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Raising bilingual kids


#1

大家好 Chinesepod community! I have a simple question: what is the best way to raise bilingual kids?

My wife and I are expecting our first child soon. She is a native Chinese speaker, I’m a native English speaker, and we live in the US. We would like our kid(s) to be bilingual. Does anyone have advice on what to do or what not to do?

谢谢!

-汤姆


#2

You might want to elaborate on what you mean by “bilingual.” If you want the kids to be able to speak like three-year-olds in China it should be simple enough: just have the native speaker (your wife) exclusively speak to the baby in Chinese from day one. The native English speaker, likewise, should use only English. That will keep a clear separation in the child’s mind. As the child gets older, however, if your goal is that you could pack up and move to China at any time and have the high school aged child function in a Chinese high school (at least in terms of the language) then you would really have to have a more thought out program. (Chinese housekeeper, bilingual preschool, immersion elementary school, weekend classes, etc.).

One final thought regarding the newborn: try to make as many routine activities ones that are experienced in both languages. You can start a library of children’s books in Chinese so that your wife can read stories to the baby in Chinese. When its your turn you can read from English language books.

And a final final thought about the long term goal of bilingualism: When the kid gets to the point of wanting to “fit in” with American peers they may quickly lose interest in being “special” because of being bilingual. Don’t be surprised if the kid is embarrassed when mom comes to school and speaks in Chinese. I have also noticed that the attrition rate for weekend Chinese schools is very high. It’s hard to keep a high school student motivated to do yet one more day of school during the week, and extra study. You will have to decide by then how much extra stress you are willing to tolerate in your lives in order to maintain this goal of bilingualism.


#3

My own experience bears out poster’s advice.

Since they were born, my husband and I have used our native languages with our children - English for me and French for him. There was definitely a resistance to speaking and learning in English when they were small in Francophone Africa - even tears when going to English classes when everyone else was out playing. That disappeared when we returned to France and they were enrolled in a French/English bilingual school, where everyone else is also bilingual.

We also read to them in both French and English and then had them reading in both languages when they started to read in French school. Same with songs and nursery rhymes.

What definitely helps are total immersion trips. Our daughter, hesitant with speaking in English even at the age of 10, was transformed after her 2nd 2-week visit to a family in the US.


#4

Yes, I should have also mentioned trips, but that is not within everyone’s reach. Visits to family in China, summer camp in Taiwan or the mainland, etc. can be very helpful and motivational. Especially family trips, which are more likely to be “immersion”.


#5

We live in the US (my wife is Chinese). It is hard to create an immersion atmosphere as my Chinese is elementary+ at best. We have some Chinese friends but as we live in a semi-rural/small town, that aspect is limited.

My wife speaks to the kids in almost strictly Chinese. I don’t think that there is any need to worry about the English–that comes naturally. We also have them watch some of their favorite kids shows in Chinese (Dora for example). YouTube has some and we have a Xiaomi box which has an extensive selection of Chinese TV.

But nothing has worked as well as the 2 month summer trips back to China. But that is only an every 2 year possibility for us.

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#6

Thank you all very much for the feedback! This is certainly a bigger question than I thought it would be. All of the responses have sparked good conversations between my wife and I. It seems like we will have to think about this more as our kid(s) grow up, and perhaps adjust our expectations based on how they react to Chinese.

I wonder, are there any people out there who were raised bilingual that can give some insight about their experience? So far everyone who has responded is in the role of parent, but no one yet in the role of the child.