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HaBilNet, an Empowering New Source of Support for Parents Raising Bilingual Kids


I’m so pleased to tell you that there’s a new organization which is quickly proving to be an empowering source of support for bilingual and multilingual families around the world.

HaBilNet stands for the Harmonious Bilingualism Network and as the homepage states:

“HaBilNet promotes and carries out research on harmonious bilingual development. Through HaBilNet you can gain access to research-based sources that will help your family develop bilingualism in harmonious ways.”

Annick De HouwerHaBilNet is the brainchild of Dr. Annick De Houwer, an international authority on child bilingualism and the author of highly recommended books that include Bilingual First Language Acquisition and An Introduction to Bilingual Development. I’ve known Annick for several years and she was kind enough to take part in these three previous posts at Bilingual Monkeys…

Interview with Prominent Researcher Annick De Houwer on Bilingual Acquisition in Children

Expert Annick De Houwer Responds to Readers’ Questions on Bilingual Children

Take This Quiz on Bilingual Acquisition in Children! How Many Will You Get Right? (based on information from Bilingual First Language Acquisition)

During my travels through Europe last fall, as I was researching the new book I’m now writing on the “success stories” of bilingual and multilingual families, I had the happy chance to finally meet Annick in person. Over lunch she told me about her vision of HaBilNet and asked me to be a part of its work as an Active Member, a role which I was honored to accept. In this role I have the opportunity to serve as a HaBilNet consultant and lend support to families through its online consultation service. Supporting families in this personal way has always been among the greatest joys of my work and the chance to now do so alongside Annick and her team is such a blessing.

Let me warmly introduce HaBilNet today through a brief interview, conducted via email, with Annick De Houwer. Beyond this article, I encourage you to visit the HaBilNet website and explore how its work could benefit your family’s bilingual or multilingual aim.

Annick, could you please tell us a little about yourself?

Hi everybody at Bilingual Monkeys! I was raised monolingually at home with Dutch as generally spoken in Flanders, Belgium. Once I was three I came into contact with other languages. That chance came when my family moved to Pakistan for a few years. There was a Dutch school in Karachi where they spoke a very different kind of Dutch than I had heard at home. I also heard people speak Urdu and English. I have heard different languages and very different kinds of Dutch ever since. When I was 16 I wondered how it was possible that I was able to fluently speak Dutch and English. Eventually that interest brought me to the formal study of how young children learn more than a single language. I figured that in order to truly understand something you have to go to its earliest beginnings. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the language acquisition of a Dutch-English bilingual two- to three-year-old. She was part of a bilingual family. A few months after getting my doctoral degree I started my own Dutch-English bilingual family. A shorter version of my dissertation was published as a book with one of academia’s most prestigious publishers, Cambridge University Press, and launched my career as a scholar. Now 30 years hence, I feel I understand a great deal more about early bilingual acquisition than I did then but I’m still learning every day! You can find out a bit more about me here.

Why did you decide to launch HaBilNet and why did you choose this name?

Already as a doctoral student, when I was working on purely linguistic aspects of bilingual development, I heard from parents of bilingually raised children who felt miserable because their young child did not speak their language. A large survey I did in Flanders in the late 1990’s confirmed that about a quarter of children raised with two or more languages only spoke a single one. I continued with my more linguistically oriented research but also focused on understanding the factors that lead to an experience of harmonious bilingual development by bilingually raised children and their families. I coined the term harmonious bilingualism to describe a situation where children and families feel fine about their bilingual experience. Although there is some research that considers well-being in relation to a bilingual upbringing, there is much to be found out. I founded the Harmonious Bilingualism Network to promote research that can tell us more about the factors that support harmonious bilingualism and to create a unique forum where researchers and the people who can benefit from that research can find each other. The acronym HaBilNet is simply the combination of the first three syllables of Harmonious Bilingualism Network – without the r of the first.

Tell us more about HaBilNet and its work. Who is it for? How can it be helpful?

HaBilNet aims to support and stimulate scientific research into harmonious bilingualism. It also wants to make sure that the results of that research are widely disseminated both within and outside of academia. So HaBilNet is for BOTH researchers and the general public. Researchers can publicize their work on harmonious bilingualism through HaBilNet, and can tell the general public about the relevance of their work for children and families. In these times of “Fake News” I think it is important that the general public can fairly directly discover research on what parents in bilingual families experience in their daily lives. HaBilNet also supports research into harmonious bilingualism through grants. It also supports events of a more practical nature, such as town hall meetings, talks and exhibitions. Read more about HaBilNet’s mission here.

How can families benefit from HaBilNet’s consultation service?

Individual families can request a HaBilNet consultation here. (Please note: As of now there are no costs associated with the use of a HaBilNet consultation. Depending on the future volume of consultation requests, however, we may start to ask people to donate to UNICEF if they want to use our consultation service.) We normally offer a one-hour consultation that is tailored to each family’s needs, whether it is to address a concern with an existing issue that families have, or a question about how to best plan their future family’s bilingual adventure. Our team is small for now but will be expanding as HaBilNet expands. It is made up of top researchers in the field of bilingual acquisition and of experienced professionals such as Adam Beck. It is simply the best one can get!

Is there anything else you’d like to share about HaBilNet?

HaBilNet is directed at researchers and bilingual families. However, professionals who work with bilingual children and their families such as teachers, speech therapists, pediatricians and social workers can also find out more about harmonious bilingualism through these go-to places: HaBilNet’s website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel.

Any parting words of encouragement for parents raising bilingual or multilingual children?

The main challenges that parents raising bilingual (or multilingual – note that we at HaBilNet do not make a firm distinction) children face are the same now as what they were 40 years ago, when I embarked on my study of bilingual acquisition. The main hurdles are ignorance about and bias against early bilingualism or particular languages. Having a positive attitude and realistic expectations are keys to success. It is my hope that HaBilNet can furnish these keys so families and children can experience well-being in their bilingual environment.


2 Responses

  1. Thanks so much, dear Adam, for your work for HaBilNet and for featuring it on Bilingual Monkeys! It is so important to reach out to bilingual families so they can get help on their bilingual adventure.

    1. Annick, I completely agree. Parents so often feel isolated and alone, and without some empathetic support, it can be far harder to experience the kind of success and joy they seek. In fact, without that infusion of encouragement, to shore up times of discouragement, the aim itself may even be abandoned. So I loudly applaud your longtime efforts on this front and I’m thrilled to now join forces to serve even more parents in this way.

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Welcome to Bilingual Monkeys!

I’m Adam Beck, the founder of this blog and The Bilingual Zoo, a lively worldwide forum for parents raising bilingual or multilingual kids. I’m also the author of the popular books Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability and Bilingual Success Stories Around the World. I’ve been an educator and writer in this field for 25 years as well as the parent of two bilingual children, now 19 and 16. I hope my work can help empower the success of your bilingual journey.

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