Family Language Alive - Children Learning Chinese

Situation #1.4: My child’s English is not up to grade level yet. It seems that we can’t afford to deal with Chinese now…

August 30, 2010

1.4 Main Article

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Situation #1.4: My child’s English is not up to grade level yet. It seems that we can’t afford to deal with Chinese now.Reality: The approach of English learning for non-English speakers has been controversial systematically and politically ever since the birth of America. Bilingual and ESL (English as a Second Language) programs were established a few decades ago to help children, whose native language is not English, gain equal access to the American school curriculum. Sadly, even though many who have gone through this process have in some way learned English, many have also lost their own language. Somehow there is a belief that it is necessary and natural to do so in order to gain the dominant language. This is called the subtractive method.

In the last few decades or so, researchers have reported benefits of the additive method, that is, continuing learning academically and conceptually the native language while learning the dominant language. They have also found that the positive influences on their academic, linguistic and cognitive development maximize when literacy in both languages are developed more or less at the same rate and level. It may take longer in years for a child to be proficient in both English and Chinese, but if effective instruction of academic skills is given in Chinese, the child will be able to overlap that knowledge in English at a functional level eventually. Contrary to what one may think, this will not result in a lower level of academic performance in English. Instead, it will actually help him acquire English more proficiently. The truth is: it is a win-win situation when your child learns both languages simultaneously.

Considerations:

  • How and where can I get more research-based information about bilingualism?
  • How can I help my child attain as high a level of proficiency as possible in Chinese, in comparison to her English, to the best of my knowledge and effort?
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