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Life as a Bilingual

The reality of living with two or more languages

Post written by François Grosjean.

Readers of my blog will be surprised to see a post which uses the same title as the blog itself. The reason is that after more than three years at the helm of this blog, and before taking a short break from it whilst I meet another challenge, I thought it would be appropriate to write a short report on where it stands.

When Carlin Flora, Editor at Psychology Today, wrote to me in the summer of 2010 to ask me if I would be willing to have a blog on bilingualism, I asked for a few weeks to think about it. The reason was that as an academic I mainly write scholarly papers, chapters, and books. Blog posts seemed a bit short at first (800 words per post as compared to tens of pages for papers!) and maybe a bit too personal (I am more used to using the passive voice in my academic writing than the active voice). But then I looked around and saw, among others, David Crystal's very successful blog on English linguistics. Here was a well-known academic, author and lecturer, who had been blogging for several years and doing so most successfully.

I also asked colleagues and friends what they thought and received many supportive messages. For example, Aneta Pavlenko, professor at Temple University, wrote to me that it would be a great way to popularize bilingualism as an interesting and important topic relevant to many lives in today's globalized world. Finally, since I was no longer teaching and I missed it, I thought it would be fun to write introductory posts about various aspects of bilingualism for a general audience. I wanted the posts to be based largely on scholarly work and I also wanted to slowly constitute a small on-line resource on the bilingual person, adult and child, that people could come back to at any time.

So I accepted Carlin Flora's offer and became a member of the Psychology Today blogger group. We were some 500 bloggers back then and are currently more than 850 writing about all kinds of topics in the many areas of psychology (see here for an index of the blogs).

More than three years after having started, I am pleased to report that I have written close to 80 posts which cover various aspects of bilingualism in adults and children such as becoming bilingual, what it means to be bilingual, the use of two or more languages, the bilingual mind and brain, biculturalism and personality, special bilinguals such as bilingual writers, as well as many other topics about living with two or more languages (see here for a list of my posts by content area).

The feedback I have received for what is after all a "niche blog" in the vast field of psychology has been outstanding. As I am writing this short post, more than 465,000 visitors have come to my blog, many of them several times. I am truly grateful to them for encouraging me in this way and I wish to thank them wholeheartedly.

Of course, some posts have been more successful than others. The one that ranks at the very top of the list is, Those incredible interpreters with more than 50,000 readers. It is followed by Change of language, change of personality, and there are several other posts that have reached five digit numbers: How early a second language?, Can a first language be totally forgotten?, Bilinguals in the United States, What are the effects of bilingualism?, The day the Supreme Court ruled on the bilingual mind, Becoming bilingual, and Myths about bilingualism.

As these my favorite posts? They certainly have entered the small circle of favorites simply because they are doing so well. But, entre nous, the ones that I prefer deal in a more personal way with actual people: one is on an outstanding bilingual academic couple I knew (The rose), another is on a person I would have loved to have met when she lived in Paris with her husband (Falling in love with a culture and a language), and finally there is the letter I wrote to my first grandchild when he was born (Born to be bilingual).

Many posts have been translated into other languages and some colleagues are using them in their introductory courses or seminars on bilingualism. For this I am most grateful to them.

I have loved the challenge of having only 800 words or so to present, as clearly as possible, the very essence of a topic and I thank belatedly my English teachers during my youth in England who made us do "précis" exercises each week. I didn't like them at the time but they have proved to be extremely useful when you have to summarize two or three scholarly papers in such a small space.

I will now take a short break so as to meet another academic challenge but I will come back to my blog very soon and will continue writing posts on the reality of living with two or more languages.

With all my thanks to all of you.

P.S. The blog will remain where it is during this break; you can access it directly here or by content area here.

Illustration done with Jonathan Feinberg's Wordle and key words in the titles of my posts.

"Life as a bilingual" posts by content area.

François Grosjean's website.

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