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What language to speak with infant?

  1. #1
    meimeid is offline Registered User
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    What language to speak with infant?

    We are a Dutch family, my husband speaks Dutch with our son and I speak Cantonese, my hubby and I communicate using Dutch. Since we are expats and might be relocating in a few years again we want our son to go to international playgroup/preschool/kindergarten etc. For this it will be useful for him to get exposed to English, but would it be necessary for one of us to start speaking English with him now (he's 3 months old)? I mainly wonder because the admission rules here in the HK international school system seem quite strict. Normally I wouldn't bother and wait until he starts going to preschool to pick up English there.
    What level of understanding English is required for eg a two year old in order to be admitted at an international preschool, and how can you go about teaching your infant this?

    I'm curious as to how other non native English families handle this. Any experiences or advice?

  2. #2
    geo-seb is offline Registered User
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    I speak German with my daughter and my wife speaks Cantonese with her. My wife and I communicate in English or Cantonese or a mix of both. We are often asked why we don't use English and Mandarin (what many consider to be the "important" languages) when talking to our daughter and the reason is simple: Cantonese and German feel more natural to us as parents and this early in life bonding with our daughter is much more important than teaching her languages she may or may not need in the future.

    Having said said, we will encourage our daughter to learn English and Mandarin as second languages later. If we stay in Hong Kong, she will learn English and Mandarin in kindergarten and school anyway. If we leave and live in a non-English speaking country, she will most likely learn English as a second language in school.

    Not really concerned about international/private schools, because we'll probably send her to local schools, if we are still in Hong Kong at that time.
    ssheng likes this.

  3. #3
    JL168 is offline Registered User
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    What a coincidence! I am a dutch speaker too, and due to have my first girl in January. Currently still in HK, but I'll be delivering in Belgium, and then come back to HK end of Feb.
    Here is what I have “planned”: I’ll be only speaking Flemish with her, whilst my hubby will be speaking Cantonese. And between myself and my husband, we talk in Cantonese. I am thinking about sending my baby girl to school in Belgium once she turns 2 or 2.5, because I honestly prefer her to have her education back in Belgium. I know she won’t be having a lot of interaction with English speaking people in HK (pretty much zero), so that’s why I don’t think it would be easy anyway to send her to an international school here.

    But just like you, i am also very curious on how other non native English families are coping. Thanks!

  4. #4
    Frenchy is offline Registered User
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    Both my husband and I speak French. Our kids were born in HK, and we have mainly english speaking friends (from any countries, but it is our exchange language). Our son went to playgroups and is in an international school, watches TV and DVD in English, our helper speaks English to him. We do speak French and English to him since birth (and to our daugther too, who is younger). As a result our son is completely bilingual now, and our daugther understands instructions in both languages already.

  5. #5
    JL168 is offline Registered User
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    That's acually my biggest concern: i'm afraid she won't be able to completely understand 1 language because she'll be leaning more towards the other language, or that she'll mix both languages up! And how about reading and writing? Will that mainly be English for you?
    Last edited by JL168; 11-16-2011 at 09:19 AM.

  6. #6
    ssheng is offline Registered User
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    I've done some digging into this topic as well, and naturally there are several schools of thought. But the one that I liked the most was a linguist's article on bilingual or multilingual children. In it she said that it is important for children to feel comfortable around their parents, and therefore, for parents to speak in a language they themselves are not comfortable in will be sensed by the child. That being said, the linguist also said that it is perfectly fine for one parent to speak multiple languages around the child, because that is normal life.

    I think my takeaway was that it is best to try to be natural and not artificial if you want your child to succeed at picking up multiple languages. If that means you speak Dutch at home but when out in the world, end up speaking English to friends, the helper, etc, then I think your child will naturally pick up some English. Another point the linguist made was that languages usually stick when they are both utilized and seen as useful. I agree with this - I know a number of people, myself included, who had to study a foreign language in school but promptly forgot it after I was no longer in class because it was simply not useful in daily life. In Hong Kong, English and Cantonese are surely useful languages that are frequently heard and utilized, so if it is being taught it will be reinforced in daily life (depending on how often you are in environments in HK where that is the case, of course).

  7. #7
    meimeid is offline Registered User
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    I was brought up myself with Cantonese and maybe just some simple Dutch words and my first day in kindergarten in Holland I couldn't understand much of what my teacher said. It turned out alright in the end .
    Close friends of us use a one-parent-one-language approach and that is working fine. The difference is, is that they are using a third language (English) to communicate between themselves, so the kids pick up three languages.
    We only use two languages at home, and English isn't one of them.
    I agree with the idea that it should feel natural to everyone. What I would prefer is for my bub to pick up some English by listening to English songs, watching DVD's, the helper (which we don't have yet...) and a playgroup. Would this be sufficient? And will he be confused by learning three languages?

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