This is my story of trying to and so far, failing to raise a bilingual child. The purpose is so I can give some tips and advice on how NOT TO fail.
Although in this instance, the second language is Chinese, I guess these tips would apply to anyone trying to teach a language other than English to their child.
If you could speak more than one language and you have children, I’m sure you would want to pass your linguistic skills onto them wouldn’t you?
Who wouldn’t like to be able to understand and speak another language? It makes you automatically smarter than the person next to you who can only speak English.
Your child might fare better in the world and take his/her language skills to the next level in a way you never did. Be a translator? Teach abroad? Work in MI5? Who knows!
It might give them an extra oomph in this competitive world, when they can list ‘can speak x additional languages’ on their CV.
So of course, when my baby was born I was talking to him in Chinese and English straight away. I’d finish reading a book in English, then I’d try and read it again in Chinese. I’d point out everything and make him watch my mouth make the shape for the sounds in Chinese.
All was going well, until one day when he was around 2.5 years old. I was asking him something in Chinese and he said (very sternly, mind) ‘No Chinese!’. You can imagine my shock and horror. He didn’t want me talking to him in this foreign language (which he probably saw no use in and was getting confused by) anymore.
I tried to brush it off and attempt it another time, but over time, it only progressed to ’Noooo, stop talking Chinese mummy’ as his English language skills progressed.
And so I did.
How did this come to be? How can you prevent this?
Well, I have to admit, that I didn’t work hard enough and if you’re really keen for your child to be able to speak an additional language and don’t want to make the same mistake as I did, then you might have to consider the following…
Speak Only Chinese At Home
If you make this a rule and can stick to it, then this would be as good as it gets as it creates an environment where your child will be forced to have to understand what you’re trying to say. This is how my siblings and I learned Chinese, but this was out of genuine necessity as our parents couldn’t speak English!
Where I failed is because my husband cannot speak Chinese, he works from home so interacts with our son as much as I do, it became easier and more convenient to communicate in English and forget to switch to Chinese when talking to my son.
If only one of you speak the language, it makes it extra hard to implement and you will have to try make more 1-1 conversation in Chinese to your child.
Swot Up On Chinese Yourself
I’m a BBC who can understand and converse in Chinese but when it comes to reading and writing, absolutely suck.
So if you expect your child to pick up Chinese, you need to go back to the board yourself. Get out that graph paper and start practising the pen strokes.
Invest in Chinese language Books and Toys
Age-appropriate toys and books should help engage your child to recognise the symbols and learn learn to listen to the sounds.
Toys that speak Chinese are hard to come by, especially for toddlers, but for older kids there are bilingual puzzles and also this awesome robot called Luka that reads books in Chinese to your kid.
Don’t forget apps too! Let’s face it now, there’s no escaping screen time in this day and age, so if you’re gonna whip out the phone or tablet to entertain your child for a few minutes, it might as well be something that’s educational.
My son loves Gus on the Go which is a gamification of language learning.
Get Your Parents To Help Out
It’s only natural as their Chinese will be better than yours. Its best if you can have your parents look after your child for a day or two in the week as it will further enforce the environment where he/she can be immersed in the language.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for me as my parents could never handle my son by themselves for more than a few hours. But if your parents are willing, then take advantage!
Create a ‘Chinese Mummies’ Group
So you can get together for playdates and converse in the language. This will give incentive to your child to learn as he/she will see their friend’s parents also talking in Chinese and may even be more willing to listen (and learn, heh!).
Go to a Chinese Speaking Country For Holiday
If you can put up with the stifling hot and humid weather, then a long haul flight to the East, every year during six-weeks holiday, may be worth it.
What better way to learn Chinese than to go to a country where everyone around you is speaking it. Where everything is written in it.
And not only will it be immersive in the linguistic sense, it will be immersive in a cultural and identity sense too.
Put Them In Chinese School
If you manage to do all of the above, consistently, then I’m sure your child will be able to pick up the language. They might not be as fluent as a native Chinese, but it’s a start and you can further their skills beyond home by eventually putting them into Chinese school.