Tag Archives: trilingual

Is Speaking the ‘Other Parent’s’ Language Important For Multilingual Parenting?

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Do the parents speak each other’s native language?

Does the answer have anything to do with the child’s multilingual development? If yes, how?

sunrise lightI recently reflected on this question a lot.

In many multilingual families with whom I have had the fortune to meet/converse/engage either in person or through the facebook group, the dilemma often arises when one parent doesn’t speak/understand the other language that the other parent wants to cultivate within their child/ren.

Not speaking the language of the ‘other parent’ very often becomes a key challenge in maintaining/developing the particular language in the child.

Take Family G as an example. Mum L speaks Cantonese to child T, and dad D speaks Italian to T, but L & D do not speak each other’s native tongue and they speak English with each other. Imagine the family dinner – whenever there is Cantonese or Italian involved between one parent and T, the other parent inevitably feels a bit left out, no matter how hard they try to be patient for things to be translated. It takes extreme commitment and discipline NOT to switch everything into English just to ‘make things easy’.

I recently became particularly aware that just how lucky my family is, linguistically, in that my husband and I speak each other’s heritage language (French, Mandarin), and we both also speak English. It is the best possible scenario in raising a trilingual child, or any multilingual family, in my humble opinion. It means that I can speak Mandarin with Nina without worrying that Nicolas feels left out, and he can continue the family conversation simply by continuing/switching to French knowing that everyone else understands.

So my feeling and my experience tells me that the success rate of multilingual parenting is positively proportional to the level of all languages used in the household by both parents.

There is no research, however, that backs this up. I have spoken with a few professionals, and tried my good old friend named google, but nothing really came up.

So I want to throw this out to the readers of this blog. Could you tell me:

From your experience, is speaking the other parent’s language important for brining up multilingual children? leave a comment here, or on the facebook group.

Thanks – I am really curious about what you have to say.

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The Right Time To Introduce A New Language To A Child

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I went to a talk recently titled ‘Bilingualism – Talk for Parents and Carer’, by Ashley Hill, Bicultural Support Consultants from Ethnic Community Services Co-operative (Australia). I was particularly interested in the two questions from the audience.

I’ve already discussed my overall thoughts and the first question in the previous blog: Can Children Learn a Language from DVD?

jacarandaThe second question was: Do I need to wait for my child to be well established in one language before introducing another one?

The simple answer to that would be: No. Start from the very beginning. From day 1 on birth, or even earlier if you decide to talk /monologue with your unborn baby. The earlier the better.

I think the underlying concern from that question is that: is my child to be confused by multiple languages at once? Would introducing multiple languages do any harm to my baby?

Children have the amazing ability to figure out what is what, from very early on. As I discussed in this blog Will Multilingual Child Mix The Languages?, they do go through a period of seemingly not separating anything, and another period of mixing up languages, and yet another period of using the ‘wrong’ language. It’s all part of their learning, and it’s normal. I witnessed all stages from Nina, who’s now 3 yrs 7 mths, and she’s definitely entered stage 3 (separation) since turning 3. She now says things like ‘why are you saying it in English’ (in Mandarin)?

Another complexity is the amount of languages being introduced at once. How many languages can a child handle? While nobody really knows, and I personally am yet to meet a child growing up with 4 or more languages (I’d be thrilled to meet one some day!), trilingual children are not uncommon.

Living in Sydney, a very diverse and dynamic city, I often take for granted that people speak different languages and parents raise their children in multiple languages. It’s a good reminder that there are still many parents out there that need the information/support/guidance in raising their multilingual children. It’s also with this in mind that I found investing time in writing this blog worthwhile – each time someone reads and gives me feedback (in the form of question, joining facebook group, helping answering a question, participating in discussion, sharing their stories, contributing the links/resources), I know that what I does makes a tiny difference. And that’s quite cool.

Can Children Learn a Language from DVD?

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magic lightI went to a talk recently titled ‘Bilingualism – Talk for Parents and Carer’, by Ashley Hill, Bicultural Support Consultants from Ethnic Community Services Co-operative (Australia).

There was no surprising news from the talk, but it’s always nice to be reminded just how lucky we are living in a world where multilingual parenting is appreciated and supported.

I was quite struck by two questions from the audience at the end though.

Question 1: Can children learn a language from DVD/video materials?

The question was raised by a family with a French-speaking dad and a Mandarin-speaking mum (exactly like my own family situation!). Mum said she’s quite frustrated as her daughter had switched to almost entirely English ever since she started pre-school, and she really wanted her daughter to have more Mandarin exposure. So she thought about putting on more Mandarin DVD or video materials. She then went on to explain that she mainly spoke English with her child as that’s what the two parents us between them.

Well, my view was quite simple: speak the language with the child that you wish her to be exposed to, and stick to it! DVD and any video materials can provide great support but will and should never substitute the human interaction for language learning.

Yes DVD and video do certainly help. Dutch speak great English as they grow up watching TV dramas in original English not dubbed in Dutch.

But nothing would substitute the power of the human interaction. Research shows that listening to human speaking stimulate language development in all senses while watching video only (in the same language) without human interaction results only in some degree of passive comprehension, no matter how long the DVD is on.

There is another massive benefit of parents doing the talk: it’s all free and available as long as the parent is there 🙂

I talk about my thoughts on the second question in a separate article.

Question 2: Do I need to wait for my child to be well established in one language before introducing another one?

Six Things to Get Toddlers’ Multiple Languages Going

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WP_20150323_001As I’m often asked what we are doing day in and day out to keep 2 ‘minority’ languages going with Nina, I thought to write a post to summarize the 6 things that we are doing – and that seem to be working – to share.

  1. 1. stick to one parent one language (OPOL), at ALL times. Not pretending that I do not speak other languages, I make it clear that I speak only ‘my’ language with her (if I need to translate when there are other people around, I will). Parents are the best teacher as we are ALWAYS there and we know our children the best! We need to be consistent with the boundary (like all other things) with our children when it comes to languages too.
  2. 2. lots of interactions and playdates with other children of similar age from same language/heritage backgrounds. Nina’s best friend at school happens to be speaking Mandarin too (and her Mandarin is quite solid as she just moved from China to Sydney), the best ‘coincidence’ I could ever wish for. Nowadays we start a ‘weekend child swap’ with another family who speak the same heritage language as mine – a great experience for their language as well as for parents’ sanity (we take turn to have a couple-only Sunday. loving it.

3. stories, videos, games, songs, all sorts of materials in ‘our’ languages – the more the merrier. Weekly Skype session with grandma is perfect for more practice/positive reinforcement too.

4. role modelling – always show-case with pride that it’s a natural thing to speak ‘another’ language. I never switch to English in public when only addressing to Nina. I know many parents do for the fear of not being respectful of others around, but in my experience, I have never once had anyone telling me off. Instead, I very often get compliments from others (shopkeepers, grandma in the playground, bus driver, to name a few) that it’s great for me to keep speaking my language and foster the habit in Nina in replying in my language.

5. immersion – a trip back native country has worked wonder.

6. have faith in her that it will work and that she will get there! I often hear parents saying ‘well I’m not sure. it’s too much. Let’s just get the majority language right, and then we’ll take care of the others’. I say no! no! no! Unless there is a valid concern for speech delay (assessed by professionals who are familiar with multilingual upbringing) it’s totally normal if children are taking time to get their heads around multiple languages.

Nina’s English is picking up – although still very rudimentary with accents and her songs are never in tune. Her Mandarin and French are equally advancing. While there is definitely still long way to go, I’m comfortable in knowing that what we are doing is working in one way or another.

Why I Love Travelling, And Why Kids Should Travel Too.

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WP_20140626_039 (2)There are many reasons why I love travelling. One of the most important ones is that travelling allows me to feel connected with the world, in a very personal way.

I realized this last night after I became instantly intrigued by a video post on National Geographic called ‘The Human Cost Of Sugar Harvesting’ that I probably would have just ignored a year ago. Why? Because the report is about what happens in Nicaragua, and I was there for a few weeks last year! I vividly remember the sugar cane farms – among banana farms, papaya trees, mango trees, pineapple farms – in that beautiful country, amid one volcanic mountain after another volcanic mountain.

WP_20140620_101 (2)WP_20140626_044Without having been actually in Nicaragua, I would have never been able to appreciate this video/topic in a way that now feels so familiar. Of course I will never be able to know keenly the day-to-day reality, a very sad and seemingly unescapable one, that surrounds these people. But at least I know where it’s happening. Where on earth Nicaragua is. To what kind of people it’s happening. What kind of social, geographic, political environment that these people live in. The language they speak. The dress they put on. The food they eat. The weather in which they carry out their daily lives. How much they pay for their daily grocery. Whether or not there is a cinema or a supermarket nearby. All these trivial knowledge were gained through travelling, seeing, living in the country.

Thanks to the travelling, I could feel so connected to a part of the world that’s so far away from me. I feel engaged. I become more eager to learn more about the place. I appreciate what they are going through. I feel for them. And I think it is an important issue as well as intimate, because it’s impacting the people that I feel I know a bit of.

I can learn as much as I want from a map or a geography lesson, but I will never really learn until I travel. I’m lucky I have a husband who understands and supports. I wish we would pass this contagious passion to my daughter too, so she becomes a real world citizen who feels connected thus cares.