I can’t claim to have read everything on raising bilingual children, but I do read pretty widely on the subject. My interest in the literature began many years ago when I became a teacher of bilingual children at Hiroshima International School, and now continues with my own kids.
The truth is, because I knew, early on, that the odds were against me—my wife would be the main caregiver and my children would eventually be attending school in the majority language—I felt I had to do all I could, as the minority language parent, to raise those odds and put them more in my favor.
And a big part of that aim involves reading.
Because those who write books are often thought of as “experts,” I’d first like to stress my view of “expertise”: expertise isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. In other words, expertise—in any field—is a continuum that has no real end: there is always more to learn in any arena of knowledge.
And when it comes to raising bilingual children, I think this is particularly true. Because the subject is so broad—not only research and guidelines, but practical ideas and resources, too—no one person could ever be considered the definitive “expert.” After all, the supply of practical ideas and resources for nurturing language ability in children—just as crucial to success as research and guidelines—is inexhaustible.
For instance, no matter my own degree of “expertise” in English resources, I’m still only aware of a small percentage, really, of the millions of materials out there—and, of course, new resources are appearing in the world all the time! (I was in the bookstore just yesterday and discovered a great new book of crossword puzzles for English learners.) And, of course, I’m hardly an “expert” on resources for other target languages!
My personal principle
I think it’s important to view “expertise” in this more humble light in order to adopt the attitude that anyone who has substantial experience at the challenge of raising bilingual children, and has put sincere time and effort into writing a book on the subject, will have something worthwhile to say that could benefit your own journey.
The fact is, I’ve read a range of books over the years and every single one, without exception, has been useful to me in some way. Naturally, I found some more useful than others, but I always came away with something that would help make me a more effective teacher and parent: a new insight, idea, or resource.
As a result, my personal principle is this: read everything. Because I know that every book can be of some help to me. And even when you find a book “thin” in new ideas or inspiration, the fact remains that the practice of reading regularly about raising bilingual kids will keep you more conscious of your quest, and more proactive in your efforts.
The mere habit of reading this material—let alone the growing know-how that comes from it—will make you a more effective parent.
The “best book”
So what’s the best book about raising bilingual children?
Well, in my opinion, there isn’t one “best book” because each book can benefit you in its own way. And to an important degree, the value you derive from a particular book depends on your particular circumstances: what you already know about the subject, your current situation, your children, your target language, and other personal factors. (In my case, I obviously would benefit more from a book which points me toward English resources than I would resources in another target language.)
It should be noted here that many of the books you’ll come across focus mainly on offering guidelines for success. This, of course, is a vital part of the process, but it means that authors generally cover much of the same ground. (After all, the basics of raising a bilingual child remain the same, no matter who’s describing them.) Still, it’s also true that every person writes from a different perspective, and emphasis, and every new point of view can deepen these ideas and offer further inspiration.
Ultimately, the more you read on the subject, the more informed you’ll be, and the more informed you are, the more effectively you can navigate the years of your bilingual journey.
In the grander scheme of things, books are a minor expense, really, so you have no good excuse not to read everything you can. (And let me add that no one is getting rich writing about bilingual children—it’s a labor of love for writers in the field—so purchasing a book not only benefits your own life, it benefits the life of a colleague, a friend.)
For useful books I’ve shared on this site to date, scroll through Books for Parents.
To check out my own book on raising bilingual children, click on the image below.
My shorter e-book, with a wealth of inspiring quotes, can also be downloaded freely.