Books about bilingual parenting [Transcript]

July 15, 2023

00:00:15 – 00:01:13
Sharon: Welcome to Kletsheads, the podcast about bilingual children. My name is Sharon Unsworth, linguist at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. A mother of two bilingual children. In this episode of Kletsheads, I’m reviewing two books about bilingual parenting. Together with fellow researcher Ludovica Serratrice, and two parents, Maria Papantoniou and Sam Timmermans. The first father to be a guest on the podcast. Because we have so many guests, this episode is a bit longer than normal, but hopefully just on time for you to organize your reading for the holidays. One of the books is all about family language planning. And in Let’s klets we talk to another parent, Daphne Vlachojannis, about her experience writing and rewriting a family language plan. Keep listening to find out more.

00:01:13 – 00:03:02
Sharon: The first book we’re going to discuss is by Adam Beck. It’s called Bilingual Success Stories Around the World. Parents raising multilingual kids share their experiences and encouragement. It was self-published in 2021, and it’s just under 250 pages long. It retails at €16, 30 or £12, 95 or $14.95. You can also get an eBook version which is a bit cheaper. You might know Adam from the website Bilingual Monkeys. And he’s also written a book, Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability, which we reviewed in the first season of Kletsheads. The goal of the book is to be a practical, real life roadmap to success when it comes to raising bilingual children. It contains 26 chapters, each telling the story of one bilingual family, and it’s organized into three sections early childhood years, the primary school years and then teenage years and beyond. Each chapter starts with a description of the family, which languages the parents speak, what the parents do, where they live, and how old the children are. At the end of each chapter, there’s an afterword by Beck reflecting on the family story in light of the main theme of the book. What is success or giving a short update on the family situation? Plus, there’s also the contact details of one or both parents. For example, the social media handle or website. The first guest joining me to review this book is Sam Timmermans, father of two bilingual English Dutch children here in the Netherlands. Before we hear what Sam thought of the book, he first tells us a bit about his bilingual family.

00:03:02 – 00:04:18
Sam: In 2013, I got approached by a UK sport organisation to come work in the UK and at that time my wife and I and our seven month old daughter had a bit of a conversation and then decided, Oh, me and my wife had a conversation and then we decided to go to go on the adventure to, to, to, to cross the the North Sea and going to live in London. And we’ve lived there for six and a half years. And during that time our son was born in 2015. So he’s lived almost five years in the UK from birth and and my daughter from a slightly more than a year to seven and a half. Um, and in three years ago we, we moved back to the Netherlands. So we went from a situation where Dutch was the minority language in our little family and everything outside of that was English to now Dutch is everywhere. And, and, and we try to keep as much English in our, in our, in our family life, uh, which is, which is a new challenge. But the foundation that they’ve got in English is, is, is strong enough to, to keep adding bits to the and keep them going. 00:04:19 – 00:04:31
Sharon: Yeah. Okay. Interesting situation and I think also a situation that um, that we see a bit at least in the book. So let’s move to the book then. What did you think of it?

00:04:31 – 00:05:23
Sam: I think one of the advantages of the book is the, is the structure of the book and the way you can navigate the book. So it’s, it’s 26 different stories, so and every story has got a good introduction which outlines what the story is about, what languages are related to it. In the back of the book, you’ve got an overview of every story in which languages are related to the story and where where the story is situated. So it helped me to to navigate the book and to I first started with a couple of of of stories and then realized, okay, I can just I can navigate each story. I can skip a story or I can I can I can go to the story that’s most applicable to my situation. And as I went on into the book, I started reflecting more and more. And it just the value of the book was built over the over the course of reading more and more and, and doing more reflections.

00:05:24 – 00:05:29
Sharon: Um, so that’s that was a good, that was a good point. A strong point of the book. Were there any other strong points?

00:05:30 – 00:07:03
Sam: Um, yes. I thought the, the reflection of the, of the author at the, at the end of each story adds adds another layer of, of of a perspective as another perspective. So he’s reflecting often on the story telling a bit more about where the family went after after or after a few years, or pointing out a certain dynamic that’s playing out and and and how that is often a challenge or how you can overcome it, where a certain idea went and how successful it was or the other bit was helpful was the stories are categorized in preschool, primary school and teenage years, which which were also helpful to navigate. And because we are probably towards the back end of primary school years, towards teenage years. And so those stories I was I was more when I started the book, I started with those preschool years and I was thinking actually, where are the where are the stories when when there’s a ten year old or a 12 year old kind of what? And then I navigated towards those stories. All right. These are these are these are interesting things now for us to consider. And probably a point that I reflected on, which was that I don’t know if you can call that a weak point, but it’s quite a significant part of the story. So based in the US, um, and therefore that might bias some, uh, some stories in relation to the infrastructure or the facilities or the ability to kind of speak a minority language. But there are other stories of other languages, a few in Europe and some others, but predominantly they are based in the US.

00:07:03 – 00:07:11
Sharon: Yeah, yeah. And um, what did you think about the, the writing style and, you know, how it was written? It seems quite accessible. Yeah.

00:07:11 – 00:07:25
Sam: Well, yes, yes. It was easy to read. Yeah. It was accessible to, to, to me it also was. Probably helped in terms of being very busy and kind of having lots of things in my mind. I could still engage with the book relatively easy.

00:07:25 – 00:07:34
Sharon: Yeah, Yeah. So the book, the aim of the book is to be a practical roadmap to success. Do you think it’s achieved its aim?

00:07:34 – 00:08:19
Sam: Well, it’s probably not necessarily a roadmap as a whole, but it provides a lot of components that you can create your own roadmap. So it’s not there’s no silver bullet to kind of to get to get to an end point, but with bilingual children or children. But but it what it did for me is it confirmed things that we have done in the past and where we’ve the journey we’ve been on. It made me more conscious about the effort kind of to put in and to to remain conscious about what little things all things add up and all things build towards that foundation and yeah, as well as new ideas on, on what to do to, to keep sparking their enthusiasm for actively engaging in the language.

00:08:19 – 00:09:02
Sharon: Yeah, yeah. I mean even, even for me though, I mean say, even for me, I just mean, you know, I have a podcast about bilingualism. I do research on bilingualism. I’m quite quite up on things, all things bilingual. But also for me, there were a few things in there I thought, Oh yeah, I’ve never thought about that. Like, you know, actively asking friends who who are native speakers of English or normally speak English, but can also speak Dutch, actually saying to them, Please don’t speak Dutch to the kids, speak English to the kids. Right. Getting them on board as well. That’s not something I’d ever thought of doing, but it’s definitely something that I think I will I will apply and do if and when I need to. Yeah, there’s lots of lots of practical stuff in there, isn’t there?

00:09:02 – 00:09:34
Sam: Lots of practice stuff. And also the the contact details at the end of each story I think provide a sense of I can pick up the phone or an email to someone straight away who knows about my situation and and has done something that inspired me or I’m keen to know more about. So there’s probably that element as well as a bit of a sense of community that there is people out there struggling with the same kind of effort to, to keep, to keep going whilst the results might not yet been been been seen.

00:09:34 – 00:09:44
Sharon: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I like that idea of sense of a sense of community. Do you think the books suitable for all different kinds of parents?

00:09:44 – 00:10:03
Sam: Yeah, I think definitely for, for people that are in a situation like this or are are of the intent to have bilingualism or multilingualism in their family situation, they will probably search for something like this and they will find this really practical and really useful and really, really helpful.

00:10:03 – 00:10:07
Sharon: So what’s your final assessment then? You’ve got five stars.

00:10:07 – 00:10:58
Sam: Five stars? The Yeah, I went to four stars. Kind of the I think it’s a really good book to the practicalities, the way you can navigate it. Like I said, the sense of community, the ability to to get information, the ability to reflect on things, the ability to come back to it in six weeks time and and read a chapter and get inspired again. I think that’s really helpful. The the thing that probably stuck with me of something, how, how how accessible is it or how kind of the the America kind of situation as well as the the the effort or the or the when people are reading it that are the start of the journey. There are success stories and that people put a lot of effort into them and they have got also resources to them available to have like a Russian school in the local area or so if you not have those resources, on the one hand, you might get.

00:10:58 – 00:11:02
Sharon: Might put you off a bit. Right. May discourage you, I think Is that the word you look for on the.

00:11:02 – 00:11:41
Sam: One way it could discourage you. But on the on the other hand, I read it, I worked through that because there’s plenty of examples where people fail, fail, fail, fail, fail. And and still those little failures add up to kind of enough of a foundation for their child to do something. So I think the main message of the of the book around kind of, you need to keep being persistent if you build that little community around you, I think it will be easier because you’ve you’ve got a bit of a network to to fall back on because if you can’t put the effort in, then maybe grandma can put the effort in or the Yeah. The effort in that day and that and that will help to keep keep the threat going of being exposed to the language.

00:11:41 – 00:12:14
Sharon: Great. Thanks to Sam for making the time to read this book and share his insights with us, especially given the fact that he was in the middle of moving house when we did the recording. We’ll talk more about how moving country can impact how you approach raising bilingual children. Towards the end of the episode in Let’s-Let’s first thought, We talk to our next guest, and that’s my colleague, Ludovica Serratrice. Ludo is professor of bi multilingualism at the University of Reading in the UK. Here’s what she thought of Adam Beck’s book.

00:12:14 – 00:15:56
Ludovica: Yes, it was very interesting to see such a wide spectrum of what people nowadays call the lived experiences of bilingualism. It’s certainly very international, so it really sort of looks at families, you know, in many in many different settings around the world. And one thing I would say so as you were saying earlier, Sharon, at the beginning of each story, the there is a useful, you know, bullet point introduction to the family. And it’s very interesting to see that Adam always writes what the parents do for a living. So that’s very interesting to see. And also contextualizes really the kind of families that we’re looking at. And I think this is something that he also says in his foreword and that, you know, he tried to be as inclusive as possible. But when you read what I did, actually read through all of the stories, just reading the, you know, the initial blurb at the beginning, just to get a sense of what kind of families they were. And they are a very special set of families. Right? Because, you know, they tend to be very educated families, a lot of them not many, but a lot of quite a few, I would say, have a very active interest in bilingualism. Some of them maintain websites or have their own podcasts or have published something. And so clearly these are very intentional, bilingual, multilingual parents. So having said that, there are very many different situations of parents trying to facilitate their children bilingualism, multilingualism in very many different contexts, you know, from single parent families to parents that decide to use, for example, a language that is not their native language, but because they want to express, you know, their children to maybe they’re very proficient in family, you know, wanting to raise their children speaking English, but actually they were not native English speakers. But, you know, they were trying to do this. So so that’s an interesting take. You know, two families that have got a common language, two families that have got, you know, two different languages there yet in a different context, families that, you know, travel the world and they’re exposed to many different languages, families with like one child, families with many children. So I think it’s really useful. I think and this is, I would say, a very powerful parent to parent experience and always. Yeah. And you know that when you’re getting the kind of direct, unmediated thinking like this is what happened to me, this is how we dealt with the issues. I think it’s a very powerful thing for parents to hear rather than just hearing from, you know, a researcher saying, this is what the evidence says. Trust me, that’s what happens when you’re hearing to somebody. Yeah, Yeah. It I think, you know, it’s very it’s very powerful in that respect. And I would say that, you know, the book is called Bilingual Success Stories, but the families are very honest about the, you know, what they call failures or difficulties that inevitably they encounter along the road. And, you know, often it’s, you know, an up and down journey, you know, clearly sort of, you know, one grow up and, you know, maybe a child that was very comfortable speaking, you know, a language that is not the societal language, maybe they wouldn’t get a bit older. They become, I don’t know, maybe embarrassed or they don’t want to be singled out. So, you know, they’re very honest about that. And I think that’s also refreshing for other parents. Also a lot of very useful tips, I guess, you know, because when you hear what other people have done, I think it is a very, you know, a very and I think, you know, I’m sure yourself, you know, you could have been in one of those stories, I suppose, you know, because, again, the kind of, you know, families that that that they’re in the story in the book also probably speak to maybe your own experience in, you know, the big speak to you perhaps you know in that respect as well.

00:15:57 – 00:16:07
Sharon: Definitely, yeah. I thought, you know, I really enjoyed reading it actually. Like you said, it’s very powerful when you hear stories from other parents and hear how they did things.

00:16:07 – 00:16:26
Ludovica: Adam himself often talks about intentionality. So really, you know, because there is also, I think, you know, in people that don’t know what being a bilingual family is like this idea that, you know, if you’ve got a parent that speaks another language, the child will learn that language. And we all know that actually raising bilingual, multilingual children takes a lot of effort.

00:16:26 – 00:16:48
Sharon: Yeah. So do you think the book achieved its goal then, of really being a, you know, a practical roadmap to success? Do you think it is inspirational enough to all different kinds of parents, or is it? You know, I could imagine also feeling a little bit overwhelmed like, oh, my goodness, this person developed their own materials for their child. Like, I can’t do that. How did you feel when you read it?

00:16:48 – 00:18:18
Ludovica: You’re right. I mean, but I would say that maybe as a parent, I would read it as. Is a series of resources. Maybe some people might feel I don’t want to say intimidated, but but you can also take it or thinking, Oh, okay, there are people out there that have already done this kind of work. I can just I don’t have to do it myself. I can just go and look, you know, what they’ve done. And I also like that I think most of the stories, if not all of them, there was an afterword and sometimes obviously because these stories were collected over the years and obviously, you know, children grow up, as we were saying earlier, where these children are at. And, you know, sometimes, you know, they kept it up. Sometimes, you know, they’ve been a little bit of a hiccup. And, you know, the parents have done. And so there was also a nice a nice thing to see in a way. And also just really gives you the sense of the, you know, the bilingualism is a very dynamic kind of concept. What I also liked in, as you were saying at the beginning, that it’s divided into early years primary school and then, you know, teenage years. And I think, you know, most parents know that motivating teenagers sometimes can be really hard because obviously, inevitably, you know, the most important people are not mum and dad anymore. It’s their peers. And yeah, if the peers are monolingual children speaking the societal language, it’s hard. And so so I think again, as a parent you can probably pick and choose and, and if you’ve got a young child you maybe you might want to see, oh, what awaits me, you know, later on. And you can, you know, bear in mind some pointers for for what’s going to happen next and maybe pre-empt some of the issues potentially.

00:18:18 – 00:18:39
Sharon: Yeah. Yeah. So there’s something in it for all parents, really, right? Whatever age your your children are. So we talked about it from the perspective of a parent. Now, the book’s not intended for researchers, but obviously I’ve asked you to, to join me on the podcast because of your expertise as a researcher in bilingualism. What did you think about it from that viewpoint as you read it?

00:18:40 – 00:19:23
Ludovica: Yeah, so it was very light on research side of things. So I would say that, you know, it was really about the family’s experience and that it was I think there was the intention, there was no attempt really in trying to bring back what the experience of these families is to any research evidence to to that extent. And I think maybe it was deliberate. Perhaps you’re thinking, you know, I’m just going to put out stories, interviews with parents, you know, just talking parents to parents, deciding not I’m sure Adam is very well aware of, you know, research around bilingualism. But I think it was a deliberate choice to do that. 00:19:23 – 00:19:33
Sharon: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, in all fairness, the book wasn’t set out to do that, but there was nothing in it where you thought, Oh, that’s that doesn’t chime with the, with the research findings, right.

00:19:34 – 00:20:24
Ludovica: Um, most of the time I would say no. Like I said, you know, you know, occasionally they may have been cases in which so sometimes I can’t remember exactly which story, but, um, and this is something that I might sort of talk about again later on, you know, when people talk about the, I don’t know, cognitive advantages of bilingual ism and, you know, and as a researcher, I always bristle, um, you know, I’ve always done that when people talk and really up the, you know, this bilingual cognitive advantage because for me, like the bilingual advantage is that you speak two languages. You know, there is very controversial evidence, as we know now about these things. And I’m always very wary when people dig this up and say like, you know, teach your children two or more languages because of their brain potential. Yeah. All right, then.

00:20:24 – 00:20:30
Sharon: So let’s wrap it up for this one. So how many stars would you give this book out of? Five. You’ve got five.

00:20:30 – 00:21:28
Ludovica: Five? Oh, God. Um, maybe four out of five. Because it would have been perhaps useful to have. I don’t know. I’m not want to say a disclaimer, but perhaps, you know, at the end of the book some pointers perhaps to research or to, you know, you know, to linking some of the themes that arise from the discussions. And for somebody who might be interested in following that up to just to point them in the right direction potentially. And again, you know, reading this as a researcher, maybe a parent wouldn’t. I mean, some parents might like that. Some don’t care that much. Yeah, it’s it could have been an option, I’d say potentially. But but again, you know, like I said, I don’t think it was his intention to to say, what does the research say about bilingualism? It was really so in that respect, I think the book was very successful, you know, in giving a voice to parents. For other parents, for sure. Yeah. And I really enjoyed reading it. Great job.

00:21:29 – 00:23:48
Sharon: Good. All right, let’s leave that one there then. And and we’re going to move now to our second book, Bilingual Families, a Family Language Planning Guide. And this also came out in 2021. But it’s quite thin book hundred just over a hundred pages published by multilingual matters. And it retails at €12.95 in. Euro world and just under $15 US dollars and £12. And it’s written by Eowyn Crisfield. She’s the founder and principal of Crisfield Educational Consulting and Senior Lecturer in Teaching English as a second or other language at Oxford Brookes University in the UK. And she has developed her own family language planning program over the years. She used to live in the Netherlands, so I know her from when she lived here and you might know her from raising bilingual children. Her blog. She’s also a mother of three multilingual children. The goal of the book, then, is to provide a guide for parents on how to raise a bilingual child using this family language planning approach. The audience then is parents. But I think the book will be useful for educators and other professionals working with bilingual families. But you can tell me what you think in a minute. It’s organized in three sections. The first is really about the research and the myths about bilingualism. So facts and fiction, everything you need to know. Basically about what we know about bilingualism from the research. In the second part, she introduces this idea of a family language plan and talks about, you know, the need to think about goals and then goes into actually writing the plan. And then in the final selection selection, the final section, that’s really about, um, supporting the family language plan. So how are you going to make it work? Um, so like talk about talking to the kids about it, talking to other key people, knowing when to get help. And this all leads to what she calls her building blocks of success. If you want to know more about that, you can listen to the very first episode, actually, of heads in English, because that was a when talking about this very topic at the end of each chapter, then there are useful summaries of the content and the concrete suggestions for strategies that parents can use and worksheets for parents to complete throughout. So Ludo, what did you think of this one?

00:23:48 – 00:23:59
Ludovica: Fantastic. So for me, it’s the ultimate guide to raising bilingual children. And I loved it because it’s so well written, so accessible and so well researched.

00:23:59 – 00:24:04
Sharon: Informed, yeah. It’s the book we’ve been waiting for for a long time.

00:24:04 – 00:29:19
Ludovica: I wanted to write, you know, I want to get it. Oh, maybe I should write thinking, like, I don’t need to. Eowyn has done it. So jumping ahead, I’m going to give this six stars out of five. Um, so, you know, it’s fantastic. It’s, I think it really brings together research in such an accessible and nuanced way. You know, she’s very careful, you know, in every time, whenever there is, you know, deconstruct this myth like, you know, earlier, you know, again, there is this big, big myth about earlier the better it depends really evidence for this on the ground. You know, children that go to, you know, introducing modern foreign languages into primary school children, these children do five years of learning the days of the week and colors and, you know, the kind of stuff that a child aged 11 can do in a day. Right. So it’s you know, if you’re then if a child is in an immersion context, it’s a very different thing. But I think, you know, yeah, these kind of things that can be used, you know, for example, at policy level to introduce, like I said, you know, a foreign language in primary school saying, oh, the advantage of bilingualism. And they do like an hour a week. And I’m thinking actually not that helpful. Again, I think what really emerges from alien’s approach on the family language plan, which is really, you know, what we know family language policy in the literature is intentionality again. So I think intentionality really comes across in both books. And also very interesting that she looks at cases in which parents might decide not to bring a language into the family potentially or bring, you know, only 2 or 3 that are available. Um, again, this idea that children are like sponges and they can learn as many languages as they can. And yes, it is true that in societies that are multilingual where everybody speaks 4 or 5 languages, I don’t know. In India, in Africa, people will to some extent use these four languages, you know, five languages and with people that also do that. But if you’re a child that is in a family with, you know, two parents that already speak two different languages, you’re going to school in yet another language and then you want to introduce a fourth. There are you know, and there are a limited number of speakers that you have access to. You know, there are also a finite number of hours, you know, finite number of hours in a day. And we all know that input matters. So you also have to be realistic on what you can actually achieve. And also, what I really like about the family language plan is thinking about these realistic goals and what matters. And she doesn’t only talk about language because obviously also being an education minister talking about, you know, the role of school and of literacy. Also read important and and thinking about, you know, are you going to have a child that is going to be able to read in both languages? Does it matter if the script is different? For example, when do you introduce literacy in the heritage language? Should it become, you know, before or after? Does it matter? Is it going to be conflict with a societal language? So really talking about all of the different aspects, you know, what kind of language the parents will talk to each other, to the child, What about the siblings? What about And also, as you were saying, something that came up perhaps in the other book as well, bringing in, you know, in this in supporting this family language plan, It’s you know, you always say it takes a village to raise a bilingual child. You know, a child, you know, in the case of bilingual children, perhaps even more so it becomes even even more obvious that that is the case, because you do have to involve, you know, your child’s teachers and, you know, parents, extended family. Sometimes people have their own opinions about bilingualism and sometimes a very strong opinions. One of the other things that I again, similar to the other books, I think this book is also written for a certain kind of parent. And it was interesting to perhaps because of Owen’s own experience, she often talks about expats and, you know, some people could think like, Oh, what’s the difference between an expat and an immigrant? Right? Like, you know, I may consider myself an expat to this country, but other people say, no, you’re an immigrant. You know what’s. So it was an interesting choice of words, I thought. And also, clearly, she speaks to an uneducated audience. And it was very interesting for me to see, for example, when you have to bring other people to support your language plan or when you’re confronted with professionals like teachers or don’t know your your health visitor who may a lot of the time not be very well informed about bilingualism. I think this is true all over the world. And I see this, you know, I don’t know what it’s like in the Netherlands, but certainly in the UK really, you know, information about language development in its own right and about bilingualism tends to be pretty minimal, really, I would say. Um, and therefore, you know, the suggestion that she made, she said like, you can go to your GP and say if they challenge you about raising your bilingual child. So like actually the research says X, Y and Z, would you like me to share some resources with you? And it takes a very confident parent to be able to do that.

00:29:20 – 00:29:35
Sharon: Yeah. Yeah. So indeed, it’s maybe also for the more well-educated parent, right? But what about for professionals? Right. It’s aimed at parents, but I suspect it would be useful for professionals too. What do you think?

00:29:35 – 00:31:08
Ludovica: Definitely. So. I was actually thinking of I mean, this is already on my as for last year, my reading list for my course on multilingualism and language impairment across the lifespan at the University of Reading. So this is a resource that I also put my speech and language therapy trainee students to because again, there is a section at the end also on, you know, when should you seek advice if you’re concerned about your bilingual, multilingual child’s language development? Again, a very difficult question to answer, even for professionals and even in the, you know, speech and language therapy professions in the teaching profession, there is still, like we were saying, very little information about it. And to be honest, still relatively little research informed evidence. You know, there is an evidence base that is growing, but it’s not black and white. You know, it’s very nuanced. It’s, you know, we have tools they’re developing, but they’re still not very widely adopted in the profession. But what is really important is to really bring to the attention of these professionals, like in a way, like the do’s and don’ts, like the kind of questions you would want to ask parents, the kind of things you would want to bear in mind when you, you know, somebody comes to you with a child who may or may not may not, you know, have language difficulties that are not just, you know, lack of exposure to the language. Right. You’re just not, you know, close to that language. You’re just not had much opportunity. So so, yeah, so I definitely I think this would be a fantastic resource for professionals as well, certainly level one.

00:31:08 – 00:31:15
Sharon: Yeah. So, I mean, you already said you’re going to give it six out of five, but are there any are there any weak points to, to the book?

00:31:16 – 00:31:22
Ludovica: Um, well, like I said, you know, maybe, but this is the problem. I mean, you’re writing books. Who’s going to read the book?

00:31:22 – 00:31:34
Sharon: Well, yeah, I suppose if you if you’re going to actively seek out a book on this topic, then that probably automatically makes you have certain characteristics as a parent, right? So maybe we should just take that as a given.

00:31:34 – 00:32:39
Ludovica: Yes, exactly. So I don’t think it’s I mean, a weakness of the book. It’s just like a systemic issue in a way of like, you know, and I think it’s a problem we all have. Right. Because obviously, in a way and oftentimes, I don’t know, maybe there is I know you’ve got parents on on the podcast as well, so I don’t know. For example, whether, you know, you’re kind of preaching to the converted, you know, in a way. I’m sure there is a lot of information that these parents that it was new to these parents potentially, but I’m thinking they’re reading the kind of mindset. How do you reach people? Yeah, they don’t have the kind of information. How do you you know, potentially I don’t want to say change people’s minds, but I mean, you know, give them a way to make an informed choice because, of course, we all know that there are bilingual parents that for one reason or another, do not bring up their children bilingually. And they may have very good reasons to do so. But I fear sometimes when I do speak to these families, the reason why that happened is not because it was a deliberate choice. It’s just because they didn’t have the information that they might have needed to make that choice, if you see what I mean.

00:32:39 – 00:33:46
Sharon: Yeah. Yeah. And in that sense, I think this book is great, right? Because I think, you know, everybody is free to choose whatever they want and that’s part and parcel of parenting. And whether we’re talking about bilingualism, watching telly or eating sweets, but it’s important to make informed choices. That’s also I think this book is so great because you can make informed choices. I wanted to give a shout out actually to the Planting Languages Project because we’ve talked about that previously in the in the podcast. But it’s, I think, a way in which the the approach that Aoyuan puts forward here with the family language planning has been made more accessible to different kinds of parents. And it’s also they’ve developed materials that professionals can use when working with parents. So I’ll put the link in the show notes, but that’s something to go and look at. If you think, you know, based on what we were just talking about, like the kind of parent who was going to read this, maybe, you know, you think, I’m not so sure. You can also look at the Planting Languages website. They have resources based on the same kinds of background material.

00:33:46 – 00:34:34
Ludovica: Another thing that I meant to say, because I was looking at my notes here and I should have flicked my page to the last page. But another thing that I really liked as well about conversations and also involving children in the family and, you know, children have agency. Clearly, you know, a 5 or 10 year old has got more agency than a one year old, obviously. And but, you know, also explain because I think I seem to remember again, I think it was in this book a child who had stopped speaking Russian. I think it was because it was they thought it was a secret language because they only spoke Russian with their mom. And every time somebody came into the room, they the mom stopped speaking Russian because, you know, these other people didn’t speak the language. So they just thought like, okay, it’s a secret language. Maybe I shouldn’t speak this language. So, you know, things like that.

00:34:34 – 00:35:06
Sharon: Yeah, yeah, I think I like that too as well. Not only talking to children, but talking to your partner, talking to your family, talking to your family in law, wider family, your friends, a community like and not not making assumptions about what people think, but actually checking, you know, first, checking whether your assumptions are actually right and enlisting the help to to help you make you know, to go back to the first book, make a success of your of your bilingual journey. All right. So it’s a it’s a definite thumbs up for this book then from you.

00:35:06 – 00:35:06
Ludovica: Yes.

00:35:06 – 00:35:25
Sharon: Thanks also to Ludo for taking the time to share her thoughts on these two books with us. So Ludo was very positive about you and Crisfield’s book. What did our parent think for this book? I spoke to Maria Papantoniou. She first told us about her own bilingual family situation.

00:35:25 – 00:35:39
Maria: I live in reading in the UK. I’ve been living here for 11 years. I’m originally from Greece. I came to the UK to do my masters initially for a year, but then, you know, 11 years later I’m still here.

00:35:39 – 00:35:41
Sharon: I’m in Holland 21 years later.

00:35:41 – 00:36:43
Maria: So I’ve met my Greek husband since I’ve came to the UK. He’s been here for about 20 years and we now have a five year old who is bilingual. We’re all bilingual and we kind of tried to be strict in a way using Greek at home and then obviously English at work. And then our little one started school this year. Obviously she was at nursery before now she started reception. So kind of proper primary school if you like. And so now kind of speaks English. She learns to to read English and, you know, writing all in English. So we always try to keep the balance between, you know, home language and then. The outside language in the UK. So that’s kind of the background. So it was really interested to to take part in this and read the book and understand how we do things and how we could do things differently as well.

00:36:44 – 00:36:46
Sharon: So what did you think of the book?

00:36:46 – 00:37:54
Maria: I loved it. I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a very kind of easy read, and especially for a parent who doesn’t really have a background into kind of multilingualism in terms of research and expertise. I mean, I did study primary education back in Greece, but it was a very different setting. And, you know, 15 years ago when I studied, there was not really multilingualism in Greece, and things are different now, but obviously I didn’t have the background. So I thought this book is is really easy to read. It’s very simple and, you know, it’s written in a very clear way. So it does help parents to kind of make that start to helping raise bilingual kids. Um, I like the fact that there were many examples and scenarios of other bilingual families, so I can kind of align myself to them. And also the fact that you provided some practical advice on on things that we as parents can do to help our children with the journey. So yeah, overall I really enjoyed it.

00:37:54 – 00:38:18
Sharon: Great. And so now your child’s five years old, right? So I’m interested to know whether you think would you have liked to have read it earlier or is it still useful now even though your child is five? Because I think when you read the book, you know, family language planning, you think, okay, well, you know, maybe it’s too late for us now. How did you feel about that? Reading it now as a parent of a five year old.

00:38:18 – 00:39:26
Maria: I did think that I should have read it earlier. Um, I did think of that quite a few times, especially with the family goals planning. But it was really interesting to to read about the myths, things that I thought were true, actually. They’re just myths. But it was quite reassuring the fact that we did certain things right, if you like, the we insisted on using Greek and my daughter started talking during lockdown. So obviously she was not a nursery. So she started talking simply in Greek to the point that I was thinking, Oh, we should be able to communicate in nursery when she goes back and she’s already two years old, will she be able to, you know, to understand simple concepts? Um, and then I realized that, yes, it was able after a week she was able to talk and stuff. It was just me thinking that it might not be the case. Um, but yeah, I think I should have read it earlier, but I’m glad that I was kind of from the very first moment that she was born, I thought, Yeah, we’re going to stick to Greek and then English will come when she goes to school. Yeah.

00:39:26 – 00:39:40
Sharon: So it was reassuring then that the choices you’d made were the right ones for you, but there was still stuff in it then for you. Even though you know your child is already five. You did think there was plenty of stuff that you could get out of it. Oh, yeah, absolutely.

00:39:40 – 00:40:19
Maria: And even with things that, you know, with writing and literacy in the second language, you know, there were certain tips that I can use for later on because my my daughter cannot write or read in Greek as yet. We wanted her to establish the first language and obviously she now learns English at school. We’d like to establish that first and then move to to Greek. But there was kind of certain useful things and insights about the second language and how she can write once it can start, you know, learning and writing and how much is enough. Obviously that depends on every family, so there’s certainly useful things for me, although I read it quite late.

00:40:19 – 00:40:22
Sharon: And so what do you think were then the strong points of the book?

00:40:23 – 00:41:23
Maria: The strongest point for me was the organization and the length of the book. It gave all the information and and insights that I needed without really having to go through lots of pages. Given that I’m not an expert and simply wanted to get some basic initial information about raising bilingual kids, I felt that this book was just right. It gives you the option to explore the subject further, you know, with additional resources or, you know, the bibliography and which will probably help me the next stage. But yeah, I think the length was perfect. I also like the summary bit at the end of each chapter. I love a good summary. You know, sometimes you might miss some important, you know, points and then, you know, going back then it’s like good, you know, to stay focused. I think my favorite bit was the the chapter demystifying bilingualism. I was surprised to read, you know, some of the things I thought were true are actually myths.

00:41:23 – 00:41:28
Sharon: Can you give an example, actually, of something that you thought was true that turned out to be myth?

00:41:28 – 00:41:53
Maria: Oh, yes. About. Multilingual kids have a delay in in the age they start talking. That was kind of a theme that I used to hear quite a lot, you know? Yeah, If they’re bilingual, they might start talking quite later than monolingual kids. And I thought that was true. It didn’t happen with my daughter. So I thought, okay, it might be an exception. So, so yeah, I was really, really interested to, to read that.

00:41:54 – 00:42:58
Sharon: For, for those of you who’ve not read the book, but maybe you probably are going to go read the book after all these positive reviews. You know, it’s you’re a bilingual child might be slower to start talking in one of the languages, but usually when you look at both of the languages, they fall within the normal range for monolingual children because, you know, also monolingual children very, very much in the age at which they actually start talking, just like kids vary in the age at which they start walking and the age at which they get their first teeth. And so there’s quite a lot of variation in children in general. And often with bilingual children, as with many things, bilingualism is the scapegoat. The reason for things that maybe aren’t what certain people consider normal. But yeah, well, that’s great to hear then. So it really you really enjoyed the, um, the demystifying the bilingualism. So the bit with the, the more research background about what’s facts, what’s what’s fiction and any other strong points before we move on to any potential weak points.

00:42:58 – 00:43:12
Maria: I think there were kind of the main strong points for me. I can go, you know, on and on, but I thought I’d summarize kind of the key ones, and I had to try hard to find some weak points. I think I did, but they’re not very, very weak.

00:43:12 – 00:43:13
Sharon: Okay. Tell us.

00:43:13 – 00:44:10
Maria: I think I’m not quite sure if it’s a weak point or just a personal preference, but for me, having the glossary of terms at the beginning of the book, you used a few terms and abbreviations throughout the book, like the Opal, for example, one parent, one language. So obviously I wasn’t familiar with the term and I had to kind of go back at the end of the book. I mean, it’s not a huge deal, but as a reader, I would prefer it to have it at the beginning. Kind of the key points that you’d probably use throughout the book. So that’s one. And then perhaps the further resources section and the worksheets that you have at the end of each chapter. Sometimes, maybe because I’ve read the book quite late and it wasn’t super applicable to me, I would prefer to see them at the end at the appendix alongside, you know, are the resources that you’ve had. Yeah.

00:44:10 – 00:44:13
Sharon: So for you then the book achieved its goal?

00:44:13 – 00:44:48
Maria: Absolutely. Um, especially, you know, for me as a parent, I think, yeah, it has helped me understand more about multilingual kids, how they think I feel about being multilingual. One thing that I really enjoyed was that provide some advice without really judging or presenting the right or the wrong family opinions. Because, you know, I suspect not everyone is a pro or, you know, promoting bilingualism as much as we do. But yeah, I like that it wasn’t judging for certain decisions.

00:44:48 – 00:45:11
Sharon: Yeah, yeah, yeah, for sure. And you know, nobody’s a pro at the start. I’m not sure anybody feels like a pro at the end either to the extent that there is an end. Yeah, I agree. I do think it’s great that it’s not non-judgmental. So for you then, really, you think it’d be suitable for for any parents who are looking into finding out more information about raising bilingual children?

00:45:11 – 00:45:27
Maria: I think it is because it’s it’s quite simple and it doesn’t require to have any background knowledge or to do any kind of background research. You can just get on and read the book. Um, so yeah, I think it’s a great resource.

00:45:27 – 00:45:34
Sharon: Let’s wrap it up then. I’m going to ask you to tell us what your final assessment is. So how many stars out of five You’ve got five. How many would you give the book?

00:45:34 – 00:46:00
Maria: I would give five. I really enjoyed it. So yeah, I would suggest everyone to buy the book and and read it. It’s a great resource, an easy one, especially if you don’t have too much time to go through, you know, long books and, you know, massive resources. So it’s a kind of easy book. I read it on a bus. So yeah, people can do that. So yeah, five stars for me.

00:46:00 – 00:47:23
Sharon: Another ringing endorsement then of Eowyn Crisfield’s book on family language planning. What did I think of these two books? I completely share the opinions of our three guests. If you’re looking for plenty of real life examples and stories from other families, then you should read Adam Beck’s book. But if you’d rather have more scientific background and at the same time concrete instructions on how to approach bilingual parenting, then I would go for Crisfield’s book and I think that if your budget allows, then with both books you’ll have a nice combination of theory and practice. Thanks to Adam, Eowyn and Multilingual Matters, we’re able to give away one copy of each book. We’ll be doing this via our Instagram page. So if you’d like to win a copy of either of these books, then hurry on over to Insta to take part. This promotion runs between July 15th and 31st, so it’s really for the early birds listening to the episode as soon as it’s dropped. We’re on Insta @kletsheads. We’re going to wrap up this episode now by talking to another parent, Daphne. She’s going to tell us what it’s actually like to write a family language plan.

00:47:23 – 00:47:24
Sharon: Let’s klets.

00:47:27 – 00:47:40
Daphne: My name is Daphne Vlachojannis. I currently live in Athens and I have three children who are aged nine, six and two and at home our languages are French, Greek and English.

00:47:40 – 00:48:19
Sharon: Welcome to the podcast, Daphne. And we invited you on to talk about writing a family language plan, because I know that you have written and I think rewritten one. So we’ve spoken about that a few times on the podcast already. And then also just now in the review of Awan Criswell’s book. And so I’ve been asked also by our listeners to, you know, what do you actually do when you write a family language plan? How do you go about it? So it’s great to have somebody on with that first hand experience. So first of all, then, what made you decide to write a family language plan in the first place?

00:48:19 – 00:48:51
Daphne: What made us decide as a family is that we both, my husband and I, both have essentially two first languages, and we were living in the Netherlands at the time. So then there was a fifth language in the community, and so we knew that five languages would be too much to have sort of flying around the house. And so we needed someone to guide us and put a system in place. Me My first languages are English and French. I do speak Greek, but it’s not one of my first languages. My husband’s first languages are German and Greek, so.

00:48:51 – 00:49:05
Sharon: A complicated language situation, let’s say. And then I guess you had choices that you thought you needed to make. And so was this before the first child was born, or did you at what point did you decide, okay…?

00:49:05 – 00:52:31
Daphne: Yes, this was when I was pregnant with our first with our daughter. I was I was pregnant. And we were thinking about which languages we wanted to speak with the baby. And we both couldn’t decide. So I couldn’t decide between French and English. And my husband couldn’t decide between German and Greek and a when it had come to the International Criminal Court where I used to work. And she had done a presentation there. What Ian did is she sat with us for about two hours and she asked us all kinds of questions about all of our languages, the importance of each of the languages for our heritage, for our family, for our social social situation, for our identities. And and then she she helped us to figure out what the three most important languages, let’s say, were for the early years. So for the first 3 to 4 years of the children’s lives and the way she did that was she said, okay, language of schooling, basically language of schooling or creche, right. Language of community and family heritage. So for us, that left us with Dutch at the time, Greek and English. So those were the three that we decided to go with for the first three years. And her advice was actually quite unorthodox in the sense that she said, okay, once the children start school, which we knew would have been in English, right? We put them in a Dutch creche, but then they started at the British school when they were three and a half. She said, Once the children start school, if you want to me, you can stop speaking to them in English because the school will take over. You can hand over the English baton to the school, if you will, and then you can switch to French. And when she told me this, I thought, okay, that’s that’s not going to work. That’s, you know, I’m going to have this whole relationship with them in English for three and a half years, and how am I going to switch over to French? And so I was quite skeptical. And I said, well, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but I’m going to try it and I’m going to at least give them English for the first three and a half years so that they don’t start school with no English, right? That was the idea. So when my daughter started school at three and a half years old, I quite quickly switched over to French and I was surprised at how quickly she followed suit. I had a conversation with her as you as detailed the conversation as you have with the three and a half year old. I mean, I had you know, I remember very clearly saying when she first started school saying, do you want to switch to French with mommy? Do you want to speak French with mommy? And she said no. And so I left it for a couple of months and I thought, okay, maybe it’s too many changes. You just started school. I left it for a couple of months and I revisited the subject a few months later, asked her again, and at that point she said, Yes, that would be fun. So I said, okay, here we go. And so what I did in the beginning is I started sort of simultaneously translating everything I would say, you know. TV. But you want to drink something? TV You want your your toy. And after a couple of weeks of doing that, she started slowly answering me in French. And then eventually I switched over and yeah, now we speak 100% in French together. Now is, wow, five years, six years later. Yeah. But yeah, it worked. It worked quickly.

00:52:31 – 00:52:51
Sharon: So it’s really about thinking about what languages are in your lives, what they mean to you, what the future might look like for your children because of where you live, but also what you want the future to look like for whatever reason that might be right. That’s that’s what it is. It’s like being very conscious about what you’re doing.

00:52:51 – 00:53:19
Daphne: It’s definitely being very conscious about what you’re doing. And it’s yeah, and it’s, I mean, for some families, there’s, it’s an obvious decision, right? Because there’s not that many languages that are available. But if you, if you are a family that has several, you know, three, four or even five languages that are sort of flying around, then yes, it is a very conscious decision and one that takes into account factors that I hadn’t I hadn’t thought of that much on my own. So.

00:53:19 – 00:53:21
Sharon: And what kind of factors were those then?

00:53:21 – 00:54:53
Daphne: Things like the community language. So, for example, a lot of a lot of expats in the Netherlands will say, Oh, well, we’re only here for a couple of years or we don’t know how long we’re staying. And anyway, everybody speaks English, so the kids don’t really need Dutch. And it’s easy to get sucked into that way of thinking. And I think that it’s absolutely necessary for the children’s well-being to at least have a basic or intermediate level of whatever local language they’re living in, even if they’re staying for only a few years. And I saw that very clearly with my children. We didn’t know how long we were staying. We ended up leaving just a few months ago, actually. So we left when the children were, you know, eight, almost six and two, and certainly for my eight year old, but also for my six year old. I saw definite sort of emotional social benefits to them being able to speak an intermediate level of Dutch so that they didn’t feel like outsiders, you know, for whatever, for however long they were there. They didn’t feel like outsiders. They were able to talk to kids on the playground. Now, we left probably they’re going to lose it at some point, but it doesn’t matter. That’s not that’s not really the point. The point is, while we were there, they felt at home. And I really believe that they wouldn’t they wouldn’t have felt as at home had they been unable to communicate with, you know, the neighbors and the shopkeepers and the other kids on the playground. And they had really just been the expat kids.

00:54:53 – 00:55:28
Sharon: Yeah, well, actually, our last episode was just about growing older, either as a child or as an adult. And what that means for languages you you may be new and don’t use anymore. Um, yeah. So this is a good one to listen to for those who haven’t done so already, if you’re interested in that topic. So you’ve got the plan then you mentioned that, you know, you were maybe a little bit skeptical about parts of it, but you managed to stick to it. Was it was it easy to implement that plan? You know, often we have nice ideas and we think on paper they look good, But actually the reality is a little different. How was it for you?

00:55:28 – 00:55:41
Daphne: I found it. I found it to be a lot of fun, but it wasn’t I wouldn’t call it easy. It was it was quite some work, but I found it to be really fun and interesting work and it definitely required a lot of planning.

00:55:41 – 00:55:51
Sharon: Okay. How how did it work in the family? Right. So what about your husband? What was he his involvement in this and the children, You know, was it a family enterprise?

00:55:51 – 00:56:22
Daphne: It was definitely a family enterprise. And I think that this is really an important point, Sharon, actually. I mean, if, you know, we often find that language can be a source of tension in a family and sort of almost like almost a competition between, you know, mama’s language and Papa’s language. And it’s really important if the children see that there are family languages. So if there are multiple languages that they are all family languages, even if mama or Papa don’t speak each other’s language, they there are still ways that they can support each other’s languages.

00:56:23 – 00:56:55
Sharon: Okay. And so you mentioned how you made changes in the sense of you made changes to your own language use. But what about changing the plan? Bilingualism is something very dynamic. Things change for many different reasons, and so that also holds for your family language plan you should be thinking about. You know, it’s not something you write when you’re pregnant or when the kids are just born and then put it put it in a drawer or don’t put it in a drawer, do it and then leave it. So what about you? Did you change things as you went along?

00:56:55 – 00:57:21
Daphne: We did change things for the reason. The reason was and this is a reason for a lot of families is that we knew we were leaving the Netherlands. So by the time baby number three came around, we were already thinking about leaving. And so whereas with the first two, I was invested in them learning Dutch Yeah, with the third one I wasn’t because I knew that we were on our way out.

00:57:21 – 00:57:30
Sharon: And so should there be a family language plan for each child individually, or is it one big plan with everybody in it?

00:57:30 – 00:57:46
Daphne: No, it’s usually one big plan with anybody in it. And if there is ever a big change, like a move of country or a change of school, a change of school, meaning that the language of instruction is going to change. Right. Or an additional child, then you revisit the plan.

00:57:46 – 00:57:57
Sharon: Yeah. And so I’m curious to know now, if so, you said you’ve recently moved to Greece. Your children are the French school. Are you going to switch to English?

00:57:58 – 00:58:35
Daphne: No, but I have gotten much more relaxed on using 100% French. So whereas when they were in the British school, I was really careful about keeping my my input only in French with them. Whereas here of course, they’re eight hours a day in school in French, and so I’m more relaxed about it. So now I’m much more easy about I’m using both really now, but still mostly French because at this point our relationship is in French. But I’m using a lot more English than I was, which is nice. It’s nice that I don’t have to be. So it’s nice that I have help, let’s say with the French input from the school.

00:58:36 – 00:58:40
Sharon: Yeah. And how are the children responding to that then?

00:58:40 – 00:59:00
Daphne: They are in a very, very multilingual school environment. So it’s very natural for them. Actually. Their school is it really boasts boasts being trilingual. It’s and it it is very much so it’s very much English, French and Greek. And so for them it’s totally natural to mix all three.

00:59:00 – 00:59:12
Sharon: Yeah, Yeah. And so do you think your children’s bilingualism would have looked very different or multilingualism would have looked very different if you hadn’t written such a family language plan?

00:59:12 – 00:59:37
Daphne: No, but absolutely. I wouldn’t have known what to do. I think I would have made quite a few mistakes. It’s not something I would have come up with on my own. So I think it would have looked very, very different and probably my kids would not have gotten to the level of French that they have now, which enabled them to join the Lycee Francais when we moved. And that wasn’t even part of the plan initially, but it turned out to be a really huge benefit. Yeah, So.

00:59:37 – 00:59:50
Sharon: So clearly it’s the, the thinking about thinking about your situation and being making informed decisions. You’ve embraced this really quite a lot, right? Because you’re now actually working with Eowyn, right? Is that right?

00:59:50 – 01:00:25
Daphne: Yes, that’s true. So actually, it’s a funny story how it started. So as I said, I went back to Eowyn every time I had a baby. About a year ago, she proposed to me and to Maria Potvin, our other partner at raising bilingual children. She proposed to us that she actually hand over the baton to us and that she stepped back a little bit because she’s doing a lot of consulting with schools and she wanted to do a bit less with families. And so she she sort of gave the role of family language adviser to me and to Maria about a year ago.

01:00:26 – 01:00:40
Sharon: And so if you want to get in touch with you, we’ll we’ll put your details in the in the show notes in the description of the podcast. So if anybody’s interested in finding out more about what you do, then they can get in touch with you, right?

01:00:40 – 01:01:28
Daphne: Yes, absolutely. We are we are available for very personalized family language plans, individual consultations with families. And what that involves is there are a few services we offer, but the most common one is a three part package. The first consultation is 90 minutes in which we really talk about all of your languages, why they’re important to you, which ones are priority. And the second part of the plan is this part of the package. Excuse me, is this written plan, right, that we sort of go away after our conversation and make a written plan. And the third part is a follow up session. So after the family has tried to implement the plan for a few months, they come back and we talk about, you know, any follow up questions or how it went implementing the plan.

01:01:28 – 01:02:10
Sharon: Yeah. So if you want to write a family language plan, then people of course, can get in touch with you. But of course there’s something you can also do by yourself using the book. Also, you know, find people in and around where you live, uh, talk to family, friends. Just actually thinking about what it is that you need to do, the situation you’re in, what you want from your child’s bilingualism is already a very good start. And thanks Daphne for taking the time to talk to us today about your experience writing a family language plan. It’s been really interesting to hear and I’m sure many people will recognize some of the challenges that you faced and be interested in the way that you have embraced them.

01:02:10 – 01:02:12
Daphne: Thank you, Sharon.

01:02:12 – 01:02:16
Sharon: Let’s klets.

01:02:16 – 01:03:36
Sharon: So that’s it for this episode of Kletsheads. If you’re interested in winning a copy of either of the two books we discussed today, and it’s still July 2023, when you’re listening to this, then head on over to our Insta page where you can find out how to do this. We’ll be back in a month with an episode all about bilingualism and autism with French researcher Philippe Prevot. I’ll share another Kletsheads Quick & Easy with you and we’ll hear from another head of the week, Spanish-English bilingual Gemma from New York. Until then if you want to know more about Kletsheads, go to our website at That’s where you’ll also find more information about this episode. If you want to make sure you don’t miss an episode, subscribe to Kletsheads using your favorite podcast app. If you know someone else who might enjoy the podcast, then I’d really appreciate it if you would share it with them. You can do this via the website or in your podcast app, and if you’re on social media, we’d love it if you followed us. Our handle is @kletsheads. Thanks for listening and until the next time. Or as we say in Dutch, tot de volgende keer.

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