Review: Mother Tongue

Mother Tongue: My Family’s Globe-Trotting Quest to Dream in Mandarin, Laugh in Arabic, and Sing in Spanish, Christine Gilbert

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published May 17th 2016 by Avery

26150786

Imagine negotiating for a replacement carburetor in rural Mexico with words you’re secretly pulling from a pocket dictionary. Imagine your two-year-old asking for more niunai at dinner—a Mandarin word for milk that even you don’t know yet. Imagine finding out that you’re unexpectedly pregnant while living in war-torn Beirut. With vivid and evocative language, Christine Gilbert takes us along with her into foreign lands, showing us what it’s like to make a life in an unfamiliar world—and in an unfamiliar tongue.

Gilbert was a young mother when she boldly uprooted her family to move around the world, studying Mandarin in China, Arabic in Lebanon, and Spanish in Mexico, with her toddler son and all-American husband along for the ride. Their story takes us from Beijing to Beirut, from Cyprus to Chiang Mai—and also explores recent breakthroughs in bilingual brain mapping and the controversial debates happening in linguistics right now.

Gilbert’s adventures abroad prove just how much language influences culture (and vice versa), and lead her to results she never expected. Mother Tongue is a fascinating and uplifting story about taking big risks for bigger rewards and trying to find meaning and happiness through tireless pursuit—no matter what hurdles may arise. It’s a treat for language enthusiasts and armchair travelers alike.

Welcome to a #WeekofReviews hosted by Andi at Estella’s Revenge.  I’m going to do my best to clean out my long list of books to review starting now!  First is a book that made me want to take off and travel the world.

I love the idea of packing up my family and living somewhere else.  I spent a semester in Rome in college and I loved learning Italian, exploring Roman neighborhoods and finding all the gelato and chianti that I could.  I would pick up and move to Europe if our careers could take us there absolutely!  When I heard about Christine Gilbert chronicling her journey to take her family through three completely different countries while trying to gain language fluency in each I had to read it.  While the countries that Gilbert and her husband chose wouldn’t be mine I was still fascinated by their adventure.

I loved how Gilbert wove her personal story with her research into how we learn languages.  (Shocking – there is no one answer)  She shared the many theories she studied without weighing down the flow of their journey.   As much as I liked reading about her efforts with schools, flashcards and tutors (at a minimum) I thought it was even more fascinating how her young son picked up bits and pieces of Mandarin, Arabic and Spanish each as they moved.  I was really impressed at the level of commitment Gilbert gave to this project.  I can’t imagine hours of language lessons on top of audio recordings, homework and research – all while living in a new culture with a young family.  

I appreciated Gilbert’s honesty even when her choices weren’t the best – when she realized Shanghai was not liveable for her family because of pollution or when she realized she had been too strict with her education plan to really forge a life as an expatriate.  This crazy adventure definitely had moments of great beauty and inspiration –  with learning both news languages and cultures.  

For an added reading bonus – I had a flashback to Hausfrau and to Anna’s language lessons. As much as I loved that book I’m glad Christine’s was a very different kind of story!

Avery has kindly offered two copies for me to giveaway!  Here is a link to a Rafflecopter giveaway so go and enter!  Would you pick up and move to another country?  If so where would you go?

Bon Chance!  US Only, giveaway ends 6/20.  No spam giveaway accounts!

Thank you Avery for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

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17 Comments

    • I did! I love how small the world is sometimes. Isn’t the Rome Center amazing? I think they’ve redone quite a bit since I was there though. I was able to go pretty much everywhere from Spain to Denmark, and east to Prague – and most places in between. Such an amazing experience!

  1. This book sounds great. I’m putting it on my wishlist. I love the thought of picking up and moving to a new country, but I’m not sure if I could hack it in reality. Oddly enough, I can sing in way more languages than I actually understand, but Spanish isn’t one of them! LOL

  2. Oh man, I can’t imagine how much work would be involved packing up an entire family to move from place to place. I can just about envision what it would take for me to organize my own life this way (although I probably wouldn’t do it — I cherish my routine and my library access too much to go gallivanting about being a semi-permanent resident of other places), but with a family, that sounds really tough. Good for her though!

  3. Wow, I can’t imagine just picking up and moving around the world like that just by myself, much less with a kid! This seems like a super interesting book. The only place I’ve ever fantasized about expatriating to has been France, which is where some of my ancestors came from. Anyway, thanks for hosting this giveaway, fingers crossed!

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