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Multi-lingual families

  1. #1
    tsubasa is offline Registered User
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    Nov 2010

    Multi-lingual families

    Hello, I'm (English-speaking) from the US and my husband is Cantonese-speaking from HK. Just wondering how some other families are handling their children's bilingualism. My daughter is 8 months old now, and we want her to learn both English and Cantonese. My husband's whole family is here, and his parents care for my daughter some of the time, speaking in Cantonese. We also attend Cantonese church and almost everyone we socialize with speaks Cantonese. Because of this, my husband has been speaking to her in both Cantonese and English, and I speak to her in English. Wondered how other people have been handling it? We haven't yet decided if we are going to put her in the International strand of Kindergarten or the Cantonese strand. If she studies mainly in English at school, we will be sure her dad sticks to just Cantonese with her at home. Very interested in hearing some stories from those of you who have experienced your children's language development in a similar situation.

  2. #2
    carang's Avatar
    carang is offline Registered User
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    Sep 2004
    Sai Kung
    for us, we made the decision to put our kids into local schools, chinese strand. we did this because, for us, it was easier to maintain the english at home rather than the chinese. i want my kids not only to be bi-lingual, but also bi-literate. so, the ONLY way that was going to happen was chinese school with english at home.

    up until this past september, when my oldest started primary school, he WOULD NOT speak chinese at home. at one point he told me "i am NOT half chinese... i don't like speaking chinese, i don't like watching chinese tv, or chinese movies... i am ONLY canadian!" but now that he's in chinese school, in the chinese stream, he plays quite happily in chinese, talks to daddy in chinese etc.

    (i'm canadian, hubby is hk chinese).

    thanka, on here, is also in a similar situation.
    thanka2 likes this.

  3. #3
    thanka2 is offline Registered User
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    May 2009
    Yep :) For us, there's not much to "handle" when it comes to our children and bi-lingualism. It has developed pretty naturally because the key ingredient with language acquisition and young children is environment. I guess environment is a key factor with ALL language acquisition.

    I am from the States and my husband is from Hong Kong. We have lived in Hong Kong almost our entire relationship (except for a short stint living in Mainland China). Since my son (now 4-years-old) was a small infant he has spent considerable amounts of time with my husband's parents and his other Chinese relatives--especially before we hired a domestic helper. My mother came and lived with us in HK for about 9 months at one point and my sister lived with us for 6 months--other than that my son has spent very little time with my side of the family. My daughter is a year old and has met my mother, step-father and sister once.

    My son speaks Cantonese very fluently and has from a young age (about 2-years-old). He is much more expressive in Cantonese than he is in English although he speaks really well in both languages and can translate back and forth between the languages (which he often does for me). He is in his second year of kindergarten at a local school where the medium of instruction is Cantonese but where he also spends time learning Mandarin and English from native speakers. He is learning how to read and write in both Chinese and English.

    It's a collaborative effort for school work. I spend at least an hour almost every night doing his homework with him. I studied Chinese in university so at this point I can help him with the simple characters he's writing. My husband often also helps him with his Chinese. And at the grandparents' house they give him extra Chinese writing practice. I also work with him on extra practice in English and maths.

    I would say at this point, my son's "heart language" is Cantonese because it's the language he turns to when he really wants to be understood or when he's alone playing with his toys.

    My daughter is just beginning to talk intelligibly. Her English words include "milk", "dadda", brother's name, "mama", "bath" and her Cantonese words include "nai nai" (milk), "mao mao" (cat) and "bei" (give). She's a lot more vocal than my son was at at this age so it will be interesting to see how her language develops.

    I think it is absolutely wonderful that my children can grow up bi-lingual and HK is a great place for it. It also makes my son more open to other languages and not intimidated to learn. Our helper is now teaching him some Tagalog phrases which I think is really cool too.
    “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

  4. #4
    nicolejoy's Avatar
    nicolejoy is offline Registered User
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    Oct 2007
    North Point
    I think that two things are important:

    1. Hubby/other relatives etc MUST speak to baby in Chinese every single day (whether it's 100% or not, I don't know... some say that is better)

    2. Preschool/extra curricular activities etc are probably better in Chinese, if you want your child to be able to read and write Chinese, it's almost NECESSARY - but if you don't mind about reading/writing, it doesn't matter AS much...

    I'm Australian (Caucasian) and my hubby is HK Chinese. He was raised in Australia and so even though his "native tongue" is Chinese, he does not have a high proficiency level, particularly with reading and writing. We have two girls, ages 3.5 and 1.5. When our kids were born, we wanted them to speak Chinese - but my husband speaks to them in Chinese only maybe once a month ;) Like you though, we do go to a Cantonese speaking church and there, my kids are spoken to in Cantonese. That is only once a week though. We don't have much family in Hong Kong, only my father in law. He speaks to our kids mainly in English.

    For various reasons, our kids are going to an English speaking school. At school, they do Mandarin. As a result, they are not bilingual. They can speak and understand a bit of Chinese, but their Chinese is far, far behind their English proficiency. Also I don't think that my daughter gets that Mandarin and Cantonese are different and she mixes them together quite a lot...

  5. #5
    solidstars's Avatar
    solidstars is offline Registered User
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    Aug 2008
    i speak english to my son and my husband/relatives speaks chinese. son (now 3!) speaks primarily english (probably because I read to him lots) and speaks really accented cantonese...

    we'll probably put him in a local school? we think his chinese needs improvement hahaha

  6. #6
    genkimom is offline Registered User
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    Feb 2011
    Hong Kong
    As was stated before, for children to be motivated to be bilingual, they need a bilingual environment, and particularly peers. If they have friends who speak the target language, they will be more likely to acquire fluency. For accuracy (and bi-literacy) you do need specific instruction. Whichever strand you choose (English medium education or canto medium) you will need to supplement with home tutoring in the other language and be fairly committed.

    My son used to resist speaking his father's native tongue (Japanese) until we came to Hong Kong. He couldn't be bothered with learning a language only Dad used. But here in HK, he has several playmates who are Japanese and his Japanese has really blossomed. Now some of his peers speak Cantonese, so he is starting to loose Spanish (he used to have Mexican buddies and was fairly good at basic Spanish once upon a time) in favor of Cantonese, but he is still fairly shy about using anything he picks up. make sure your kids have playmates who speak Canto as well as English and you will be amazed how easily your child will gain fluency.

  7. #7
    marie313 is offline Registered User
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    Jul 2006
    hong kong
    i'm English and my husband is HK Chinese. My two daughters are fully bi-lingual and can translate for me when we go out. I used to worry that their english wouldn't be as strong because since they were babies they have been looked after by their chinese aunty during the day while i am at work, most of their friends in the park speak chinese, all my husbands family speak chinese etc. However, they go to a *fake* international school which is half english and half cantonese, and i make sure when i get home from work that we do lots of reading, watch english dvds, sing english songs, and it is 'english only' when i am around. My husband speaks to them in chinese when i am not there, and english when we are all together.

  8. #8
    bryant.english is offline Registered User
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    Jan 2011
    Tuen Mun
    Same situation:

    I'm English and my wife's Chinese.

    Our boys go to local kindergarten
    They will go to the primary in our town which is Putonghua/English
    They speak Canto and English freely and Putonghua reasonably well

    I speak to them in Englesh, wife uses both Canto and English - helper speaks English

    TV is a broad mix of all three languages.

    The children have no problem distinguishing the languages.

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