Family Language Alive - Children Learning Chinese

Situation #2.6: I am in a mixed marriage. Both of us speak English to each other, but I want to use Chinese with my child…

September 26, 2010

2.6 Main Article

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Situation #2.6: I am in a mixed marriage. Both of us speak English to each other, but I want to use Chinese with my child.Reality: Research has found that the one-parent-one-language strategy, where each parent speaks a different language to the child, is still very effective in developing bilingualism. This strategy will not work well, however, if one of the parents does not understand the other parent’s language. It would very likely break down the family’s communication on the whole with constant translation and inevitably switch all conversations back to the common language. The one-parent-one-language strategy will work much better if both can understand the languages. For example, if both parents know Cantonese and Mandarin, but one is more proficient in one language over the other, and vice versa, they can speak whatever language they like to each other. But they can decide that one parent communicates only Mandarin with the child, and the other parent, only Cantonese. The key is to be consistent with whichever strategy you employ, because a child can be confused, especially during periods of uncertainty (e.g. moving to another home or country). In this example, your child has acquired at least two languages in the home, with a passive understanding of English. Before long, she will become trilingual.

Considerations:

  • What family factors do I have when deciding which strategy to use when speaking to my child?
  • What other strategies are available if one parent is monolingual?
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