Sunday, November 07, 2010

Struggles of a bi-lingual child

One of the advantages of having a euro-asian child, as I see it, is the opportunity for the child to learn two languages from a  very young age, and possibly optimising the child’s intellectual capacity at a time when the child has capacity to spare.

Because of my mother-in-law, my child learned to speak Mandarin in parallel with his English from the start.

This may or may not explain why my son experienced speech delay problems when he reached about 12 months old, but I suspect not.

These delay problems eventually required about 4 years of speech pathology treatment. I suspect however that maybe my son had an inherent weakness with language to begin with, rather than any complications arising out of his bi-lingual environment.

Despite my son making remarkable progress with his English speech once he entered speech pathology, he still struggles with learning Mandarin.

At this stage my son has a genuine appreciation of the English language. He is an excellent speller and he has developed a very broad and impressive vocabulary.

But his Mandarin, despite being given every opportunity to learn, is quite woeful.

He attends Chinese lessons once a week, and I am wondering whether more lessons will help him gain some traction in this language.

It would be a terrible shame if my son does not master this language, given the importance of this language to my son’s heritage, and the ever growing role this language will play on the world scene.

3 comments:

e-mousetails said...

It may be that he wasn't that strong with languages to begin with, or it may just be the amount of exposure. From my experience, I have racially Chinese parents, but from different backgrounds: one speaks Mandarin, while the other speaks Cantonese. But I was born in a dominantly English speaking country.
I've struggled with language fluency. I also went to Chinese school once a week for many years. While I did well at first, after my mother stopped helping me studying and go through the homework with me, my marks dramatically dropped and I lost a lot of my language in terms of reading/writing. But I was able to retain a fair amount of listening and speaking skills because I use it often at home. It was also observed by my parents that my environment determines what language I would be most fluent at. When I lived with my Cantonese extended family and went to a bi-lingual Cantonese/English preschool, I would often use Cantonese. But when I went to Taiwan for half a year, I could only speak Mandarin when I came back. Now my most fluent is English, even though I learned it last, mainly in school.

Anonymous said...

To learn a language the child needs to be exposed to that specific linguistic environment for at least 30% of his woken time. That means that your child should have someone who only speaks Mandarin to him at least three days in every ten day period (or three hours per ten hours, etc).

Ruby Lane said...

My children took longer than the average to speak - I wanted them to speak both languages, English and Thai equally well - with no hestitation and adapt the cultural side with the language simultaneously. Now grown ups, they switch to and from effortlessly. Agreed that environment helps but consolidated efforts from both parents is essential.

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