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Multi-language dilemma

  1. #1
    JennyB is offline Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Discovery Bay

    Multi-language dilemma

    I already know the benefits of children being exposed to multiple languages at a young age. But can too many cause problems?

    We are long-term expats in Hong Kong - I have been here 14yrs and my husband (although British) was born here. We have always been very keen for our children, now 2 and nearly 5, to learn Cantonese, particularly as my husband missed out on learning it as a child so doesn't want to repeat the mistakes of history.

    Our eldest daughter Becky spent 2 years in Cantonese kindergarten before starting at the French International School (English stream) last month. We decided against continuing with the local education system because we feel it is too serious at too young an age, and not enough learning through play - we don't want our children to be on a rigorous academic treadmill, and they would have to work even harder without parents to help them with homework. We chose FIS because my husband teaches there and they pay 75% of our fees.

    We are trying to keep up her Cantonese by having a tutor for an hour on Saturday mornings, plus insist on TV being in Cantonese where possible.

    However, FIS do not teach Cantonese, but Mandarin and French - and French is twice a week. I am wondering how she will fare learning four languages!

    Our youngest daughter Rianna is also participating in the Cantonese tutor's visits, and she also went to a partially Cantonese playgroup for a year (we discontinued that because she had got bored because it was the same every week), plus we are planning to send her to Cantonese kindergarten in a year's time. But because of her month of birth, she will only have time for one year's Cantonese kindergarten before hopefully starting at FIS.

    I am also concerned that her facility for multiple languages is not as good as our eldest daughter, because she seems to have a less flexible mindset. But her English skills are very good - she was using simple sentences at the age of 18 months the same as our eldest daughter - so I am sure she has some talent for language, but may struggle with four!

    To be honest, if I had realised 4 years ago that FIS would be teaching two languages (plus English as language of instruction) from age 4, I would have been in favour of concentrating on Mandarin for kindergarten instead of Cantonese. But now Becky has spent 2yrs in Cantonese kindergarten, it seems worth trying to keep that up, but I don't want to flog a dead horse if there is little chance of keeping it going in the long run. We don't have any non-English speaking Chinese friends and not sure if any non-English speaking Chinese exist in Discovery Bay apart from the gardeners and cleaners working here! On the other hand, we do still believe it would be great if they could grow up speaking the local language, which we don't believe will be supplanted by Mandarin any time soon.

    As I see it, our options include:

    1. Sticking with the current plan of cultivating four languages, putting Rianna into Cantonese kindergarten, and only drop Cantonese if problems are encountered later.

    2. Try to keep Becky's Cantonese going, because she has already got up to a reasonable level, but go with Mandarin kindie for Rianna. Drawback: expense of Mandarin kindie when local kindie is almost free.

    3. Abandon Cantonese and accept it has done Becky good to be exposed to it at a young age, as it will help her acquisition of other languages, but there is no point investing any more effort into it.

    All opinions appreciated! Thanks.

  2. #2
    elizaveta is offline Registered User
    Join Date
    Jul 2006

    Dont think I could help in your particular situation (the decision is always very personal). My daughter grows up with 3 languages as "mother tongue" (Russian, Dutch, Eunglish) and surely will get additional foreign language at school. I read a lot of information on tri-lingual children and one of the main conditions seems to be EQUAL INTERACTIVE (not tv) exposure to all languages. So I would guess you can try to create atmosphere for your children when they get exposed to languages you want them to keep (nanny, babysit, playgroup) and see how things go. I would not force 4 languages though if your child starts to stuggle and use a common sense. One thing for sure - it is a real work if you want to be successful, so you may want to consider that.

    Good luck!

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