Mother Tongue Book Review


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

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. 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 Tongueis 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.


Mother Tongue was a wonderful fit for me. As a bilingual parent that tries hard to teach her children (and her husband) a second language, this book was very interesting for me. I always wonder about the possibilities that life can really offer us, especially when we dare to do something a little different. Gilbert did exactly that. She had a crazy idea, a supporting husband and tried something different. She wanted to try to learn 3 major world languages in a a crazy small amount of time, by trying to live in different places of the world. Some of her ideas were really great, others seemed to possibly lack a bit more research and could have been so much easier for her and her family . But she did not go the easy way and I admired that in many parts of her story.

The book is written in a fun and engaging style that toggles between memoirs and a little research here and there. I was  hooked pretty much right from the start. It hit a good subject, and it was hard for me to put the book down. Even though I have read so many books about this subject before it was a pleasure reading about her adventures with her family and her ideas on how you could immerse yourself into new cultures really quick. I thought it was great to see her progress on her journey through countries and also to see the differences in learning different languages, each one has it’s own challenge for sure.

The book was a fun, quick read for me. It left me once again with more desire to travel, with more desire to bring our world and cultures together and especially to teach my kids more about our world we live in. A subject I can not “preach” enough these days.. it seems more important than ever…


* I recieved this book through a goodreads giveaway.

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