Today I Learn… I make a point of learning something new everyday. This is what I learn each day

1, Jul 17, 2008

Raising Bilingual Children in America

Filed under: Education,Son — admin @ 8:04 pm

Speak like a native both in China and in America — a dream shared by many Chinese parents for their American-born children.  Easy to dream than to realize.

My son started going to an American babysitter a little after age 2 before he could speak Chinese.  He spent most of his waking hours with English speaking people, coming back home, speaking nothing but English. He even knew how to curse in English when he was two years and four months old! Better than his mom, though his mom could outdo him in Chinese and he did catch some of them. Worried? Yes. 

But being an over-concerned mom, I did more than being worried.  I not only read to him stories in Chinese, but also recorded my reading in a small children cassette player, placing it around him and playing the tape as soon as he got back home and letting it accompany him till his sleep.  I also bought many cartoon VCDs from China and watched them with him to make sure he understood them.

I took my children to China as often as my bank account could afford. Later I spent nearly a thousand RMB for a large bag of ping shu, series of story-telling by famous performers like Liu Lanfang, Yuan Kuocheng, Tian Lianyuan, Lian Liru, etc. My children got hooked on some of them.  I have bought many boxes of children books from China, not that they would read but I read to them.  I have tried to engage in conversation wtih them in Chinese, as often as they can tolerate me.

These efforts have helped create a Chinese language speaking environment. Their Chinese vocabulary was happily enlarged, though not spotlessly clean.  I did not have time to teach them how to read and write, but they can safely pass as native Chinese speakers from the way they talk when they are in Beijing. The best part of it is they have learned the language without knowing the process and totally effortless.  What a sweet thing to learn something without making an effort!

Lucky for me that I started during their early years when they did not have much choice but listening to me. By the time children turn teen, you and your language are pretty much out of their realm of interests.  Too late to be bilingual. An opportunity once missed is forever gone.

For all of my efforts, their main language is English, which is understandable when they have wallowed in the soil of English language for the large part of their lives.  Still, they are joyfully bilingual, as long as you do not ask them to read and write.

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