Review: Bilingual: life and reality

Bilingual: life and reality

by François Grosjean


Recommended reading: “Bilingual: life and reality” by François Grosjean
Today I want to tell you about the best book I have ever read about us bilinguals. In his book “Bilingual: life and reality” professor Grosjean describes in a very accessible and sympathetic way what it means to be bilingual.

Everyone who speaks more than one language or comes into contact with bilinguals should read this book. There are many myths about us bilinguals: that you have to know both or all of your languages equally well, that a “real” bilingual speaks without accent, that bilinguals will always mix their languages, to mention just a few. Professor Grosjean systematically picks these myths apart and explains why they are not true.

One of the Aha!-moments I had when reading the book was that also those who speak a distinct dialect alongside the standard language variant should call themselves bilinguals. Professor Grosjean’s definition of bilinguals is:

“Bilinguals are those who use two or more languages (or dialects) in their everyday lives”

I am so happy that someone with authority has included dialects in the definition. I have always thought that you shouldn’t make a difference between the skill of speaking a “standard” language or a dialect. The first two “languages” I learnt were Finnish and an old Swedish dialect spoken in my home village. The dialect is very different from standard Swedish and is not easy to understand for “outsiders”. Not until I went to school did I learn the “proper” Swedish (the variant spoken in Finland, I have to add, as it is different from the one spoken in Sweden). I am very proud to still be able to speak my dialect and have always considered it as one of my “languages”. With the introduction of social media, I am now even writing the dialect, although no agreed written form exists!

Back to the book – professor Grosjean answers the question whether or not a bilingual person is also bicultural. He also shows the difference between code-switching and borrowing and explains why we are not lazy when we mix and match our languages when we speak to someone who understands the used languages. We are simply using the most efficient and accurate way of communicating!

In the book you can find a very elegant way of “mapping” your language skills throughout your life. A bilingual’s language repertoire is never a constant state of affairs. Depending on where you live, who you come into contact with on a daily basis and what languages you use at work, your level of fluency will fluctuate and so will the amount of time you actively use a language. By filling in the grids at different stages of your life you will have an overview of how your language use has changed over the years.

If you only wanted to read one book about bilinguals, this is the one to go for!