Colin Baker's Guide to Bilingualism
I Am A Mom, Raising Multilingual Children

“A Parents’ And Teachers’ Guide To Bilingualism” by Colin Baker: A Review

Colin Baker's Guide to Bilingualism

Disclaimer: I was offered a free copy of the book as a reward for this review

When I first read “A Parents’ And Teachers’ Guide To Bilingualism”, I was thinking, “it would be so cool to have a paper copy of the book for references”! My wish came true when Multilingual Matters asked me to write the review for the guide’s new edition.

Of course I loved the book. I first read it from cover to back and felt myself absolutely encouraged in my multilingual journey. I had all my questions answered and found the information in this book extremely educational and inspirational.

I found the Q&A format extremely helpful (which is why I wanted to have a paper copy). Now, whenever I have a question, I just need to look for it in the book- I am sure it will be provided.

The guide is divided into four sections: A, B, C, D, E and F

Section A deals with family questions, from, “What are the advantages of my child becoming bilingual?” to “I have gotten out of habit of speaking my native tongue with my child. What can I do  get back in the habit?”. It tackles potential problems about bilingualism in the home, such as what to do when one of the parents doesn’t speak the language, how to raise a bilingual child in a one- parent family or bilingualism and belonging to two cultures.

Section B is all about Language Development questions. It answers questions about the child him or herself. It talks about the most important factors in raising a bilingual child, when it’s the best time to start teaching a child another language, or what to do in a situation when for some reasons it is necessary for the parents to change the language.

Section C is dedicated to problems. It starts with the question whether there are any advantages to your child becoming bilingual (answer, no obviously, there aren’t any), what to do when a child mixes languages or refuse to speak the minority language. This section also answers questions about identity, bilingual children with disabilities or what to do when society isn’t understanding of the language(s) the family is speaking. Or what to do when “professionals” advise parents against bilingualism.

Section D is all about reading and writing and I am sure I will consult it in the next few years as my eldest daughter is learning to read and write. For example, may parents (including myself) ask themselves what language their children should first learn to read and write in. There is lots of great advice about finding books for a bilingual child, what to do in case of reading/writing problems, and what’s the best way to teach a child to read and write in English.

Section E answers questions about education. It starts with playgroups or nursery schools and their effects on bilingualism, and explains the advantages and disadvantages of the different kinds of schools. In this section you will also find answers to questions such as, “What should I look out for in choosing a school for my bilingual child”, or “Will my child’s language level be enough to receive their education in that language”. There are also subsections devoted to education, for example, the different types of bilingual education, achievement and underachievement questions, as well as questions about languages in the classroom.

Finally, section F answers all kinds of concluding questions about the future of bilingualism, how does politics affect multilingualism, what to do when the parent speaks a dialect, and the role technology such as the Internet will play.

A glossary and index are also provided.

Colin Baker answers these questions in a short and yet very satisfying manner. He cites research that illustrates his points and yet his answers will be extremely accessible to everyone who is raising bilingual children. He encourages parents to raise their children with more than one language.

I also love his child-centred approach. For example he says that children can’t be pushed to speak a language but that parents still play a big role in their child’s bilingual upbringing:

“Parents can only act as gardeners, showing their children the variety of cultures within each language. Gardeners can aid growth but not cause it. The language seeds sown need watering, tending and fertilizing. Some language flowers need extra care and protection; other flowers will grow quickly and effortlessly. Sometimes reseeding is necessary.

As growth will vary with climatic conditions outside the control of the language gardener, parents will have to provide conditions for maximal growth inside those climatic variations.”

This new edition has been greatly enriched by even more questions and answers that have not been previously mentioned, for example, bilingualism in the womb, multilingualism (yaay!), the roles of mothers, children as translators and interpreters, adoption, parental efforts and the effect bilingualism has on personality, or language choice when the parent is fully bilingual- and much much more!

This is a book parents of multilingual children should have on their shelves. Additionally, it makes a great gift for all the extended family and teachers who don’t understand anything about bilingualism or are negative about it. I am quite sure this book will change their minds.

About the author: Dr Colin Baker is Professor of Education at Bangor University. He is the author of fifteen books and over fifty articles on bilingualism and bilingual education, with specific interests in language planning and bilingual education.

His textbook Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism (Multilingual Matters, 1993, 1996, 2001, 2006), now in preparation for its fifth edition, has sold over 50,000 copies and has been translated into Japanese, Spanish, Latvian, Greek, and Mandarin. In 1994, the first edition won a prize as ‘Best Book of 1993 by an established author’ (Standing Conference in Education).

His Encyclopedia of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education (Multilingual Matters, with S.P. Jones) won the British Association for Applied Linguistics Book Prize Award for 1999. In 2000, he was honoured with the California Association for Bilingual Education Special Recognition Award for Research and Scholarly Activity.

He is editor of the International Journal of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education and also edits two book series for Multilingual Matters. In addition to academic activities, Colin Baker has held two government appointments as a member of the Assessment and Curriculum Council and the Welsh Language Board. He is married with three bilingual children.

You can buy the book, in both the paper version and ebook on Multilingual Matters.

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  • Reply Ilze May 26, 2014 at 11:33 am

    Sounds like a good book! I was thinking of buying it but then decided for the trilingualism one from the same series (working on a review now) but maybe I should get this one as well 🙂
    Ilze recently posted…My Favorite Apple BreadMy Profile

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