Thursday, 10 May 2012

Bilingual babies

In my late teens I used to babysit for a little girl who was being brought up bilingual, English and German. She must have been about the age that L is now, one and a half, and she was learning to talk. This little girl had a mix of English and German in her first words, it was great fun to be around her and I learnt a few words too.  I was so impressed, and still am, whenever I encounter an adult or child with more than one language.

Bilingual children have such a great advantage over the rest of us monolinguals. Apart from the joy of being able to communicate in two languages, they also learn other languages more easily later in life.  I've always been jealous of my cousins: Scottish mother, Italian father, brought up in France. Three languages without the dull agony of school language lessons.

Fast forward a decade or so.

A few days ago I asked L to put something in the bin.

No response.

"J can you translate?"

My husband told our toddler what to do in Chinese and away he went to the bin.

My sons have two British parents who were both brought up in purely English households. Now, my youngest son speaks more Chinese words than English. F's Chinese is coming on brilliantly too, but for him it's a different kind of acquisition as his English is already very fluent.

I can take little credit for this. My husband is the linguistic powerhouse behind it all. Yes they live in a Chinese langauge environment, but to really learn that's not enough. J speaks only Chinese to the boys, he reads them Chinese stories, learns daft Chinese kids songs with them and every day makes it fun and easy for them to learn. Yes, I'm biased, but he's pretty inspiring.

He's blogging about our journey towards bilingualism here.

When I feel that my Chinese is lacking, I remind myself that their English has to come from somewhere!

Growing up in the Highlands of Scotland. I would never have imagined that one day I'd be bringing up my children in this way.

Isn't life amazing.

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