Book Review – 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child By Naomi Steiner and Susan L. Hayes

Title: 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child
Authors: 
Naomi Steiner and Susan L. Hayes
Format: 
Paperback
Written & 
Published: 2009

A developmental-behavioural paediatrician, Naomi Steiner is herself multilingual and raising her children in a multilingual family. Between her professional qualifications and her life experience, she is superbly positioned to provide an in-depth program for all parents to raise bilingual children.

While there is some excellent scientific data in the book, which provides fascinating insights into language acquisition and child development, as a guide the book falls oddly flat. I kept expecting something slightly more detailed than the advice to set goals and provide children with language exposure. The book continually heads towards detailed information before veering off at the last moment.

Much of my frustration with the book came from its underlying assumptions. The text is only aimed at parents in the USA, and an inordinate amount of space is dedicated to validating and justifying a bilingual lifestyle. There is even a section debunking the myth that bilingualism will destroy the American way of life.

Ouch.

For those readers who are outside the USA, and potentially not living in an English speaking country at all, the assumption that parents are secretly threatened by the prospect of a bilingual family is frustrating. A lot of the content implies parents are often one step away from giving up and that English will become the only language. If you are a monolingual English parent ready to give up in a foreign country, don’t expect much support in this book.

The advice given is so basic that at times it reads like an extended article padded beyond recognisability. Some points are reiterated so often that the authors call attention to the reiteration. A significant proportion of the book could be reclassified as project management rather than parenting. The remaining content is simply common sense.

I would have found this book more useful if it had detail about developmental stages. There was brief discussion about the capacities of toddlers to learn, but little beyond this. How is the process different between a newborn, a 5 year old and a 15 year old? What can parents do to support each age group? After a certain age, the book almost advocates handing language acquisition over to the school system, but goes on at length to criticise the formal educational opportunities.

The primary method of instruction recommended is One Parent, One Language. With this method, the parent who is skilled in the second language will speak to the child exclusively in that language. This might be exciting for families where both parents speak a second language, but as the unskilled parent I am left feeling discouraged about my ability to contribute.

There is value in this book for anyone who wants to raise a bilingual child, but has given it absolutely no thought before. Monolingual parents who wish to raise bilingual children might also find something useful here. If you already have skills with a second language, or have thought about how you would learn one, there is probably little this book can contribute to your understanding. Due to the incredibly basic level of the book, I am giving it 2 out of 5 pages.

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