Are you or your partner pregnant, and do you speak a different language from each other? Then chances are there’s not just a baby on the way, but a bilingual baby! At least that’s what a lot of parents hope when they find themselves raising a child together with someone who has a different mother tongue. It’s not always clear though what exactly the best approach is in such a situation. Should you both continue to speak your own language, or are there other choices you could make that might lead to better outcomes? What do you do if you don’t understand each other’s languages and speak a third language amongst yourselves? What will your conversations with your future offspring look like? And if you do speak the same language as each other but this is a different language from the one spoken in the community around you — Dutch in the case of families here in the Netherlands —  you may wonder how your child will learn that language properly. In short, then, how do you plan for a bilingual child? Don’t worry if you’ve have already started your parenting journey and are already raising bilingual children, there’s plenty for you in this episode, too. 

In this first episode of Kletsheads we talk to Eowyn Crisfield about how you and your partner can make a plan for the languages in your family, something that’s often referred to as family language planning. We hear that it’s wise to think about this early on, that it’s necessary to involve all the important people in your child’s life, and that this plan may change over time. Eowyn gives us her six building blocks for success so that you can be sure that there is a bright bilingual future ahead for your child. This episode is mostly intended for parents, but if you’re a speech language therapist, teacher, or other professional working with young families, there’s plenty of useful information in here for you, too.

Every episode we speak to a bilingual child about what it’s like to grow up with more than one language, in our feature Kletshead of the week. This episode we have two Kletsheads of the week, two brothers from Utrecht, the Netherlands, Quinn and Aiden. As part of our feature Let’s klets, we speak to a parent or professional about their experiences with bilingual children. In this episode we speak to Dessu from Ethiopia about his very multilingual family. Our conversation took place at the Kletskoppen child language festival held in Nijmegen on 29th February, 2020.

Sharon interviewing Dessu at Kletskoppen child language festival

Eowyn Crisfield is an expert in multilingual education and parenting. She comes from Canada, where she earned her Bachelor in Teaching English as a second language and her Master of Applied Linguistics. She has over 20 years of experience in teaching, teacher training, and research in this field. She has a very accessible blog www.onraisingbilingualchildren.com where she writes about her professional and personal experiences with biilingualism. Here you can also read more about her services, including a webinar on bilingual education. Eowyn is the mother of three trilingual children (English, French & Dutch) and works as a lecturer at Oxford Brookes University in the UK.

During my conversation with Eowyn several topics came up that we discussed in the first season of the Dutch-language edition of Kletsheads, such as the mixing of two tasks (Aflevering 1: Is het praten van twee talen door elkaar reden tot zorg?), language problems (Aflevering 4: Hoe weet je of een meertalig kind een taalachterstand heeft?), and whether bilingualism brings many cognitive benefits (Aflevering 5: Zijn meertalige kinderen slimmer dan eentalige kinderen?). Eowyn also gave Colin Baker’s book A Parent’s and Teacher’s Guide to Bilingualism van Colin Baker as a reading tip. This is also one of my favorites! 

Keen to hear more from Eowyn and her approach to family language planning? She has her own book coming out in January 2021. It’s called Bilingual Families: A Practical Language Planning Guide. Find out more and order your copy here.

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