My Academic year by the numbers

Most of the Western world celebrates “New Year” on January 1st, as does WordPress. In the academic world, however, our rhythms are different. July signals for me the end of the year, and a time for reflecting on the past academic year and the upcoming year. So I’m going to have my own little celebration here, to mark the end of the 2016-2017 academic year, and give me food for thought about my plans and priorities for the 2017-2018 academic year. So here is my year, by the numbers:

42: Number of flights I have taken this year for work purposes, to

14 countries, on

3 continents, to visit

31 schools, for training, meetings, school audits, parent sessions, and give

9 conference and symposium presentations.

45,000 words written for my upcoming co-authored book “Linguistic and Cultural Innovation in Schools: The Language Challenge” – published by Palgrave Macmillan, due to hit the shelves November 2017

27,751 visits to my blog, from

158 countries, to read

18 blog posts

19 “Raising Bilingual Children: 6 building blocks for success” seminars delivered

22 new textbooks/research books purchased and read

3 heroes met and conversed with: Jim Cummins, Fred Genesee, Stephen Krashen (you can read my article about it here)

244 tweets from my first year using Twitter (@4bilingualism)

So that is pretty much my 2016-2017 academic year, summed through the beauty of a list of numbers. Now to ponder which numbers I want to work on for the next academic year – what you do think I should be doing?

Raising Bilingual (or multilingual!) Children: 6 building blocks for success (May 18)

Next parent seminar in Amsterdam coming up! If you are raising your children with more than one language (or thinking about it), come along and find out the six building blocks for a successful Family Language Plan. This seminar has been developed over a decade of working with bilingual/multilingual families and packs in theoretical background as well and practical planning. Looking forward to meeting my next group of parents!

Our host is the Jacaranda Tree Montessori, registration through this link: Raising Bilingual Children

Please, speak Cantonese to your children!

Waking up to a beautiful morning in Hong Kong!

This is a post that I wrote several months ago, and I am reposting it because I am once again in Hong Kong (Clearwater Bay School, the International Montessori School and LanguageOne HK) and I know this question will be an important one for many parents attending the Parents as Language Partners seminars. If you know someone facing this decision (for Cantonese or any other language) please share!

Obviously this applies to Cantonese-speaking parents… 🙂 but the underlying principle is the same, no matter what your home language is. I’ve been thinking about this issue since I visited Hong Kong in March, and met with many lovely parents who were all attempting to raise their children to be bilingual. So what’s wrong with that? Nothing, of course. What was wrong – if that is even the right word to choose – was that these parents were choosing *not* to speak Cantonese to their children, in favour of English. Again, what’s wrong with that? The answer is, of course, it depends. But for most of the families I met, what was wrong was that they were favouring an outside language over the language that their children need to be a part of their families, community, culture. They were making this choice for many reasons, but the ones I heard the most were to have a better chance of getting their children into an English-language school, and because English is “better” than Cantonese. In an effort to give their children the best start they could, several of these families explained to me that they had chosen to use only English (a second language for them) with their children from birth, for anywhere from 2-5 years. They had thought that Cantonese would be “easy” to add in after, and were finding that this was not the case.

So what are the issues in choosing to speak a language that is not your “mother tongue” to your children? Again, the answer varies according to circumstances (and I did this myself, so I am not adamantly against using another language with your children). But in the Hong Kong context, what is happening is a deepening divide between “high” and “low” varieties of language, with English and Mandarin in the front seat as the high varieties and Cantonese firmly in the back seat. In some of these cases the most pressing issue is the use of a non-fluent language as a parenting language. The potential issues when parents use a language that they are not fully fluent in as the main language with their children range from issues with bonding to issues of language development. Focusing on the language aspect, children need a robust and varied input to fully develop in a language, and to be exposed to a level of language that promotes on-going vocabulary and structural development as well as increasing cognitive proficiency in the language. The worst case scenario is that the children end up struggling in school because their language level and abilities are not age-appropriate due to lack of the right types of input. So in this sense, the parents choice to use English to help their children in English-language education may very well actually be working against them. Far better to arrive at school with a very well-developed home language and then build English on that strong foundation.

A second, but not secondary, issue is related to culture and identity. Children in Hong Kong also take “Chinese” in school, but rather than studying the Cantonese used all around them, they almost exclusively (in English-language schools at least) study Mandarin, which is a completely different language. So then the children are learning in and studying two foreign languages – but not their own language. In some cases, they may have enough family members speaking Cantonese to them that they can use this language too, but at least some of the families I met were in the situation of having school-aged children who had very little Cantonese. This means that the only language they can use to communicate with their extended family is English, rather than the language of their community and culture. These children are essentially third-culture kids being raised as strangers within their own culture.

So what should parents in Hong Kong, and elsewhere (this problem is not limited to Hong Kong, of course) do to give their children the best chance of being successfully bilingual and acquiring the languages that the children need and the languages that the parents want? My answer is to start at home, doing what you do best and what your children need first – your own language. Choose at least one parent to pass on the home language, and to be active in this process. If the other parent wants to use English, and is fluent enough for this to be a viable choice for a parenting language, then you can do both at home using the one-parent, one-language model. But the community language should not be sacrificed or neglected in the chase for higher status languages – the better you do your job at home with your own language, the better prepared your children will be to add other languages. The bottom line is that Cantonese children should speak Cantonese – for them, it is more important in the early years than any other language. It’s what makes them a part of their family, extended family, culture and identity. Give them this first, and then plan to add in the other languages (within reason!) that you think are important for your children too.

Raising Bilingual Children: Parent seminar (Amsterdam)

A brief announcement that on Thursday, October 27, I will be returning to the Jacaranda Tree Montessori in Amsterdam, for an open seminar “Raising Bilingual Children: Six building blocks for success”. This is my most popular seminar, and mainly given at schools, so an open event is rare! In the two-hour session we will look at (a little) theory and practice, to help parents understand why they should pursue bilingualism (or multilingualism) for their children, what it takes to be successful, and how to make a plan to get them there. It’s always a fun evening (for me too!) and a chance for parents to meet others who are on the same journey with their children.

Registration at via the Jacaranda Tree Montessori website.

Raising Bilingual Children: Six building blocks for success (Amsterdam)

It’s that time a year again… once the school year is up and running, parents start thinking about how things are going with their little bilingual children. I meet more parents in the Sept-Nov block than at any other time of year! I visit many schools to provide parents with an opportunity to learn more about how to help their children become successfully bilingual. For readers who have children in schools that I don’t visit (sorry!) there is an open-invitation seminar next week in Amsterdam as well.

My “Raising Bilingual Children” seminar is one of my favourites; I’ve been working on it for years, and each family I meet contributes to my understanding on bilingual/multilingual families and adds to my “book learning” and research background. I pack as much good information as possible into the 2-hour session, along with some moments of humour and time for asking questions. So if you are raising your children with two or more languages, this session will give you a solid understanding of the elements for success, and how to consider your family situation to make the best plan possible (and then how to change the plan when you need to….).

Thursday, October 15, 20:00-22:00 at the Jacaranda Tree Montessori – you can register at the link below.

Raising Bilingual Children Seminar at the Jacaranda Tree

New Seminar Date: Raising Bilingual Children (Amsterdam, April 16)

It’s Spring time (even if it doesn’t feel like it yet…) and that means it’s time for my semi-annual trip to the welcoming Jacaranda Tree Montessori in Amsterdam. This seminar is for parents who are thinking about, or have already chosen bilingualism/multilingualism for their children. It’s a little bit of theory (but fun, I promise) and a lot of practical information on ways and means to pursue bilingualism, including different approaches and family language planning. This jam-packed seminar is the constantly-evolving product of over a decade of working with families and continuous integration of new research knowledge, all tied up in a two-hour bilingualpalooza. It’s a great way to learn a little more about bilingualism, get direction to set you on the right track or correct course if necessary, and to connect with other families in AMS who are on the same journey.
You can register via Jacaranda Tree Montessori

Feel free to email or post any questions you many have.