Growing up with languages

Growing up with Languages
Reflections on Multilingual Childhoods
By Claire Thomas

Primarily aimed as a practical resource for parents, but also of interest to students and researchers because of its unique content, it includes recollections of and advice on many of the common issues or dilemmas that arise in multilingual families.

A team at WFGB interviewed 50 adults about their memories of growing up speaking two or more languages. We did this because we had often been told that although children sometimes had mixed feelings about being multilingual during their childhoods, once they reached adulthood they invariably were very positive and grateful that they had been raised speaking more than one language. We felt that investigating this a bit more would create a book that would boost the morale of parents in multilingual families and might also give them some sense of what their children were feeling. The interviews covered a wide range of issues and people growing up in different situations and countries. The results were analysed by Claire Thomas and written up into a book.

Waltham Forest Bilingual Group has a limited number of copies available. Pick up a copy at our monthly sessions at the Limes centre in Walthamstow or order online below.

All profit from sales through WFBG will go to help cover running costs and support to multilingual families by the group.

Summary by Multilingual Matters:

A unique new insight into multilingual families, this book views multilingual childhoods from the point of the child and is based on over 50 interviews with adults who grew up in multilingual settings. The book charts their recollections of their childhoods and includes many different types of families, discusses many of the common issues that arise in multilingual families, and draws examples from all over the world. The book fills a significant gap in the literature and resources available to multilingual parents. It was researched and written by a self-help group of multilingual parents and thus the book remains very practical and gives clear and realistic advice to multilingual parents facing choices or dilemmas. However, because of its unique viewpoint, this book also includes much new material that will be of interest to researchers and students of bilingualism.


This book looks at the lives and the trajectories of multilinguals and lets them talk about their experiences. The author demonstrates how fluid and dynamic bilingualism is within a family, but it also shows what bilingual families have in common and what can be done to maintain bilingualism. A great book!
Jean-Marc Dewaele, Birkbeck, University of London, UK

This book takes a unique approach in addressing the complexity of multilingual families through the voices of multilinguals. Based on accounts by adults of their multilingual childhood experiences and memories, the author clearly demonstrates the different circumstances of multilingual families and their diverse language practices. The book vividly depicts what it means to be multilingual and spells out the benefits and the challenges associated with it. It is definitely a must for all parents who are raising multilingual children. 
Xiao-lei Wang, Pace University, USA

Claire Thomas’ Growing Up with Languages is a very welcome addition to the growing number of practical books on bilingualism. Straightforward and accessible, it provides information about and insights into bilingual upbringing that parents will find helpful as they chart their way through unknown waters, by giving them a glimpse of possible futures. The approach is original, basing the text on the stories of how adult bilinguals grew up with two or more languages, and providing advice and suggestions that are always grounded in real experience that is easy to understand and relate to. The author’s voice, while authoritative, is never prescriptive and her guidance suggests rather than directs in a way that empowers parents to reach their own particular solution to the challenge of bringing up children bilingually. Eminently readable, this book will undoubtedly become a classic and an important point of reference for all those interested in how people grow up speaking more than one language.
Ricky Lowes, Chair, Plymouth Multilingual Families

Author Biography:

Claire Thomas is herself the mother of two children who are being raised bilingually. She was a founding member of Waltham Forest Bilingual Group and has been Secretary of the group for 8 years. She has helped design and run several different forms of workshops for parents and has discussed bilingual family decisions and dilemmas with literally hundreds of parents. Waltham Forest Bilingual Group is a small, entirely voluntary, group of parents in multilingual families. It provides support to parents in such families in North East London via a regular monthly drop in event, quarterly workshops and speaker events.