I dreamed DD to reach the perfect bilingualism, which was definedÂ as â€œthe full range of competence in both languages that a native monolingual speaker has in oneâ€(John Lyons, 1981, p. 282). In another words, I would like her to be equally competent in English and Chinese both actively (through speaking, writing, or signing) and passively (through listening, reading, or perceiving).
But, it seemed she was more like a receptive bilingual, who has the ability to understand a second language, but does not speak it. With no doubt, DD understood perfectly when I spoke Chinese or read Chinese books to her. She could follow the story line when watching Chinese cartoons. But she choose to speak to me in English, the community language.
What happened? Only four to five months ago, DDâ€™s vocabulary for Chinese reached 500 words. She could easy carry a simple conversation with my parents in Chinese. She could name least seven colors (e.g. blue, red, yellow, white, black, pink, green, and etc), at least three actions (e.g. jumping, walking, running, and etc), and a number of opposites (e.g. tall, short, big, small) in Chinese.
|100 Popular Chinese Children’s Songs (2 DVDs)||Chinese Children’s Dancing Songs (2 DVDs)|
She could count from 1 to 10 fluently in Chinese. And she could say the seven magic words (e.g. please, sorry, youâ€™re welcome, good morning, thank you, goodbye) in Chinese without any trouble.
I think there are a number of causes to explain why she fell to receptive bilingualism.
One, her exposures to under-used minority language, which is Chinese in her case, was dramatically reduced after my parents left. When my parents came to visit, she had three people to talk to in Chinese. Now it was just me. She didnâ€™t have a Chinese playgroup or playmate to hang around. The only opportunity to get an interactive Chinese exposure was from me.
To make it even worse, currently I was hand-full with twins. So I didnâ€™t have time to read her Chinese books or watch Chinese cartoons with her. She spent more time with daddy and grandparents, who speak exclusively English to her. And she watched Nick Jr. most of the time.
Two, I was not consistent in speaking Chinese at home. M doesnâ€™t speak or understand Chinese. To communicate with him, I had to shift to English. In order to keep him on the same page, I had to explain and translate my conversation with DD in English.
Sometimes the effort required to maintainÂ pure Chinese with DD became too great that I succumbed to the pressure and went over to English myself. Looks like a perfect note for a linguist scholarâ€™s announcement that â€œwhere one of the parents does not understand one of the languages, attempts to maintain bilingualism in the family are most likely to failâ€(John Lyons, 1981, p. 39).
|Bilingual DVD: Dora the ExplorerÂ (Chinese/English, 5 DVDs)||Bilingual DVD: Dora the ExplorerÂ (Chinese/English, 5 DVDs)|
So, what to do?
I definitely donâ€™t want to give up.
One thing I can do is to do my best to give DD exposure of the Chinese language as much as possible. How about watching Chinese cartoons instead of Nick Jr.? Squeeze some time out to read Chinese stories to her, listen Chinese songs with her, play games in Chinese or simply engaging her in a short conversation in Chinese, no matter she answers me in English or in Chinese. Yes, DD might be a receptive bilingual at present, but I might just as well emphasize the positive aspects and say that DD at least understands the Chinese language.
Next, I am thinking to create a Chinese environment around DD by launching a Chinese story time in the local library. Just like the story time hosted in library right now, I will teach children vocabularies and phrases on family members, body parts, colors, numbers & simple math, shapes, and basic social expressions, through songs, stories, finger plays, visual aids, games and activities. I will encourage children and parents to participate and interact through the story time. Of course, I will take all my three kids to the story time.
Now it is your turn. Dear readers,
What do you do to help kids achieve perfect bilingualism?
John Lyons (1981): Language and Linguistics: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press.
OPOLÂ series: OPOL and child bilingualism
How strictly or consistently do we need to follow OPOL?
Why she speaks more English than Chinese?
How I help my baby acquire a second language?
How babies acquire languages?
Stages of babyâ€™s language acquisition