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Magnus1977

How to make sure my 1 year old child can speak English and Chinese FLUENTLY...

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Magnus1977

My wife and I have a 1 year old son and we want to make sure he can speak English (my native language) and Chinese (my wife's native language) fluently when he grows up.

My wife's English is really good. We've based our relationship on English. and my Chinese is an intermediate level... I've got the basics... Unfortunately we only argue in English... so I win every argument!! Ha ha ha ha

So...any suggestions would be appreciated!!

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renzhe

There are some good resources on the internet about bilingual education for children. E.g. here and here.

One very popular method is to tie a language to a person. You only speak English to your child, your wife only speaks Chinese. Don't mix languages, always stick to one language. The child will find it easier to keep languages separate if it always speaks one language to one person.

In your case, it seems like the obvious approach.

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gougou

I read that the main point is making sure that he always speaks the same language with the same person, i.e. you speak only English with him, and your wife only speaks Chinese with him. Not sure what you are supposed to speak with your wife, though. Probably it's best you two don't speak until he's at least 12.

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imron

One very popular method is to tie a language to a person. You only speak English to your child, your wife only speaks Chinese. Don't mix languages, always stick to one language.

This is what my sister and her Spanish husband do. She speaks to their kids only in English, and he speaks to them only in Spanish. They live in Spain, and my sister and her husband speak to each other in Spanish. They also ensure that their children have a steady supply of English language materials in the forms of books, children's television shows etc.

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Magnus1977

interesting suggestions. I totally understand speaking one language to him and the other speaking the other language...but we are a traditional family meaning that we want to spend a lot of time together. SO what do we speak when we are all together???

We figure, it all depends on where we live. If we live in the states, then we should speak More Chinese... if we live in China we should speak more English.

what do you think?

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jbradfor

Live in China for a couple of years.

I don't think there is any other way. Yes, the suggestions above may help a bit, but the basic issue is that if your son grows up in a country in which almost every else speaks English, he will see no point in speaking Chinese (when he is young), and will never really be fluent.

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gougou

So why would he learn English in China? Because English just comes preinstalled with all infants?

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renzhe

I know plenty of German and British-born Chinese and Japanese who are absolutely fluent in their mother tongue.

but we are a traditional family meaning that we want to spend a lot of time together. SO what do we speak when we are all together???

Your son is 1 year old, it won't be able to follow much of your conversations anyway. If you address him directly, use one language, same for your wife.

You can always talk to your wife in English in front of him, and she can talk to you in Chinese.

Once he is 5-6 years old, you can start mixing it up, if he's developing well.

I also know of some families that used this method (and several of my friends learned this way), and it works.

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wushijiao

I think another important factor is to make sure that your child has plenty of input in both languages. Obviously, it is recommended that you read to your child. My mom, who is a teacher, read to me and my brothers for at least an hour a day when I was a child, and I was able to read at a much higher level and had a much better vocab than other kids my age.

So, I think one should probably read a lot to the child, play a lot of educational games, buy educational DVD's, involve the kid in activities that use that language (playgroups...etc). I bet finding monolingual friends for your child would also be good, down the line.

I've also heard that "one parent, one language" is a good method.

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Stefani
SO what do we speak when we are all together???

We figure, it all depends on where we live. If we live in the states, then we should speak More Chinese... if we live in China we should speak more English.

OPOL method (One Person One Language) and then like you suggested, speak the minority language.

I have a trilingual child, but it is getting harder as he is getting older.

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Senzhi
One very popular method is to tie a language to a person. You only speak English to your child, your wife only speaks Chinese.

Agreed, from personal experience: my mum spoke always Dutch to me, my dad French. Together, they decided to always speak English to me. Hence I'm stuck being already trilingual from a fairly young age. :mrgreen:

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jbradfor
So why would he learn English in China? Because English just comes preinstalled with all infants?

Note that I said "a couple of years".

If he grows up entirely in China, even with an English-speaking father, I would not expect him to be fluent in English. Exactly the same as if he grows up in an English-speaking country, even with a Chinese-speaking mother, I would not expect him to be fluent in Chinese.

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lzreading

You just reminded me of the family of my previous boss.

He is English, his wife is German, they live in Spain and all their kids go to French schools. :) The kids speak only English when with dad and German with mum. Spanish acts as family languague. It has been like this since they were born, so they don't find it is confusing or hard to cope with.

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imron
I totally understand speaking one language to him and the other speaking the other language...but we are a traditional family meaning that we want to spend a lot of time together. SO what do we speak when we are all together???
You still follow the exact same process. It just means that activities that involve all of you will be conducted bilingually.

I also agree with the reading thing.

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gougou
He is English, his wife is German, they live in Spain and all their kids go to French schools.
So they actually learn four languages? How do they cope with that? Any idea about their progress?

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mirgcire

My wife and I have raised 2 girls in a bilingual household. My wife is a Japanese speaker and I am an American English speaker. We have two daughters and we followed the "one parent one language" strategy.

For the first 5+ years my wife spoke nothing but Japanese to our daughters. Since she spends significantly more time with them, this meant that they spoke and understood Japanese better than English. They also attended Japanese immersion preschool. They are now (at age 8 and 11) fluent in both languages. However, English has become the more common language in the house. The challenge for us going forward, is to make sure they are able to read and write those languages with equal fluency. We are very lucky to have a high quality Japanese Saturday school (日本人学校)in our city, so our children are learning reading and writing at the same pace as Japanese kids. Unfortunately for them this means that they have literally double the amount of home work compared to their US peers. But I digress.

A few years back, I read an article in Scientific American that stated, in terms of brain development, the human ability to distinguish between sounds, as language, is significantly reduced after the age of 18 months. As an example they sited a study that showed Japanese children exposed to "L" and "R" before 18 months have no trouble producing those sounds, while those exposed after 18 months have more difficulty.

So from personal experience, and a sample size of one, I can say that this is a successful strategy. But the success is probably dependent on how soon the strategy goes into effect, and the amount of outside activities that reinforce the foreign language. For example, my kids have many friends that tend to use Japanese more than English.

To tell the truth, it is quite challenging to adhere to this strategy. For example, all too often, my wife gives one of the girls a talking to in Japanese while the little one is crying and screaming. And I have no idea what is going on, since my Japanese is so weak. So we eventually decided that as a family it is better use English so that daddy can participate more constructively :mrgreen:. For families where the parents are both bilingual this is probably not so much not an issue.

We know many families from Japanese/English marriage and not all the kids develop the same level of fluency. This is not an opinion. The kids must pass rigorous tests to advance to the next grade, and not all do. Without my wifes dedication our kids could never have reached this level of fluency.

The thing that surprises me is that their English is so strong. Given that at age 5 each was more fluent in Japanese, I kind of expected them to struggle more with English. But both receive consistent accolades from their teachers. Maybe it was my reading English books to them every night :). But more likely, it is the social interactions with English speaking peers that motivates them.

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gato

Conversation is the easy part, I think, as most kids can pick up a new language very quickly. Even a ten-year old just starting to learn English should be able to become fluent in English within a year, given a full immersion environment.

The tougher part is reading and writing. Will they be able to read Shakespeare and Hong Lou Meng equally well? Will they be able to write at a professional level in both languages? I think the answer is "yes, given a lot of motivation and work," but it will take a lot of work.

The advantage of bringing up your kids bilingually from the very beginning might be motivational rather than the fluency level itself. Even your kids can become fluent even if they start later, but it'll feel more like work, whereas starting makes the work not feel so much like work. And having the basic fluency would help them stay connected with the Chinese culture (or whatever other culture it may be) and help to motivate them to want to learn more as they get older.

Without the basic language skills learned at a young age, that "other culture" will feel a lot more foreign and you as parents will have to work much harder to motivate them to learn at a later age.

Edited by gato

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peekay

Kids develop fluency in languages naturally, since childhood language-learning is "hard-wired" into our brains through a few million years of evolution. So while "one person, one language" works well, there is no need to be "militant" about it.

E.g., the dad & the entire family can speak primarily in English, but if mom speaks to the kids mostly in Chinese when dad isn't around, the kids are going to be bilingual.

I know someone who's fluent in Russian because her grandmother speaks to her in Russian, even though her mom & dad speak English at home.

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Lu

I agree, I think the one parent-one language approach is the most obvious way to go for you. And make sure both of you talk to the kid a lot, and read to him a lot, this is the key. I know a family with a trilingual kid: dad speaks German, mom Chinese, and they live in Holland. Now the kid is going to middle school, where she's also learning English and French, and Latin and Greek. So that's five living languages and two dead ones. As far as I can tell she speaks all her home languages just fine. On top of that, her mom homeschools her in Chinese, so she's keeping up with that as well, but obviously that is a lot of work for both mom and daughter.

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