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  • Writer's pictureEmma Corbet

Book Review: The Bilingual Edge: Why, When, and How to Teach Your Child a Second Language

WHO IS THIS BOOK FOR: Everyone, especially those in the beginning stages of introducing a language to their child. As the title states, this truly is a comprehensive guide answering why, when, and how to teach our children a second language.

LENGTH: 256 pages

The Bilingual Edge was written by two parents and professors of Linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Right away these authors share with us why they felt writing this book was so important:

  1. There is overwhelming enthusiasm and desire among parents to promote early second language learning;

  2. There is widespread misunderstanding about how second languages are learned (and how they aren't);

  3. There is a remarkable lack of unbiased, scientifically based- but understandable- information out there for parents.

I love that their approach emphasizes scientific findings and there are many sections throughout the book they call "Spotlights on Research" sharing specific on-topic studies. I especially love the questions they prompt you with and thought exercises they ask you to complete at various points throughout the book. It's a great opportunity for reflection and to clarify your own beliefs and goals.

They also tackle some of the most common language learning MYTHS in Chapter 2 such as:

- Only bilingual parents can raise bilingual children.

- You have to start very early for second language learning, or you will miss the boat.

- Mixing languages is a sign of confusion, and languages must stay separate.

- It's important to correct errors as soon as they appear in grammar and vocabulary

(to prevent forming bad habits).

- Television, DVDs, and edutainment, like talking toys, are great ways to pick up some languages.

- Two languages are the most to which a very young child should be exposed.

And they share the real deal, the TRUTH, about these myths:

- Any parent can raise a child who knows more than one language, even if that parent is monolingual.

- Rich, dynamic, and meaningful interaction is critical and more important than having a perfect native-speaker model.

- Constantly correcting errors can do more harm than good.

- Learning two languages is not a cause of language delay.

- Most children go through a period of language mixing, it's normal!

- Children don't learn much language through television or other edutainment items- these should be thought of as supplemental.

- The more the merrier- learning three languages (or more) is possible!

Here are some important concepts they highlight:

1. Children's second language learning ability changes throughout childhood, but does not completely disappear after a certain age. There are pros and cons for all ages!

2. "It's a myth to assume you need to be a native speaker to provide quality second language interaction for your child... what is critical is not that children hear complete sentences but that they are directly engaged in conversation."

- King & Mackey, page 23

They also offer extensive explanations on the different types of bilingual education out there and how to decide what will be the best fit for your family. They believe the best programs out there will state clear goals of bilingualism, biliteracy, and biculturalism.

Importantly, King & Mackey address some of the most common concerns and "what if" questions we may be wondering about towards the end of the book. Their in-depth look at the difference between code-switching and code-mixing is particularly helpful. Code-mixing is a completely normal phase in bilingual language development, it represents incomplete knowledge of one or both languages. This is a temporary stage of development and not something we should worry about. Code-switching, on the other hand, "is common among highly proficient adults and children, and is a sign of mastery of two languages." Code-switching is sometimes stereotyped negatively, but it is actually a very impressive skill.

Overall this is a well-researched and thoughtful guide for anyone with questions about bilingualism regardless of what our experience with languages may be. I highly recommend this enjoyable and empowering book.

"For most of the world, bilingualism or trilingualism is typical, uneventful, and indeed, very much the norm!

The fact that so many of the world's children learn multiple languages with ease clearly demonstrates that three or more languages pose no particular problem, risk, or threat for the vast majority of children."

- King & Mackey, page 220-221


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Emma Butterfield Corbet Headshot.jpg

Hola, I'm Emma. The author and voice behind Beautiful Mundo.

You can learn more about my story over here.

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