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Bringing up baby bilingual

  1. #1
    lrpolo is offline Registered User
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    Bringing up baby bilingual

    What are people's opinions on how to bring up a child to be properly fluent in Chinese and English? Are you or do you know someone who can speak, read and write in more than one language and how did you/they do it?

  2. #2
    carang's Avatar
    carang is offline Registered User
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    i'm canadian, hubby is local chinese. my kids are becoming/already pretty much bilingual. for us, we decided before the kids were born that i would speak english and daddy would speak cantonese..... then reality hit. daddy and i use english and he has naturally used english with the kids too!

    because of this, we decided to put the kids into local kindergarten. their schooling so far has been entirely local (with the occasional class at mummy's playgroup centre). the first year at kindie, my son understood about 70% of what was going on... his second year, he understood about 90%. now, in his last year, he happily plays in chinese at the playground and translates stuff for me all the time! he's even starting to pick out the chinese characters that he can read, just the same as he picks out the english words he knows.

    my daughter, who is an excellent communicator, has always shown more interest in learning chinese than her older brother. she is constantly asking daddy how to say things in chinese. after 1 month at kindie, she started reciting a Grace before eating in chinese! she is picking it up faster than our son did, and i have no doubt that by the time she finishes kindie, she'll be speaking as well as the other chinese kids her age.

    we have also enrolled our kids into a local school. they will be learning most of their subjects in english and their chinese subject will be cantonese, not mandarin. i may change this later on and put our son into the chinese section.... haven't quite decided....

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    Frenchy is offline Registered User
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    We are not Chinese, but French natives, and our son speaks both french and english. He was borned in HK, is used to hear english everywhere, TV, cartoons, people, helper, playgroups, friends etc.... We mainly speak french at home, but sometimes english, or will always give him a translation when he learns a new word. He is going to an international pres-school, in english.
    He knows who speaks what, and can switch from one to the other language in a blink.
    We didn't really make any effort, it just came naturally, with everydays life.

  4. #4
    thanka2 is offline Registered User
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    My husband is local Hong Kong Chinese--grew up and lived here all of his life. I am from the United States. His first language is Cantonese. My first language is English. Our 3-year-old son is bilingual and fluent in both Cantonese and English (as fluent as any 3-year-old can be in any language). It is very natural for him to switch between languages and he speaks both languages every day--both at home and away from home.

    The key to his fluency, I think is that he has a close relationship with his grandparents (my husband's parents) and spends at least 1-2 days/week with them. They only speak to him in Cantonese. At home my husband and I primarily speak English with one another but when my son is playing with his dad one-on-one they speak Cantonese together. I can also speak some Cantonese--especially simple Cantonese with my son and sometimes my husband and I speak in Cantonese.

    My son also attends a local kindergarten where the medium of instruction is Cantonese but he also has English and Mandarin (Putonghua) class at school.

    At a young age, the key to children learning another language or being bilingual (or even trilingual) is environment and exposure. If you want your child to pick up a language as a small child just expose them to that language in a context where they can use the language and they will pick it up rather quickly. It doesn't take much effort actually, with the right environment. At least that's our experience.

    Although, I think it might be useful to send your child to a class or playgroup taught in another language as a means of helping him or her to learn another language--it probably isn't ideal. Exposure for only 1 or 2 hours a week to a language that is not spoken at home or in other places where the child spends their time during the week (school, grandparents' house) isn't going to do much good for the child, I think.
    “Many women have described their experiences of childbirth as being associated with a
    spiritual uplifting, the power of which they have never previously been aware …
    To such a woman childbirth is a monument of joy within her memory.
    She turns to it in thought to seek again an ecstasy which passed too soon.”

    ~ Grantly Dick-Read (Childbirth Without Fear)

    Mother of Two
    JMW, boy, born November 29, 2007, 9:43 pm, USA
    MJW, girl, born March 17, 2011, 4:14 pm, HK

  5. #5
    ozmerc is offline Registered User
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    I'm in a different situation as I'd love for my children to be bilingual but they have the added handicap of having two monolingual parents. Our son is at a kindergarten where english, cantonese and mandarin are all spoken (by the teachers) but I have no idea how much he picks up because of course he doesn't need to speak Chinese to us at home! Sometimes he comes out with stuff in Chinese but often I don't have a clue what it means. He is the only native english speaker at the kindergarten (maybe one other) and I know the kids mainly communicate to each other in Cantonese. He's been there about 7 months so I'm hoping a couple of years of this environment will be enough to get him started. I'm a little concerned about primary school though because most people in our situation end up with their kids in their ESF/international school english-speaking bubble. I know they do Mandarin lessons but I'd prefer Chinese as a medium of instruction. Still trying to figure out how to achieve this!

  6. #6
    thanka2 is offline Registered User
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    Quote Originally Posted by ozmerc View Post
    I'm in a different situation as I'd love for my children to be bilingual but they have the added handicap of having two monolingual parents. Our son is at a kindergarten where english, cantonese and mandarin are all spoken (by the teachers) but I have no idea how much he picks up because of course he doesn't need to speak Chinese to us at home! Sometimes he comes out with stuff in Chinese but often I don't have a clue what it means. He is the only native english speaker at the kindergarten (maybe one other) and I know the kids mainly communicate to each other in Cantonese. He's been there about 7 months so I'm hoping a couple of years of this environment will be enough to get him started. I'm a little concerned about primary school though because most people in our situation end up with their kids in their ESF/international school english-speaking bubble. I know they do Mandarin lessons but I'd prefer Chinese as a medium of instruction. Still trying to figure out how to achieve this!
    I'm not sure what school he's going to but if you want him to learn Chinese then send him to a local school where the medium of instruction is Cantonese and English and Mandarin are taught as additional classes (this is becoming the norm in the schools now). If you need help deciphering his homework, hire a tutor--you probably only need to hire a secondary student or university student who is looking for an after school job. If he's in that environment every day you can assume he's communicating in Cantonese. You can also check with his teacher and see how he's doing. It's all about exposure and if school is the most natural way to expose him to the language then that's a good way to start.
    “Many women have described their experiences of childbirth as being associated with a
    spiritual uplifting, the power of which they have never previously been aware …
    To such a woman childbirth is a monument of joy within her memory.
    She turns to it in thought to seek again an ecstasy which passed too soon.”

    ~ Grantly Dick-Read (Childbirth Without Fear)

    Mother of Two
    JMW, boy, born November 29, 2007, 9:43 pm, USA
    MJW, girl, born March 17, 2011, 4:14 pm, HK

  7. #7
    oreomama is offline Registered User
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    I am a Malaysian Chinese and my husand & our sons are Singaporeans. And we have stayed in Beijing for the past 2 years, and i notice my toddler boys have a strong liking towards Mandarin, and my elder one speaks with Beijing accent (which i love it and hope this accent retains as long as possible!).

    We are bilingual or maybe trilingual as my husband converse in English with our boys while i speak in Mandarin with Malay once in a while. We have been here in HK for 2 months and my boys start to pick up some Cantonese as well.

    From what i notice, kids at this age pick up new languages very fast and they are enjoying and passion about learning a new language. But there's a little problem here as i notice my boys tend to "mix" different languages in sentences, for eg: I love to eat "dim sum", are we going to the place with 小巴?" etc.. I have been trying hard to correct them on this problem but i wonder is this a norm for a 3yo bilingual to converse like this?

    My elder boy is attending an international kindergarten, and there's Mandarin lesson 3 times a week (20 mins each session). His Mandarin teachers had feedback to me that he is very good in Mandarin, and the standards are too easy for him, as he's into reading and writing Chinese words (simplified version) now. Hence, i am quite worried his proficiency of Mandarin will start to stagnant. Does any mummies sharing the same situation as me?

    And now it comes to select an appropriate Primary school for him (he's 4 this year), i am quite clueless which is more suitable for him as he understand very very little Cantonese so local school is probably out, and i prefer a school has strong focus on Mandarin as well. And not forgetting we may return Singapore one day, hence English is equally important. Headache!

  8. #8
    fennho's Avatar
    fennho is offline Registered User
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    oreomama
    we have the same predicament with our kids. Both myself and hubby are Sporeans. So since my daughter was born, i spoke Mandarin to her. She was proficient in Mandarin. But since she started attending school, i was worried she'd lack behind cos most of the kids in her school are caucasians, so i started to switch and spoke to her in English. Problem is now, her english is BETTER than her mandarin, and she also mixes her languages in ONE sentence! I'm also worried now her mandarin is slowing down. :(

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