yourself up as an advisor depends on what you want to claim you are selling. There are lots of ways to blog about and offer advice on something without being misleading about your credentials. You do have valuable information for lots of families who have similar situations to yours, and that can be incredibly helpful to share. If you want to do some professional development there are quite a few interesting courses you can take online. I’d start with a basic language acquisition course, and follow that with other courses that are directed at what services you want to be able to provide. I get my accreditation through the Society of Education Consultants, which requires me to remain in good standing (three service evaluations per year) as well as to abide by their professional code of practice and have professional insurance. This means that families/schools know that I am qualified for the services I am offering, and that I work to professional standards. I don’t think that level of accreditation is necessary to blog about your own learning and experiences with raising bilingual children, and to offer something valuable to the parent community, as long as you know when to say “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with this issue.” But certainly to offer services to organisations and schools, it’s good to have an external validation of expertise. So this was a very long answer but I hope at least a little helpful. Happy to continue the discussion if you want!

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