Family Language Alive - Children Learning Chinese

Situation #2.1: My child is picking up so much English in school. It is so difficult for him to shift speaking Chinese at home…

September 26, 2010

2.1 Main Article

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Situation #2.1: My child is picking up so much English in school. It is so difficult for him to shift speaking Chinese at home.Reality: It is estimated that there are about two-thirds of people in the world who are at least bilingual, if not multilingual. A child can acquire a first language so rapidly between the ages of two to six that they become competent language users by the beginning of school age. That is not to say that they are any more competent to learn a language than adults are. There is no evidence that biological age affects language learning directly, but social, educational, experiential, and individual factors do affect language learning.It is never too late to start, however. If you have a family or situations where your child can be immersed in Chinese, it will be effective enough for him to begin learning. After all, language can be acquired through context. Think about all the children in the world learning their mother tongues and the people who have moved and acquired some competency of the foreign languages. Language is like a puzzle. Listening and trying to speak will be enough to incite curiosity and interest. Children will learn Chinese when there is an actual need for it; and just as easily and quickly, they will lose the language when there is no need. You can build on that basic block in the beginning.Codeswitching, an intentional switching of words from both languages, usually in an older child, signals different things in different stages. Most likely, it is a natural process in learning two languages and is accepted as an effective teaching and learning strategy by teachers and researches in the area of bilingual education. When there is consistently more switching to one of the languages, with English more likely being the dominant language, you can be more attentive to the vocabulary that the child may lack in the other language, with Chinese more likely being the minor language. You can make sure you are providing your child more exposure to Chinese in a positive manner.

Considerations:

  • Am I underestimating my child’s potential to learn an extra language, especially when the language is often used at home?
  • Have I consulted others’ opinions, including those of my child and significant others, about the decision to be bilingual or monolingual?
  • What percentage of time is my child speaking Chinese daily compared to English? Is it different in regard to time and place?
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January 2, 2013

Language needs to be intentional.

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One can set up a Chinese week or weekend when everyone needs to make the effort to speak the language. There can be a silent hand sign, such as a ‘C’ made with a thumb and forefinger to denote alert to speak Chinese instead of verbal warning, because the latter can get annoying after a while.

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