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Bilingualism/Multilinguism

  1. #9
    Koan is offline Registered User
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    Quote Originally Posted by spockey View Post
    Not true. Code-switching can confuse a child but not always the case. In the early stages, code-switching (mixing language words in a sentence) is not encouraged. But as a child grows older, it can be a strategy as part of learning a language.
    Yes, I agree. Once a child understands that there are two (or more) different and separate language systems operating in his world, the 'confusion' that people speak of is not an issue.

    I speak to my son in English about 85% of the time, my husband uses Khmer about the same. The rest of the time we use the other's language, and sometimes I speak to him in Korean, but usually only for songs. He goes to nursery school in Cantonese.

    He's doing very well linguistically. At 21 months he understands both English and Khmer very well, can answer questions, make simple sentences and follow instructions in both. He's not yet old enough to realise that he has two languages, even though he uses two different words for the same thing. It's pretty amazing to watch, really.

    His English is strongest, and we expected that, given that much of his socialisation with family and friends of the family is in English.

    As a mother with a masters in early childhood language development, I think my son is amazing and feel I'm blessed to witness his development. He's like my own little case study!

  2. #10
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    somebodyfamous is offline Registered User
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    Not true. Code-switching can confuse a child but not always the case. In the early stages, code-switching (mixing language words in a sentence) is not encouraged. But as a child grows older, it can be a strategy as part of learning a language.
    It depends if the child knows there is 'code-switching' though!!!! I had the embarrassment of calling an elevator a 'leep' (cantonese word) when I was a teenager. As my mother had substituted the cantonese word for elevator whenever she spoke English, I presumed 'leep' was the English word for elevator.

    So mix your two languages at risk of embarrassing your child who may or may not know you are 'code-switching'

  3. #11
    spockey is offline Registered User
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    Koan - His universal grammar must have been set right :-) Hence, he has no problems picking up language. Great job mum! Congrats!

    Newmommie - There is no right or wrong way to teach a language once the universal grammar is set. You can only create circumstances to encourage it's development. I don't speak German but I do remind my son of German words. So when we are speaking in English out and about, I ask him for the word of X in German and he tells me. Or, something as simple as 'Teach me to count in German.' We also sit together with dad and learn words from a children's picture dictionary.

  4. #12
    Shenzhennifer is offline Registered User
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    Quote Originally Posted by NewMommie View Post
    On this similar topic since I see at least two moms who try with Mandarin but are not native speakers, does anyone have any advice on whether it is detrimental to speak imperfectly to your child in a language (in this case, Mandarin), when you are actually trying to help them learn it? I had a naysayer tell me that I should just speak English to my child and then hire help to teach her Mandarin. But I feel like that's such a waste because I can speak it, only not really that well...that shouldn't be an issue when she's just learning languages though - or is it?
    I hope it doesn`t make a difference. My husband speaks Japanese to our son, I speak English, but my husband and I speak English together. His English is far from perfect, but I don`t think it will affect my son`s English. Growing up in Canada where many of my friends` families were from another country and spoke imperfect English didn`t affect theirs at all (mind you they grew up with English all around them, but still).

  5. #13
    LLL_Sarah is offline Registered User
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    The research on immigrant families tends to show that if the family keeps the native language at home the children do better with languages than if the family swaps to the new country?s language.

    I believe this is because they learn two correct languages. They assume all the language they hear are correct and so learn it. So this is a problem if someone is speaking with poor language skills around them.

  6. #14
    spockey is offline Registered User
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    LLL_Sarah

    You are absolutely right when it comes to dealing with the young. Using a language that is native to you builds your innate linguistic skills. So sticking to what you know best first is the best way to become bilingual in the long run. If your universal grammar is set, it is easier to become a bilingual.

    Let's say that there are 3 languages involved.

    Language X - your native language
    Language Y - a learned language but you are not fluent
    Language Z - another language you've learned but not fluent in either

    Scenario 1 - You use either Language Y and/or Z to speak as his native language (first language/mother tongue language learnt). Your child is most likely (in the long run) going to have trouble with languages (in the long run). Research results are not set in stone but more about probability. And, there have been success stories with hard work but do not achieve nativelike fluency. But nativism may not/will most likely not be achieved.

    Scenario 2 - You use your native language to communicate. You expose (setting conditions) your child to Language Y/Z. There is a higher chance of success (close to native like proficiency).

    Every parent needs to realise that bilingualism occurs in degrees. There is no such thing as a true bilingual. One language is always better. And, the definition of being bilingual can also be very loose. It depends on what you think bilingualism and which definition you choose to abide by. There are children who understand two/three languages but speak only one - They are still considered bilingual - passive bilingual.

    Nativelike proficiency is very difficult to achieve. So, it all depends on your needs and wants for your little bilingual child. A lot fo Hong Kongers are bilingual/trilingual but few are nativelike in two/three languages.

    If you want your child to speak, read and write in two languages, the work is made easier with early childhood exposure but the road is long... Continually effort is required. There are a lot of research papers on this -French Immersion programmes in Canada are most commonly cited. There are also a lot of studies on Immigrant immersion programmes in Australia.

    Early exposure simply makes long term learning easier. You can be bilingual if you start later. But the probability of achieving nativelike fluency if you start later is slim. Research has shown that sometimes there is little difference between kids who start at 3, 5 or 7 but it makes a difference if you compare someone who started at 3 or 5 with someone at 11/13. However, parents should note that the later age groups while they don't achieve nativelike pronunciation are more conscious of learning and learning can actually be easier.

    I should note that in my research (based on expat parents in HK), parents who stuck to their native language at home e.g. Italian, Mandarin, English, German, French... raised successful bilinguals as in HK. There are a whole heap of factors involved in their success but in general, sticking to what you know best first, is your safest bet.

    E.g. Language X (both parents not English) used at home. Sent kids to English playgroups/nurseries/kindergartens --> Kids became effective bilinguals early on. When this foundation was set, a third language was introduced and kids picked it up easily.

  7. #15
    LLL_Sarah is offline Registered User
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    When my first baby was a child (about twenty years ago) I read a book I borrowed from the PPA library about bilingualism. It was written by a professor of German linguistics in a Australian university. I found it very interesting as he was bringing his children up with both English and German (even though both parents were native English speakers) and he mentioned a lot of research. I remember the research around the Italian/ French boarder where the children grow up with both languages and have no problem with the parents and everyoe else swapping languages all the time.

    Unfortunately I can't remember either his name or the name of the book. I would really like to see if he has a more up-to-date book.

    Spockey, as someone who knows this field you have any idea who I'm talking about?

  8. #16
    spockey is offline Registered User
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    LLL_Sarah, There are hundreds of books and research papers on bilingualism. So I'm not sure. And I've read A LOT because of my research paper on raising bilingual kids in HK. Some books/articles I've read for my research went as far back as the 1960s. But in general, rule of thumb is not to go back more than 10 years (if possible)

    Here though is an extract from Wigglesworth (for parents who are interested and deciding on creating relevant contexts):

    In your readings, you may come across researchers who make the distinctions between primary contexts and secondary contexts. When used, primary contexts refer to situations where a child acquires both languages in a naturalistic setting without any structured instruction, while secondary contexts refer to the situation when a child acquires one of the languages in a structured setting, usually school. This creates a clear division where one language is acquired in a naturalistic setting and the other is acquired in a formal setting, usually a classroom. This distinction is sometimes referred to as natural bilingualism versus school bilingualism (Skutnabb-Kangas 1981).

    Children who acquire both languages in a primary context acquire the languages as a result of natural input in the environment. This input is usually provided by caregivers, often the parents and/or siblings, when the child is an infant, but as the child enters early childhood, the input can also come from other sources, such as the extended family and the wider community. As we will see in Unit 3, there are many detailed reports on children being raised in bilingual situations like this ? often where one parent speaks one language and the other speaks another.
    Within the primary context, a further distinction is made between naturalistic fused and naturalistic separate. In a naturalistic fused setting, there is no separation of context for both languages, and the child is exposed to both languages in the same context. So, for example a Mandarin-English bilingual child may receive input in both languages from each parent, siblings or peers. In such situations, both languages are used by the same speaker. In contrast, a bilingual in a naturalistic separate context may hear and use Mandarin only with one parent and English with the other parent. In this context, one language is associated with a specific parent. This latter model is commonly referred to as the one-parent-one-language model. Apart from parents, it is also common for the separation to be made according to other interlocutors such as siblings, peers and grandparents. So, in Singapore, a trilingual child may speak Mandarin to the parents, English to the siblings and Hokkien to the grandparents. More rarely, the physical environment is different, as in the case reported by Ginsberg (1996), where the child spoke to the parents in Spanish exclusively in the home, but in English outside the home; this system of separation was rigidly maintained throughout the child?s life. In this case, the child learnt to use the physical environment as a cue to switch between the two languages with the same interlocutors.
    It is often assumed that language input in the pre-school years takes place in a naturalistic environment. While this is true for most bilinguals, for a large proportion of bilingual children in Asia, for example, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, structured language-focused teaching may begin when the child is as young as two. In Singapore, a child may speak both Mandarin Chinese and English without any formal teaching at birth but once they start attending childcare, which can be as early as two years of age, it is common for childcare centres to provide structured teaching in both languages. So, in such cases, the distinction between primary and secondary contexts may not be as clear-cut as in other settings.
    The issue of primary and secondary contexts is important especially in the study of the language development in bilinguals as there is some debate about whether one context is more beneficial in promoting desired outcome in the language development of bilinguals.


    I've kept a word copy of the book but I think it's illegal to publish it. I had access to it as a research student for my project. I am by no means a guru and my research was conducted 2 years ago now! Right now, I'm working on possibly writing a Language Programme Evaluation on Translingualisation (the new multilingual approach to language - particularly English) - which personally I think is a horrible way to learn English in HK - it's like a cop out!

    I must say though, the latest research paper I just read (two days ago!)which reviewed succesful immersion programmes in 3 schools in Vic, Australia paved the way for the need for immersion for kids to pick up a language effectively - creating conditions for them to use it.

    The reality is that the more you read about it (bilingualism), the more you realise that there is no right or wrong only creating situations for language development to blossom. As parents, that is probably our best bet. Just keep on creating conducive situations as long as it isn't burning a hole in your pocket!

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