The Bilingual Family: A Review

review by Wayne D. Lance

The Bilingual Family: A Handbook for Parents by Edith Harding-Esch and Philip Riley Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1986 and 1998. A 2003 revised edition.


This book is based both on the authors’ research and their own experiences as parents of bilingual children. Edith Harding, who is French, is Assistant Director of Research in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Cambridge. She and her husband, an English mathematician, have two children. Their home language is French, with English kept for work and school.

Philip Riley, an Englishman and professional applied linguist, works at the University of Nancy. He is married to a Swedish-speaking Finn. Their three children speak English and Swedish at home and French at school.

The handbook is written for English-speaking parents, living in just about any part of the world, faced with decisions about bringing up their children as bilinguals. The authors describe their book in the following terms:


This reviewer finds The Bilingual Family to be a refreshing approach due to the two authors’ ability to:

Global TCK Care & Education staff members often receive inquires about bilingualism. Here are a few of the questions, addressed in this handbook, that we have heard from parents:

Many other topics are discussed, including stuttering and bilingualism (no direct link), refusal to speak a language (a number of factors to consider), need for formality in teaching a second language (depends on the age of the child), and the role of television in bilingual acquisition (it is useful and powerful, although limited).

The authors present some “golden rules” for parents faced with decisions about bilingualism for their children. They follow these guidelines with a 14-item questionnaire designed to help parents think through their situation.

The case studies are brief but informative and should help parents relate to similar family situations. For readers interested in further study, a reference list is provided.

Permission to copy, but not for commercial use.