Bilingual Children

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Categories Development, Education, Language

Since I had my own children, I’ve started noticing other young children in my community, and by extension, their families. More and more, families are becoming racially mixed these days. Children of first generation immigrants like us are now having their own children, creating a hodgepodge of cultures in this third generation. It makes me wonder how parents of our generation are raising their bi/multi-racial, bi/multi-cultural children.

Amongst our friends and in Toddler’s classes, there are many such children. A lot of them are being raised only speaking English. The parents either don’t speak their first language well or choose not to pass it on to their children. Or, each spouse speaks a different language so they find it easier to communicate with their children in English.

I completely understand how difficult it is to raise bilingual children. It takes dedication to something that may not be the path of least resistance. My family moved to LA from Taiwan when I was 5 years old, so my first language was Chinese. However, at that young age, I very naturally picked up English. Our ease with English was so great that our parents had to impose a “No English” rule in our house so we would not lose our ability to converse in Chinese. My brother and I inevitably spoke English to each other while we were alone, but never with our parents. To them, our education in the Chinese language was just as important as our grades in school. There were shipments of elementary schoolbooks from Taiwan and weekends spent at Chinese school. Because of my parents’ dedication, today I am just short of fluent in reading and writing, and can easily function in a Chinese society without translation.

Studies show that the brains of bilingual people are different. Development in children who are bilingual is more advanced over those who are not exposed to a second language. In my case, it’s helped me score almost perfect on my SAT’s and excel in all levels of my education. Spending evenings with my father at the kitchen table reading the Chinese newspaper fostered in me a love for language that resulted in my career as an English teacher.

Therefore it’s no surprise that I would be adamant in raising my children to be bilingual. From infancy, I’ve spoken to them only in Mandarin. Husband is actually a Cantonese speaker (a different dialect of Chinese), though not fluent, but he’s learning Mandarin along with Toddler. My children will get the same opportunity to learn a second language as I did. In fact, they will truly be bilingual, as they will have both English and Chinese as their first language.

It will take even more dedication for us than it did for our parents, though. We are so much more comfortable with English than they ever were. At not even three years old, Toddler is almost just as strong in English already. With our iPad commandeered as hers and all that toddler programming on Nick Jr, it won’t take long for English to become her dominant language. I will have to strive to enroll her in dual language schools and provide her with regular, extended interactions with their grandmother. And then her siblings will come along and the battle will be even more uphill.

I hope they will someday be appreciative of these efforts as I am deeply grateful for my parents’.

lunchldyd is mom to a bilingual 3 yr old daughter and soon-to-be bilingual 3 month old b/g twins. 

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lunchldyd is mom to 3 year old boy/girl twins and their 5.5 year old sister. She is now teaches part-time to juggle the needs of her young children. When not at work and the kids are asleep, she is addicted to watching TV and sometimes sacrifices sleep to read in bed. She lives in the Los Angeles suburbs with her husband, three kids, and two dogs.

3 thoughts on “Bilingual Children”

  1. My parents emigrated from Bangladesh to the UK, where I was born. I immigrated myself to the US. I speak English and Bengali natively, once spoke French fluently, and speak Italian well. I have two degrees in linguistics. You’d think I’d be the first mom to raise bilingual or multilingual kids, but I’ve failed horribly. I’m not part of the Bengali-speaking community here in Texas, and it feels impossible to be the only one modelling a language for my kids. While my then-husband was deployed the first year, I spoke to the babies in Bengali, but once he returned, I got back in the habit of speaking Bengali at home.

    Hats off to you! You’re setting your kids up for success!

  2. We are in a similar situation. I am half-Mexican and my parents spoke to each other in Spanish, but not to me and my sisters. I studied it in school and was/kind of still am fluent in it. My husband is Venezuelan. We have been so removed from Spanish speaking communities for so long it feels kind of strange to introduce it in the home (we speak English to each other). But bilingualism is inherently valuable and I hope that we continue to pursue it in the small ways we have. Good luck to you as you continue your journey also!

  3. Hi. Great article. My Grandmother spoke 7 languages fluently. I sure wish I learned from her. She passed before I was born. I learned Ukrainain as a second language and did well. But the school did not continue to teach it. We did not speak it at home. So in 7th grade, I took Spanish and continued for 5 years. I talked to my twin all the time in Spanish and became fluent. I dreamed in Spanish. I lost it after tragedy. Completely wiped from my brain instantly. I got it back 15 years later, though not as fluent, of course. I studied any language I could. Some Latin. Olde English. I really believe bilingual is valuable. My children would be bilingual if I could have helped it. Queen Victoria learned to speak a royal dialect in India when she was 80. I love that you are bilingual in your home. I shared my experience because I believe it can be learned at any age. And many people in my family are brilliant even though most never learned another language. I believed it was the learning they did instead of TV. So I encourage it at any age. Oh, one more thing that is amazing…there are several groups and clubs that teach other languages in the community. From classes to book clubs. I think there’s a value in the community. thanks for this great article! :)

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