Friday, September 25, 2015

A Chat on Bilingualism and Biculturalism Streamed from 400 Miles Away

The Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York City held "A Conversation of Bilingualism with François Grosjean" on September 23, 2015

The event was held in New York City at the French Embassy and consisted of a conversation on bilingualism and biculturalism between researcher and specialist, Professor François Grosjean, and Education Attaché at the Cultural Services, Fabrice Jaumont. The conversation was live-streamed for interested parties who were unable to make the trip to NYC. The event was two hours and packed full of answers to frequently asked questions, personal questions, and fascinating research.

Jaumont began the discussion with questions about Dr. Grosjean to acquaint the audience with him. Professor Grosjean was born in France with a French father, but was educated in British schools. He returned to France when he was eighteen but then moved to the United States. He considers himself to be a cultural mosaic of 4 cultures and identifies his nationalities as French and Swiss. Grosjean got into researching bilingualism by being a bilingual and learning about it while witnessing his children going through it. His own family is fully bilingual, with some of his children actually being quint-lingual. He took the time to reassure parents that it is not as impossible as it may seem, since he himself raised his chidlren in both French and English. 

Grosjean and Jaumont at the French Embassy
Professor Grosjean discussed the basic questions whose answers can be found in Grosjean's books, including his most famous book, Life with Two Languages: An Introduction to Bilingualism. Questions included, "do you need to master both languages to be bilingual?" and "do bilinguals have a split personality when using one language versus another?". 

Professor Grosjean described the difference between biculturalism and bilingualism, with the definition of bilingualism being "the regular use of 2 different languages".  This definition takes into account language use and knowledge, the two defining characteristics of bilingualism. He claims to take the matter at a holistic viewpoint as a bilingual speaker and communicator managing life with 2+ languages. His "complementary principle" is when bilinguals use a language in different situations and domains of life with one language or both languages for other things. The "crucial brick" to his research is that bilinguals need to ask themselves, "which should I be speaking and do I need to bring in the other language?". Language choice is hyper complex as are code-switching and borrowing.

Professor Grosjean cleared up the misconception that biculturalism is the same as bilingualism. It implies merging certain aspects of both cultures, and it is not a bad thing. However, he humorously added how sometimes his French use of space overpowers his English "personal bubble" culture and he accidentally sits or stands too close to someone and must readjust mentally to the setting he is in. Grosjean suggests bilinguals find their identity based on others perceptions and on their own needs; in the end they must accept who they are. A focus right now is on young people and helping them to understand and accept biculturalism. 

The next topic was about the roles of parents and schools in encouraging and aiding bilingualism and biculturalism. It is absolutely critical for parents to have a plan for how they plan to raise children bilingual, and there are a range of strategies; one person one language, one language at home and one language outside, and other supports who are not the parents such as other adults, families, or friends. He claims that children are pragmatic and will notice what they need and if they do not need one of the languages then they will revert to monolingualism. Parents must create the need with the help of community groups, friends, other families, etc. to immerse their children in a situation where they need to use that second language. Schools are notorious for killing a first or language a student may have, and they can help by promoting immersion for children to use other languages when home.

The advantages and disadvantages of bilingualism were addressed as well. Some common advantages are cognitive ability, job opportunities, and communication opportunities increase and bilinguals tend to have open minds and perspectives. A main disadvantage was that communication in the weaker language can be difficult when one is tired or stressed.

The conversation consisted of vital and fascinating information for anyone interested in bilingualism and biculturalism. Grosjean's books are available in bookstores and Amazon.

More information and a video of the full conversation can be found by clicking here or by entering into your browser:çois-Grosjean/videos/100077232

Merci beaucoup à Professor Grosjean 
for the suggestions and edits!

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