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Fluency in English and Chinese

  1. #9
    JoTs is offline Registered User
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Hong Kong

    I am from the UK and speak no chinese. My husband is chinese. From the time both of our children were born, we have used the "one parent, one language" approach. My husband only ever speaks to our children in Cantonese, and I, of course, only ever speak English. We speak English to each other.

    My son will be 3 in October, and he is fluent in both languages, he knows which language to speak to which person, including the guards etc. We think his English is probably slightly better than his Cantonese but not very noticably. He was slow to talk, not really saying his first word until 20 months. But by 2 he knew lots of words in both languages, and by 2.5 he knew which language was which. He will now ask things like "how do you say *** in English?"

    He is now at a bilingual kindy and has both an english teacher and a chinese teacher - he has no trouble knowing who to speak which language to, unlike some of the other children who seem to mix up their languages quite a lot.

    My daughter is only 5 months so no words yet!!! I guess what will be interesting is what they will speak to each other!

    I would definitely use the one parent, one language approach if you can, they may start to speak a bit later than children with only one language, but they soon catch up.

    I now use my son to translate for me - very useful!

  2. #10
    joannek is offline Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Hong Kong

    both my husband & i are hong kong chinese. We both went to high school in canada & hang out w/ english speaking friends.

    when my daughter was born, i decided she'll learn to speak cantonese from us & english from school. So i've always spoken to her in cantonese at home. however, because of my brought up, i'm better at english books, english playgroups & that's what she's been getting. Since she started playgroup at 1 yr old, all her playgroups are in English. she now goes to Highgate House (where she started playgroup at 13mths, then nursery, now kindy), where 95% of the kids are english speaking. We also have a filipina nanny. who speaks English. I live with my in-laws who spoke English to her (before she was 2.5 yrs) despite my continous effort to ask them to speak to her in Cantonese. She sees my parents very frequently & they speak to her in Cantonese. My daughter used to speak English only(she started speaking at 2), (even to me, when i would answer in Cantonese) until she was 2.5 yrs old. I knew she understood 100% cantonese, cos when she was 18mths, i would give her complicated instructions in cantonese & she would understand.

    anyway, at 2.5yrs old, i remember after xmas holiday, when she spent a lot of time with my parents, suddenly, she started speaking cantonese to the ppl who spoke to her in cantonese, and english to the ones who speak in enlglish. She's now fully bi-lingual. She speaks cantonese to those who speak cantonese to her & English to those who don't speak cantonese.

    she could easily switch from cantonese to english between the helper & me. i'm planing to send her to a i-lingual international school, where she'll learn to read & write chinese & speak mandarin.

  3. #11
    AforApple is offline Banned
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Kennedy Town

    My son is four and he is bilingual. We also did the one parent one language approach and so glad we kept on doing it. There are many hurdles and frustration but we insisted on it from the very beginning and stuck to it. So many of our friends in Australia gave up and only spoke english to their children and I didn't want this opportunity of really understanding and knowing a few languages slip by these early learning years. Yes. he started talking much later than some of his peers but he was also a very early walker (8 months) so his language skills was second to his physical development.

    What we did was have my husband interact with my son in Cantonese and I would do the same in English. We would divide the time by 3. 1/3 of the time it would be just my son and my husband interacting. Then I woiuld have 1:1 with my son. Then we would all interact together. The results are so worth every obstacle that you face. ' PERSERVERE AND KEEP AT IT' I say.

    My son has just started to read and write in both langauges. He understands both languages and switches very fast from language to langauge depending on who he is interacting with. He translates for me or anyone who needs help and also teaches me chinese words and chinese characters. He told me once if the bus driver ask me something I should say in chinese "sorry, I'm very busy reading my favourite book" It's great that he has developed a sense of humour in both languages.

    I might add that he only started reading and writing English and Chinese over the summer break. He is now attending a local school (for 2 weeks now) where Cantonese is the language of instructons and he loves it. Before this all schooling was in Australia and one year in HK at an english speaking international school.

    It is never too late to start teaching your child a language. The sooner the better. And the last important advice is to have fun whilst learning.

    Last edited by AforApple; 09-10-2008 at 09:44 PM.

  4. #12
    miaka is offline Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Chai Wan

    i'm an ABC while my hubby is hk local. what ended up happening was my hubby speaks canto (bc his english isn't that great) and i do chinglish (i know not the best, but it's sort of what developed over the months). we also used baby signs so that if we ever used both the english and chinese word, the sign helped connect that they meant the same thing.

    my daughter, almost 2, understands both. her language development was delayed mostly bc she physically developed first. but now that her language is starting to catch up, she speaks both.

    in terms of language, i'm not worried about her english bc i'm native as is most of my family, so i plan to send her to a chinese school rather than international. this way she can really have a strong foundation in chinese

  5. #13
    kiwiinoz is offline Registered User
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Hong Kong

    I am finding this thread fascinating.
    My daughter is almost 4, and in the 6 weeks we have been in Hong Kong has doubled her cantonese (both understanding and speaking), although she is not fluent... yet. ;)
    I only speak a little cantonese, but my husband is fluent in both english and cantonese (originally from HK). Since arriving here my husband has spoken much more cantonese to both our kids, and it is certainly paying off.
    Our interesting challenge is our son who is around 17 months. He doesn't speak much (mum, dad, banana, car & my-kay (mickey in cantonese)), but responds better to cantonese than english. We are hoping that with the exposure he is getting to the language here he may have the opportunity to go to a local school when the time comes. We were told our daughter would struggle too much in a local school if she wasn't fluent. I'm not sure how true that would be.
    Once we're settled I'm hoping to find a way to get to cantonese classes myself as well...

  6. #14
    MeowMeow is offline Registered User
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Hong Kong

    My daughter is almost 4 and she speaks 3 languages. Here's how she learns her languages.

    Mandarin - mainly from me & school, hubby does speak pretty well mandarin too (but he's from HK)

    Cantonese - grandparents and daddy

    English - our helper, my husband, and I

    I'm very surprised that she can translate from Mandarin to English in seconds. Also, which ever language you talk to her, she'll return you back with the same language.

    Now we got a 15 months old boy and we do the same pattern with him and I can tell he does understand all three languages too.

    It's really amazing to see how quickly babies can pick up different languages.

  7. #15
    marie313 is offline Registered User
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    hong kong

    i was just about to start a thread asking about this.
    My daughter is 19 months and is pretty vocal. she gets english from me, cantonese from the helper and grandma, and a mixture of the 2 from her dad.
    I work full time, so she gets more exposure to cantonese. She understands everything i say in english, and mainly responds in english, but there are certain things she always says in canto, like gow gow jew (go to bed) gai gai (go out) ligo (that one) and has started calling me "mummy-ah". it drives me crazy! i always correct her when she does it (ie say it in english), but am worried that she mixes up the languages. will she just sort this out by herself, or do i need to do more?

  8. #16
    carang's Avatar
    carang is offline Registered User
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Sai Kung

    at 19 months, she cannot yet distinguish the two languages. that won't happen for another 1-2 years! just leave it and repeat what she has said in english.

    my two still say some things in english and some in chinese.

    remember your girl is not even 2 years old yet... you have a lifetime ahead of you and she has a lifetime ahead of her.

    congratulations for raising a bi-lingual child! it's not easy, but it is SOOOOOOO worth it!

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