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.

Being Bilingual with Betty and Cat books

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What makes a good bilingual book for children?

I get a lot of requests from various companies to partner on my blog, or to have me promote their services or products. I rarely do so, because I rarely find anything worth sharing. But every once and a while I get an email about a service or product that I really like, and I’m happy to talk about. So today I am introducing you to Betty and Cat, who share books but not a language.

Betty (who is a dog), originally speaks Dutch, and Cat (who is a cat!), originally speaks English, are housemates and friends. Betty and Cat have adventures together, each speaking their own language, but understanding each other. The vast majority of children’s books that are identified as bilingual are actually parallel monolingual; they are the same text, translated and put in a dual-language format in the book. While these can be used for some purposes educationally, they don’t represent the reality of bilingual children, who interact with most people in their lives in only one of their languages. The back and forth between the two characters allows bilingual children to use both their languages in reading or listening in an integrated manner, not translating but continuing the story. A side positive note aside from the educational value is that the illustrations are lovely!

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Author Hennie Jacobs became bilingual at the age of six years old, when she moved from the Netherlands to Canada, and her journey inspired these delightful books. They have now been interpreted into other language pairs, including English-French, Dutch-French, English-Spanish and Spanish-French. Click on either illustration to visit the website.