Be Bilingual – the paperback is out!


Dear friends,

A year ago this week, my e-book Be Bilingual – Practical Ideas for Multilingual Families came out. I had chosen the 9th of December to launch the book as it was exactly 25 years after I lost my father. I remember so well how I felt on that day a year ago: I was excited, but also very nervous about publishing a book on my own. I believed in what I had written and had worked on it all evenings for over a year. Still, I was worried about putting it out there – maybe people wouldn’t like it, or even worse – they might simply not read it.

Now, a year later, I want to sincerely thank all of you. Those who have read the book (and I’m thrilled by how many you are!), those who took the time to send me a message or an email to share your thoughts on the book (I cherished each one of them!),  those who have written reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or on your websites (really, your help is more important to me than you could ever imagine!), and those who have shared information about the book – thank you all so much!

Thanks to your encouragement, I am now ready to take the next step. So many of you have asked me about the print copy of the book, and I’m happy to tell you that we have just launched it on Amazon – exactly one year after the e-book version!! Take a look at it here!

I also wanted to do something special for you to celebrate this launch and there will be a special Amazon countdown deal on the e-book running for four days. It starts on Friday, December 13th (today!) and the price is as low as 1.99Usd (or 0.99 GBP) !!! Here’s the catch, though, the price will increase by 1 Usd every day so do hurry to get the best deal! 🙂

As 2013 draws to a close, I sincerely hope that it’s been a great year for you – and that 2014 will be even better. In a week’s time our family will be traveling to our minority language country, France, not only to immerse ourselves in the language, but to enjoy time with our loved ones. This time is precious as we don’t see as much of each other as we would like to. I know many of you know exactly what I mean, and I hope that you, too, will be reunited with your family.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a merry Christmas if you celebrate it.

Kiitos. Merci. Thank you!


…and we’re back!

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We were never really gone, though it may have seemed like it!

What a year it has been! First my husband was working in France for the first 6 months of the year and we were holding our thumbs that it would turn into an expat assignment for the whole family. Alas, not yet! In the summer we took a long family vacation in the US and as our children went back to school I too started a new job – teaching Swedish for the first time in my life. It has been interesting, but very hectic, and hasn’t left me with a lot of time for blogging.

I have done a few things lately, though, and thought I’d share them with you in case you’d like to take a look.

Speaking about bilingualism is one of my passions, and I’ve been doing quite a bit of that this fall at different places. I even got to try an online lecture, which was a bit uncomfortable (I prefer to see people’s faces and reactions), but here it is: https://www.perheaikaa.fi/nettiluennot/lapsi-tulossa/luento:1139/

I was also interviewed by Raising Playful Tots and it’s available on a Podcast: http://raisingplayfultots.com/tag/bilingual

I’ve written a few articles, some are still to come out, but this one is already out there. It has less to do with bilingualism and more with cultural differences that emerge with children: http://whattheflicka.com/baby-box/

And all the time, I’ve also been working on something that I will hopefully be able to reveal this coming week, a year after my book Be Bilingual was launched… I’m very excited so please stay tuned!

MKB Book Club – Bilingual is Better.



Chapter 5 – Between Two Worlds : Identity vs. Assimilation

As anyone who has come across the great website Spanglish Baby, I’ve been a big fan of the work of its founders Ana Flores and Roxana Soto for a very long time. I was therefore delighted to have the chance to participate in the discussion of their wonderful book Bilingual is Better in the  book club organized by the Multicultural Kid Blogs. You can read more about MKB and the book club here.

I enjoyed the entire book immensely as it is very well researched and written. As a European I found it particularly interesting to read about the situation of bilingualism in the US and the challenges and possibilities of especially the large Spanish-speaking population. I was, for instance, very happy to find in this book the best overview of bilingual education in the US that I’ve ever read.  Also, while we’re on different sides of ”the pond” (as we like to refer to our dear Atlantic Ocean), the basics of raising children bilingually are the same everywhere. These too are very thoroughly explored and presented in the book. I could have chosen any chapter of Bilingual is Better and talked in length of its many qualities and the thoughts that it provoked, but in the end I chose chapter five, entitled Between Two Worlds :  Identity vs Assimilation as it is the one that touches me personally on many levels at this very moment. 

In this chapter Roxana shares with the readers her experience of living between two worlds, the wonderful opportunities that this has presented her, but also the natural feeling of missing her home country and the occasional feeling of not belonging anywhere. She describes how difficult it was for her as a teenager to move to the United States with her parents and leave behind her beloved Peru, and how, even if – or because – she has spent decades in the USA she is holding tightly on to her cultural identity as a Peruvian.

Personal reflections.

There were many things that touched me in this chapter. First of all I was in awe of Roxana’s words, which I could tell came directly from her heart. Reading them I could feel her appreciation and respect for her new country, her longing and nostalgia for her native land and the frustration she experiences trying to justify to others her decision not to apply for the U.S. citizenship. I admire her for doing what she feels is right despite pressure from family members and other people. The situation is the same with my husband who is a French citizen, a fact that has never prevented him from fully integrating and contributing to the Finnish society. He speaks fluent Finnish, works and pays taxes, and goes about his life like almost any other man his age in this country. Still, his cultural identity is French and he doesn’t have any need or desire in his heart to change that and become a Finn. I encourage him to hold on to his cultural identity and pass it on to our children.

 Even if I’ve traveled extensively I’ve never lived outside of Finland for more than a year, but the situation might be about to change.  After nearly 20 years in Finland my husband is eager to return to his native France, and I’ve run out of excuses why we shouldn’t do that. Before you think I’m extremely egoistic, let me explain one of the reasons why I struggle with this. My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles (all but one) have passed away, and my half siblings live hundreds of kilometers from my home city Helsinki. I fear that, leaving the country, I will not have a home to come back to, and that I might not come home anymore for this reason.

I’m willing to put my own feelings aside though for the benefit of my children – not that they appreciate it for the moment, of course! Emma, almost 13, is very much against the move (which at this stage is not definite, only planned) in the same way as Roxana was. The only difference is that she won’t be leaving behind her country, but one of her countries. This is why it is so important for me that our children, who are French also, experience life in their second home land. I want them to be able to make an educated decision later on when choosing the country they live in (which, I know, might not be one of the two). I couldn’t put the book down as Roxana talked about the ”art of meshing two cultures” and  the ”cultural tug of war” – how having two cultures can sometimes make one feel like having two personalities and how there are things in both cultures that you like and others that you don’t.

There are times when I think and worry about how things will be for our children if and when we move. What will they miss about Finland, what will they have a hard time adjusting to in France? For the most part, though, I’m confident that they will integrate very well. We have prepared them for it for years by, as Roxana writes, “instilling in them a love for their heritage culture while remembering to give the same importance to the culture of the country of their birth.” We have helped them become bilingual, celebrated the traditions in both countries, spent summers in France to help them identify as a part of their French family, too. And the most important if you ask their dad: we have taught them to cheer for Finland in ice-hockey  and for France in soccer. It could have of course been the other way round too, but frankly the odds of winning would not have been as high!


Lines that made me think

“The way I see it, we’re also very lucky because we can take the best from both worlds.” – Isn’t this true? While I’m extremely attached to many things in Finland, there are many other things in France that I couldn’t imagine life without. And no, I’m not only talking about wine.

” It has long been believed that for immigrants to become “AMERICAN” they must “disconnect from the old and connect to the new” as did those who came before them.” – You could replace “American” by quite many other nationalities here, too, unfortunately. I’m a teacher and continuously encourage my immigrant students to speak and read their first language and value their heritage culture and traditions. Even if they now also belong to a new culture, it should never have to be just one or the other.

“There’s an erroneous belief among many first generation Latino immigrant parents (as well as educators) that in order for their children to learn English they should not be exposed to Spanish at all.” This too is something I often run into with the parents of my immigrant students. It is indeed an erroneous belief as they think they’re doing the right thing. In the process, however, they are depriving their children of their heritage language and culture and even of a natural relationship with their parents who often only speak rudimentary Finnish. 


1. Have you applied for the citizenship of the country you live in? Do you find this important for you or not and why?

2. In what ways have you been able to take the best from your two worlds?

3. How do you pass on your heritage culture to your children who have (perhaps) never lived in your birth country?


I would love to continue the discussion about the chapter and the topic so please leave a comment! Make sure to also read the previous chapter discussions, as well as the ones that will follow this one:


Introduction & Chapter One (Spanish Playground)

Chapter Two (Family on the Loose)

Chapter Three (Spanglish House)

Chapter Four (For the love of Spanish)

Chapter Six (Laugh & Learn) – Nov 7

Q&A with Author Ana Flores (Dads the Way I Like It) – November 14

Wrap-up (Kid World Citizen) – Nov 21

What is bilingualism costing our family?



The other week I had the idea to take out quotes from my book and make pictures of them that I could post here and on my Facebook page. I was feeling a bit self-conscious about it and  for this reason chose as my first picture the one above, which is really a quote within a quote. If I had any concerns about it, it was that people might react to the part about breast-feeding, which isn’t quite as popular everywhere as it is in northern Europe. I was expecting people to ask me if  I meant (by posting it) that those  who didn’t want to or weren’t able to breastfeed were depriving their children of a tender gift (by the way, I didn’t). However, none of the multiple comments and messages that I received about the picture had anything to do with this. Instead, many were appalled for the quote to say that raising bilingual children didn’t cost anything and felt that it furthermore implied the process to be easy and effortless. When I think about it, I understand how people could see it this way. My interpretation was  different and I’ll get to that later. First, however, I would like to explore what it is costing our family, every member of it, to raise our children bilingually.

My mother grew up in a very poor bilingual household and yet, she was one of the most balanced bilinguals (a term I don’t like but feel I need to use here) that I have ever met. Her parents each spoke a different native tongue to her and the community around her provided ample opportunities to practice them as both were official languages in Finland. The parents’ lack of time and money in no way hindered her language development. Now fast forward several decades and substitute Swedish, one of her languages, by French, which does not exist in the community and has thus made our family’s bilingual journey very different from that of my mother’s.

To reinforce our children’s minority language, French, there have been financial costs as well as emotional ones. We are a normal mid-income family so there has always been a trade-off included in our choices.  We weren’t able to buy the best prams for our kids as babies, we’ve always had just one car and we still live in a modest house. We didn’t buy a double amount of books, CDs and DVDs – we only bought them in French and took out the Finnish ones at the library or borrowed from friends and neighbors. Instead, we did hire a French-speaking babysitter and traveled to France twice a year, which at times was very hard financially – especially when my husband was laid off during the global recession ( I share this and all my money-saving ideas in my book – if you are in a similar situation please email me at annika@be-bilingual.net and I will send that part to you free of charge). Even if both our countries are on the same continent this is the one thing that has necessitated the most financial sacrifices, but has on the other hand also brought the greatest rewards.

In addition to financial costs there are also emotional ones that have come with family bilingualism. As the only native speaker of the language, my husband has put considerable effort into passing on his language – often at the expense of personal comfort and interests. Both our families  have been left out of many conversations my husband and I have had with our children in their presence as they didn’t understand the language. On the other hand, these days they can have any conversation they want with our children as the language is no longer an issue. Our children have not spent their summers in Finland or gone to soccer and scout camps with their friends, well, ever, as that is the only time they can spend several weeks with their grandparents in France. Having been raised in part by my grandparents I can think of worse sacrifices to make. Personally I for years dreamed of traveling somewhere else than to France, which was our only vacation destination.  To the list of emotional costs I would also add the constant worrying about not doing enough, not making progress, fearing that our children might not be accepted by their French peers, and struggling to engineer situations where using the language is fun and useful for our children.  I’ve had to learn the hard way what has since become my motto: to make bilingualism a priority, but not a source of stress.

I think we can agree that bilingualism does not come for free, on a financial nor emotional level, but there is also the question of what it would cost our family NOT to do it? You might have read my other posts and know that I have first hand experience of this. Resentment, disappointment, damage to self-worth are just a few words that come to mind. Therefore, should we discourage those who don’t have the means to travel or to buy the books and pay the language school tuition to raise their children bilingually? I really don’t think so.

This takes us back to the quote and how I interpreted it. Isn’t speaking to your baby, in your native or chosen language, where it all starts? For them to grow and to reach their full potential they will need more than “milk” later on, but in the beginning it’s all they require and can handle. If you never did anything more than that, with pride and expecting your children to learn your language, I’m sure it would be worth it. Had my mom done that it would have made me, even if not fully bilingual, at least  a part of her world. To me, that would have been a tender gift.

Quote from Be Bilingual – Practical Ideas for Multilingual Families

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Pinterest Scavenger Hunt – today’s clue!

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Multicultural Kid Blogs Pinterest Scavenger Hunt

The Pinterest Scavenger Hunt has officially begun!
This contest is sponsored by Multicultural Kid Blogs to celebrate the official launch of our website.
The Scavenger Hunt will run from July 15 to July 28.  Participants have until July 31 to submit their entries, and the drawing will take place on August 1.
You could win one of four fabulous prize packages!
Details about the Scavenger Hunt can be found below.

Today’s Clue

Learning a 3rd language at Denny’s

 Now take  a look around on this site and try to find the post that fits the clue.  Once you think you’ve found it, pin it to the Pinterest Board you’ve created just for this contest.

 A full schedule and rules of the game can be found below.   

How to Play:

Create a Pinterest board specifically for the contest and name the board “Multicultural Kid Blogs Pinterest Scavenger Hunt.”

Each day a new clue (or two!) will be revealed. Follow the clue to the blog of the day and pin the post described in the clue. (Any image from the post is fine).

The final clue will be given July 28. Participants will have until midnight Pacific time on July 31 to finalize their boards. The drawing will take place on August 1.

Winners must have pinned all of the correct posts to their board. Winners will be notified via email and must respond within 48 hours or another name will be drawn.

Good luck, explorers!

Scavenger Hunt Schedule

(Visit the Scavenger Hunt main page for a full list of clues as they are revealed).

July 15

All Done Monkey

Crystal’s Tiny Treasures

July 16

The Squishable Baby


July 17

Be Bilingual

July 18

the piri-piri lexicon


July 19

Creative World of Varya

Expat Life With a Double Buggy

July 20

Sprout’s Bookshelf

Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns

July 21

Open Wide the World


July 22


Head of the Heard

July 23

For the Love of Spanish

July 24


July 25

Crafty Moms Share

The Art of Home Education

July 26

The European Mama

Spanish Playground

July 27

Vibrant Wanderings

A Hotchpotch Hijabi in Italy

July 28

Kids Yoga Stories

Adventure Bee

Final day to enter the contest is July 31, 2013, at midnight PDT. Drawing will take place on August 1, 2013.


Are you hearing that, too?

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Singing along to her "tunes" to the great delight of the rest of us.

Singing along to her “tunes” to the great delight of the rest of us.

It’s a beautiful, but hot day somewhere in New Mexico. We’ve been on the road for over a week and Sara, 7, is getting cranky. There is a bit of a culture shock happening, the food is too spicy for her delicate (picky) palate and it seems to frustrate her immensely that she can’t understand everything that is happening around her, let alone communicate with people.

Hoping to lighten the mood, I put on one of her favorite CDs with French songs from home. The whining stops and there is complete silence in the backseat. Then a hesitant whisper, in French, to the older sister: “Are you hearing this, too?”

“Of course”, she says and laughs. “Oh, good” says the little relieved voice. “Then it’s not just in my brain.”

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