Recently in my volunteer work we met this lady single-handedly taking care of 5 children aged between below 1 to 5. We were concerned about the lack of schooling for the children, especially the older ones and, out of concern, asked the oldest whether he knew his alphabets and numbers, which he didn’t in English but did in his mother tongue. I was asked whether Sophia knew her alphabets and I (too) proudly and quickly said yes, which promptly got everyone worried about the 5 year old not knowing things that a 2 year old knows. BUT, Sophia doesn’t really speak Mandarin and the boy was fluent in his mother tongue (or so it seems to me, who’s a non-speaker of said mother tongue), so who’s to say who’s more developed.
Anyway, the whole episode just got me thinking more about language again. My grand plan was for me to speak English to Sophia and the entire family speak Mandarin so, if anything, wasn’t she supposed to be lacking in the English department? I have no idea why she decided she would speak only English. All the schools she attends adopt the immersion program whereby an English and a Mandarin teacher will be in the class all the time and speak in their respective allocated languages. I tried for months to get my father, who’s her primary caregiver to speak to her in mandarin but he would always slip back into whatever language she spoke in. I tried to get the daddy to speak more to her but that is, as many mothers know, a lost cause. So out of desperation I spoke to her occasionally in Mandarin and was told off for confusing her! So how oh how am I going to get the situation to improve? Even the teachers of the chinese playgroup she attends asks us why does Sophia not speak Mandarin when her parents’ Mandarin is so good. We have no answer.
Does anyone have any ideas on how to reverse the situation?