Family Language Alive - Children Learning Chinese

Situation #2.3: My child speaks to me in fluent Chinese; but somehow he tends to speak to his siblings and friends in English, even though they too can speak Chinese fluently…

September 26, 2010

2.3 Main Article

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Situation #2.3: My child speaks to me in fluent Chinese; but somehow he tends to speak to his siblings and friends in English, even though they too can speak Chinese fluently.Reality: English as the dominant language, in combination with peer pressure, has power over your child’s choice to speak Chinese that you might have underestimated. It seems unavoidable when children who know English come together and speak English. It is only natural and “cool” to do so in the environment.

It is not impossible, however, to provide opportunities for your child to be immersed in an environment where only Chinese is spoken. Having relatives and friends who speak Chinese only come regularly if possible is a start for the child to be comfortable using Chinese as the only means for communication. Your child may start to communicate in English even with adults who understand only a little bit of English. And you need to be aware that these adults will, in turn, attempt to respond in English to your child. Today, they too have adopted that it is the norm to communicate in English with Chinese children. You may simply ask them to use Chinese only with your child.

Paying more frequent visits to your homeland will nonetheless encourage your child to revitalize his need to use Chinese. Forming play groups and clubs that use only Chinese can help your child see that the language can have meaningful use in life even with children in his age range. Sometimes, these are all you can provide or start with, especially when you’re in a mixed marriage (see Situation #2.6), but you will find that everyone will feel more comfortable and positive in using the language together when you are persistent in the process.

Considerations:

  • Is the language really the root factor, or are there some other developmental factors that pressure my child to adhere to speaking English (e.g. It’s not cool to speak Chinese)?
  • In a group setting, is my child the only one who is trying hard to speak Chinese? How can I recruit other children to support as a group in this effort, especially if there are those who insist in speaking English? Have I recently analyzed what that ratio of children in the group might be based on the desire and ability to speak Chinese?
  • What communal support can I get to help my child have the opportunity to be an active participant in learning the home language?
  • How does the Chinese school help my child attain that opportunity of positive interactions with children and adults?
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