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?

7 thoughts on “Bilingualism

  1. So her teachers think that she should be bilingual already? From my limited experience 2YO is still young. My boys seem to prefer for us not to speak Chinese, but with my MIL they’re ok (and will speak to her in Chinese), because she doesn’t speak much English.

    • Nah, the teachers don’t think anything. But my plan is for her to be billingual naturally, by being exposed almost equally in both languages, but it doesn’t seem to be working out.

      • She’s still young lah, give her some time. And I don’t believe you can confuse them with just 2 languages – after all we also switch easily right? Maybe if they’re spoken to at a young age with 5 languages then they might be confused haha.

  2. What we do is: just speak whatever languages and dialects that we’re good in to the kids. So hubby and I speak both English and Mandarin, whenever we feel like it, as long as each sentence is in 1 language and grammatically correct. I often say the same thing to my boys in 2 to 3 languages consecutively to link their vocab across the languages.

    Vee is 4 years old and converses fluently in both English and Mandarin, so I guess the method works.

    Babies and toddlers pick up languages easily, so it’s still a great time to warm her up to her mother tongue. Just be yourself, no worries! 🙂

  3. Agree with mivie , when joash was referred to Kkh cos he wasnt rrally babbling even at 14 months, (which he suddenly started speaking words then phrases at 17 months) the speech therapist reminded us to have only one person speak one language to avoid confusion , and to prevent him from picking up Singlish ( which is a combination of dialect and mix of languages in a sentence ). Unfortunately none of us speaks the language well so mandarin was always lacking , but Joash will point and ask us now to tell him what its called in mandarin. So now I do what mievie is doing and it works !

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