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

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  404 ratings  ·  75 reviews
One woman’s quest to learn Mandarin in Beijing, Arabic in Beirut, and Spanish in Mexico, with her young family along for the ride.

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. Imagi
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published May 17th 2016 by Avery
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Average rating 3.74  · 
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 ·  404 ratings  ·  75 reviews

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Start your review of Mother Tongue: My Family's Globe-Trotting Quest to Dream in Mandarin, Laugh in Arabic, and Sing in Spanish
Amanda Hasan
Mar 31, 2020 rated it liked it
I was initially intrigued by this book because my husband and I have a desire to raise children that are not only multilingual, but multicultural (the author does a great job at differentiating between the two in her book). I found her stories interesting but not what I was hoping for. In addition, after doing extensive research on this family and their work in general, I found quite a few contentious bits of info. Allegedly, this couple has sold online workshops and other products to consumers ...more
Jul 11, 2020 rated it did not like it
Only two pages in I knew that I was going to deeply dislike the author, but I persisted anyway out of morbid curiosity. I have no energy to fully express how unlikeable and ridiculous this woman is - but a quick Google search will provide all you need to know about her lack of morality.

The story begins with her deciding to move with a two-year-old to Beijing in the winter, without researching anything about the country. She is then shocked to discover that winter in Beijing is cold (who would'v
Jun 25, 2018 rated it did not like it
Public Service Announcement - for the love of God, stop forcing your children to learn languages that you have no idea about yourself. I picked up this book because it was recommended to me by a friend who thought I'd enjoy it since I have direct experience studying the three languages the author tortured her child into learning - namely Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin. Understand that with Spanish you may be functional after one year, which isn't a tremendous sunk cost should you decide to abandon ...more
Mar 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
Alternate title "how one mother dragged her child across the world to places she hadnt researched bc ...ridiculous reasons"
Yes its great to think/speak in multiple languages but this seemed a bizarre reason to just ...go... and make things even more difficult by not researching and preparing adequately. I had high hopes and my low rating is likely bc i felt very disappointed in the execution of this ?memoir. Felt like reading 'eat pray love with a child'
May 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
Very American view of the world.
Jan 27, 2016 rated it it was ok
*I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways*

This book was okay but it was just okay, there was nothing enlightening or earth-shattering about it. It's a very personal memoir that, despite what it says in the synopsis, has little to offer in terms of general world knowledge; things are quite specific to the author and her husband who, unlike most people anywhere, have the financial means to just pick up and move to another country time and time again. It's hard to find anything to
Eustacia Tan
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nlb-ereads
I picked this book up because language learning is something that interests me, even if I'm not very good at it. Mother Tongue is Christine's account to achieve 'a level of fluency' of Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish by spending about 6 months in China, Lebanon, and Mexico.

Since Christine only studied Spanish before the experiment, I was quite skeptical about whether this could be done. After 6 months of intensive Japanese, I could get around and go on a holiday, but I definitely would not describe
Ian Hefele
Mar 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Really wasn’t impressed until the final chapter when she wound it all up.
Natalie Herr
Oct 25, 2022 rated it really liked it
I always enjoy a travel memoir. This one has the added topics of language learning and parenting mixed in, which was interesting.
Jun 17, 2019 added it
2019-Interesting premise (moving to 3 different countries to immerse themselves in the local language), although I questioned the author's choices sometimes and the dialogue could be a bit stilted. ...more
Aug 07, 2021 rated it did not like it
A highly-motivated, Type-A idiot decides to move her and her family around to a bunch of different countries that she knows little about in order to get them to learn their language; she does so because she thinks that this will help her children avoid dying from dementia. She ends up only learning Spanish, a language she had already studied. Yes, it is all very stupid.

This book begins in Barcelona, with Gilbert humble bragging about how great her Spanish is. Even this early in the book, I was
Jul 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I couldn't help but be jealous of Christine Gilbert, the author! What an adventure that I wouldn't dare attempt--especially living in Beirut! I really enjoyed reading about Gilbert's experiences as she worked towards being multilingual. I felt better about my own language experiences in China. The taxi drivers ignored her attempts to communicate just as they had ignored mine, and now I know I am not the only one who has grown weary of being corrected over and over and over and over on the pronun ...more
May 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
I completely randomly discovered Christine Gilbert's blog just a few days before this book came out - because my husband and I just took our first trip to Europe together, loved it and wanted to figure out a way how to get back for a longer amount of time, and when I Googled how to live in Europe, one of Christine's blog posts popped up.

I really enjoyed the book, though at times I thought, what is she thinking/doing?? I still don't have a complete grasp on the logistics of how she and her husban
Feb 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
*I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways*

This book was a great fit for me. I am a German expat living in the US, we homeschool and also raise our children bilingual. I was very interested to read about her ideas to raise her children in a more multi-cultural approach and be bilingual or even trilingual herself. The book itself was a quick, fun read, and I enjoyed her memoirs about living abroad and learning these languages. Overall there was not much new information that I was
Andrea Hylen
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Christine Gilbert takes us on a journey of learning to speak the language in China, Lebanon and Mexico with the intention of immersing herself and her children in a world where they speak many languages. Along the way, Christine's quest shows us the power of setting an intention and a challenge that will stretch you as a human being. What are we here for if not to challenge ourselves? Climb a mountain. Run a marathon. Build a house. Experience different cultures. Start a non-profit. Write a book ...more
Feb 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I don't know what I was expecting when I started Mother Tongue, but I was pleasantly surprised. First, the novel was unexpectedly honest. Christine Gilbert writes about every aspect of her experiment, even the failures, stress, and uncomfortable moments. Second, She includes a lot of her research on how people learn languages and the benefits of being bilingual and bi-cultural. Finally, the story was entertaining. I wanted to know what happened next. I don't know if I'd pick up and move to a new ...more
Jun 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, ebook
This was a fun trip through the author's experiment with second language acquisition- both child and adult. It was great to see her bring in research and her own experience and reflection on what worked, didn't, and why. She was thoughtful and honest about their lives and challenges but I found it very uplifting and inspiring to pick up my language studies again and set my sights on living in a foreign country. She did a marvelous job writing the book and it blends theory, practical knowledge, a ...more
Nov 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Absolutely enthralling.
Rossa Sung
Jun 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
As a polyglot, I hoped to learn personal perspectives to instill love of language in my children. The book is borderline condescending and lacks cultural sensitivities. I would not recommend it.
Mar 12, 2022 rated it it was ok
If you have any experience with language learning, it immediately becomes clear that this woman's plan is at best half-baked and poorly researched and at worst obnoxiously hubristic and ignorant. If you know about language learning, it will annoy you, if you don't, it will present a spectacularly terrible example of how to approach a new language. I'm a teacher of French and Spanish, and my alarm bells started going off as soon as the author revealed her plan to learn Mandarin, Arabic and Spanis ...more
Oct 07, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: american-author
When I got this book from the library (thank goodness I didn't pay for it), I expected a celebration of language and culture. What I got was a self-centred recounting of an American family's crash course through five different countries.

The author decides to move her husband and young (under one year old) son to Beijing, Beirut and Puerto Vallarta so that she and her son can learn Mandarin, Arabic and Spanish. She claims she wants to be changed by the cultures, but very little of the book is act
May 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I expected this to be a story of someone living in different places, effortlessly picking up various languages wherever she went. I wanted to know what her secrets were to becoming a polyglot. Instead this was an account of the difficulties the author faced when trying to learn a new language, which made it a much more interesting and authentic read. She integrated lots of research on language acquisition from the perspective of adults and children, and how a variety of factors play a role in ac ...more
Dec 25, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel, memoir
This is a tricky book to review. It has a nice writing style that draws the reader in. It is an interesting concept, of traveling the world to different places to immerse in the languages. A lot of the descriptions of places, and particularly food, made me wish I could travel there right now. And I learned a lot about language acquisition. But there was something lurking in the attitude behind the adventure that sort of irked me. I also realize that this was an experiment for Christine Gilbert a ...more
I picked this book up on a whim because I love to travel, love to learn languages, and to read about other people's experiences learning languages and travelling the world. This was a very interesting read and I like Gilbert's thinking that she wants to live around the world, learn new languages, and also have her children be bilingual or trilingual. I myself am bilingual, Polish and English, so this was a treat to read some of the research scholars have done throughout the years on languages. I ...more
Esther B
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 12, 2018 rated it liked it
As a travel and language enthusiast, I found the concept of this memoir (a family living in three different countries and attempting to learn the local languages by immersion) appealing. It was well-paced and filled with humorous moments and some interesting insights into different cultures. However, the focus on pregnancy and parenthood in the last third didn't interest me so much. And while Gilbert did interview and reference several high-profile linguists, the book ultimately didn't offer muc ...more
Jeana Salman
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book! The storytelling is excellent and I learned some things along the way. This perspective coming from a mother who has always wanted to raise her children multilingual (we speak English, Spanish, Arabic, and a smattering of French at home). Now I understand that one of my goals has been multicultural as well, I just couldn't articulate it until I read this book. I could totally see my family taking on an adventure like this. ...more
Suzanne Ring
Jul 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

If you are multilingual and love studying languages, this is the book for you. It is a fun an d easy read a bout a family looking to raise their children both multicultural and multilingual.
Samar Dahmash Jarrah
Nov 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Enjoyed reading it. Made me so jealous of Christine and her courage to learn and explore far away cultures and languages. Glad she liked Lebanon and arabs and Muslims. Check out her interesting blog you might catch the bug. ...more
Jun 29, 2018 rated it liked it
For someone who gives herself a lot of grief about not speaking Russian as well as she would like, this memoir was a good reminder that when the goal is language, understanding your own motivations is the only way you can approach the comfort level necessary to achieve fluency.
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“Hola,” my daughter offered meekly. “¿Cuál es su nombre?” the woman asked. What is her name? “Stella.” “Hmm?” “Stella.” The woman still looked puzzled. Drew jumped in. “Estella.” She broke into a smile. “Ah, Estella.” “Sí.” I smiled, too. “Y tu hijo?” she asked, running her hand over our son’s blond head. He shook his head impatiently. “Cole,” I replied. “Col?” she asked, again looking puzzled. “Sí.” Everyone wanted to call Stella “Estella,” and sometimes she’d get mistaken for chela, the Mexican slang for beer. Cole, on the other hand, is a Spanish word, at least how it’s pronounced. It’s Catalan as well, which is the second language in Barcelona (or first, depending on who you ask). Cole is pronounced like the Spanish word col and means “cabbage.” We accidentally named our son after the slightly smelly vegetable they put in cocidos and ensaladas. Meet our children: Beer and Cabbage. Apparently it didn’t matter, as the abuelita quickly launched into a story about her three children and eight grandchildren (who all lived outside the city, sadly) and her hand injury that had only recently healed. I nodded and Drew offered, “Sí, sí, vale, vale,” the usual Spanish murmurs of agreement. The bus stopped and we said our good-byes as she departed. After the bus had started rolling again, I leaned over to Drew and whispered, “If we have another baby, we are naming her Alejandra—or Javier if it’s a boy—something so Spanish no one ever asks us twice.” He grinned. “Agreed.” 0 likes
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