Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year from Bringing up Baby Bilingual!

Although I've only been writing this blog for seven months, it seems right to take stock as 2006 turns into 2007. Since May, I've posted 54 entries, a total of nearly 30,000 words. I've interviewed--mostly online folks I've never met--12 people (more than I had expected to--see profiles listed in the right margin) and critiqued three books (fewer than I intended to--see them listed in the right margin). Outside of the blog and my teaching and babysitting duties, I've taken on private tutoring clients--French for preschoolers--which allows me to try out activities and ideas gleaned from research and conversations with colleagues and parents, and then to reflect about them on the blog. And I've published an article online about how to get started and stay motivated when raising children with more than one language!

In less than a year, I've watched my nephew Carl grow from a squirmy baby who couldn't hold his head up to a happy and bouncy and bright and aware almost-toddler who will sit and listen to me read him a book in French without even trying to eat it (unless he sees the cat, in which case he'll abandon the book to chase the cat). We don't know yet if one day a week with "Tatie Sarah" is enough for him to absorb much French--he makes lots of sounds, but none of them are immediately identifiable as words in any language--but he doesn't show any signs of displeasure or confusion that my words are different from everyone else's. In fact, he seems to like the songs I sing and the fingerplays I do for him. His parents are very supportive, encouraging me to continue, even reading him simple books in French and playing French music and books-on-tape when I'm not around. This next year will be a very exciting time as he learns to walk and talk and chew with brand-new teeth!

An added benefit to blogging about this process is that I'm making lots of connections in the blogosphere, meeting other parents and teachers--and even an auntie teaching her niece and nephew Norwegian and an uncle teaching English to a niece in Thailand!--virtually. Reports from fellow bloggers Smashedpea and Braunstonian that they're expecting (and planning to raise the new rugrats bilingually) make me genuinely happy. And as most of the people whose blogs and newsletters and listserv posts I read are farther along in their attempt to raise children with more than one language, they have much wisdom and great ideas to pass on to me and my readers. I'm also connecting in a new way with friends, friends of friends, and colleagues, as they read the blog and talk to me in person about their experiences. It's all fascinating! I just wish I had time to read all the books that have been recommended to me, do more research online, and interview more bilingual families....

It's also interesting to note how my goals and vision for this blog have evolved in such a short time. So much information already exists online about raising children bilingually--I don't want to replicate what's already out there. Or at least, not exactly--there certainly is value in being able to cite additional examples that help advocate teaching children a second language! Plus I like knowing that some readers return here because it consolidates a lot of other resources in one place without an agenda to promote a certain product or organization (see links in right margin). As for my reasons for blogging, they have narrowed considerably: I'm no longer trying to disseminate as much info as I can to as many families as possible. Rather, I'm focusing on my perspective as a non-native speaker trying to teach a second language (and, eventually, foster an appreciation for and understanding of other cultures) to a child for whom I'm not the primary caregiver. Unlike many bilinguals and would-be bilinguals, Carl doesn't have to learn French to get by in a new country or get a good job or, indeed, survive and thrive, so this of course affects my approach and what shows up in the blog.

One aspect that I hadn't anticipated addressing (but have posted about occasionally) is bilingual parents who weren't able to or chose not to teach a second language to their kids (for different reasons). I've posted statements from people who have experienced great frustration and difficulty in this process, because it's important to show that it doesn't always work. I'd like to delve further into this idea, maybe with profiles of bilingual parents whose children aren't bilingual themselves. I see this fairly regularly in my job: every semester it seems that one of my students has a French mom or dad who didn't really speak much French with their child, so the student is learning intermediate French with the other college students, often at a disadvantage. Because he understands some French, he places out of the beginning class, despite the fact that he's weaker at speaking, writing, and reading, and thus he misses out on the bases of grammar and spelling, which makes intermediate French class hard for him.

One element that surprises me is how much time is involved in this blogging--usually 10 to 15 hours a week, in between writing and editing and reading and researching and recruiting people to be profiled. That's more time than I spend with Carl every week! I quickly realized that my goal to post every other day wasn't reasonable, so I've stopped expecting that of myself (and then disappointing myself regularly as a result). In fact, the only thing that really disappoints me is how few comments people make. At first I tried to be very teacherly, concluding posts with questions for readers about their opinions, experiences, and so on in relation to the content of the post--very similar to what I do with my college students in our online discussion forums. But when not many responded here, I realized that I can't expect the same sort of feedback from busy parents that I can from students who are being graded on how well and how thoroughly they respond to a prompt from their teacher! Still, I'd like to have more give-and-take, more interaction on this blog. Any suggestions?

Besides, according to my site tracker, nearly 2000 people have visited this blog, hailing from the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belau, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Korea, Kuwait, Latvia, Libya, Moldova, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Palau, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Vietnam. Wow!

This variety of people reading Bringing up Baby Bilingual shows that the idea of raising kids with more than one language really resonates with teachers and caregivers all over the world. Thanks for joining me! Happy New Year.


  1. You will have tons of fun once Carl starts speaking!

    As much as I miss the baby Sophie was and as much as the toddler she's become drives me up the tree sometimes, she's so much more fun now. Running around, getting into everything (aka trouble) and picking up so many words - she just never stops.

    I am really curious to see how much French he's picking up, given his relatively limited exposure to it. Sophie still understands both languages equally well, but continues to speak mainly English. I'm hoping that this will change once she'll be home with me and the new baby later this year!

  2. I'm still trying to figure out if "aaah-oooh" is in French or English. :)