Published by under categories Bilingual Baby, From Lina | comments Comments (2)

I have a post named Is this the answer to achieve bilingualism? published on June 17, 2012. In my post, I questioned why my daughter still speaks more English than Chinese after I did my best to create a Chinese-rich environment for her.

One reason I thought about is that that I didn’t strictly follow “one parents one language” rule. I read to DD in English as well, only because sometimes she got tired of our limited stock of Chinese books and wanted something different. This is the only time I don’t speak Chinese to her.

One friend commented on my post and suggested me to read only in Chinese to my children, not in English. …A couple of days ago, I read this post and pondered about the question: is this really the answer to achieve bilingualims?

I posted the same question onto Multicultural Kid Blogs and asked members their opinons. I received quite a few interesting comments. Looks like a lof of bilingual families have thought about the best answer to achieve bilingualism.

So I posted those comments here and shared with everybody. Maybe you will find some information useful. If you have anything to add. you are more than welcome to leave your comments below!

Life with Two Languages: An Introduction to Bilingualism Raising a Bilingual Child (Living Language Series)
Life with Two Languages: An Introduction to Bilingualism Raising a Bilingual Child (Living Language Series)

Lisa E Lewis: I will never be an expert in this area, that is one reason I am here to learn. But I do know, as a pediatrician, that I have seen multiple Chinese families in America whose children prefer to speak English after full immersion at home in the language!  I also see children who are very motivated and enjoy speaking Chinese.  I have pondered the reason for this, as many of the Chinese families and families who have adopted (like us) go to great lengths to speak Chinese at home and send their children to Chinese school. I have worked on multilingualism with my Chinese-American daughter since she was 5.  Now she is almost 13 and studies Chinese in school. She loves it and has “chosen” Chinese as her language in school. (She was able to choose Chinese or Spanish for Middle School and High School as her second language.) I can’t say she is fully fluent, though. Once my child acted like she was going to reject the language altogether. Then, a nice Chinese friend helped engage her more and she became more fascinated with the language.  Sorry so long winded, but my point is, in my opinion, level of interest in a second language for children can be kind of a roller coaster. Which is one reason I love hearing tips from this awesome group.

Varya Sanina-Garmroud: I think the dominant language is mainly due to the language environment. I also think that as long as your daughter has a great rapport of Chinese and speaks it as fluently as English (including reading and writing), there is nothing wrong with her choosing English as her first language.Once she is in Chinese environment she’ll be speaking more Chinese.
I am really bad at setting a Russian environment for my kids because we generally don’t really speak Russian to anyone but my mom on skype and occasional friends. We also don’t have an easy access to any Russian literature – we have just few books. However, I am trying atm my best to speak Russian to them and I don’t mind English being their 1st language as it is also my husband’s first language and we are least likely to ever live in Russia.

Lina Dickson: Lisa E Lewis: I have been pondering about this question for a long time. I begin to realize, just as you said, the lever of interest in a second language has a lot of influence on motivating the child to learn that language. It will be much easier if the child wants to learn instead of being pushed by parents.

I understand there are lots of Chinese moms who are “tiger moms”: they push their children to learn what they think their children should learn and they are pushing really hard. Sometime we parents need to pay attention to the way we convey our hope or expectations and that may make the “push” more effective.

By saying that, I don’t mean parents should not involve and try their best. Creating a Chinese-rich environment will definitely help. Maybe just like Varya Sanina-Garmroud said, once she enters to that language environment, she will be speaking that language more. Then our effort are still paid off.

Bilingualism in Development: Language, Literacy, and Cognition Parents' and Teachers' Guide to Bilingualism (Parents' and Teachers' Guides)
Bilingualism in Development: Language, Literacy, and Cognition Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism

Tina ‘Weaver’ Chen: I agree with what you said in your comment here, Lina! I think we should create the rich environment for them to learn another language, but, in the end, it’s much more important for them to have a loving relationship with their parent in whatever language than it is for them to speak a language because they were forced to against their will. I think you’re doing a great job and it will pay dividends in the end.

Rita Rosenback: According to research a child is much more likely to give up on a minority language if the minority language parent uses (includes reading) BOTH the majority and the minority language in any direct communication with the child. Children are very pragmatic and do what comes easier to them. At the point where the majority language becomes a bigger part of their lives they may well become reluctant to use the minority language unless there is a strong enough motivation for it. If they have only ever used a specific language with a parent they will most likely continue using it. Motivation is the key – we can and should not compel our children to speak a certain language, but we certainly can make it as compelling as possible to them.

[ad name=”ad-2″]

Stephanie H Meade: Tagging Sophie Beach whose kids are also growing up bilingual in Mandarin (OPOL at home and they both go to immersion Chinese school).

Valerie Melzer: Lina Dickson, we are raising our 4 yo fully bilingual. Even though German is Alex Melzer (hubby) first language it will be thought to Nico ( 4yo) later. At home Alex speaks English and I speak French to him. For books we explained to him that we read to him in the language it’s written in and he gets it. So I don’t think it has to do with you reading to her in English. Nico normally pick the words in the language he likes the best when he know the person speaks both so she might be doing the same 🙂

Sophie Beach: I agree with Rita Rosenback that children do what is easiest and if a parent or teacher uses both majority and minority languages, most kids will use whichever is easiest for them. All families and kids and situations are different so I don’t think there is one formula that works for everyone. But for us, strict OPOL at home has been most effective. Speaking English with my husband has never been an option for my kids (even though my husband is fluent) so they naturally don’t do it. And I’ve seen with my son’s classmates, native Chinese speakers who also speak English with their children have a harder time getting their children to respond in Chinese. I also agree though that language can’t be forced or kids will resent it and refuse to speak. So it’s a hard balance. For my kids, Chinese has become a special bond they have with my husband and since he’s always spoken it to them, it is very natural for them. But whatever path you take, I think consistency is key. Also as my kids have gotten older (my son is now almost nine), we can be more flexible and he understands more the value of speaking Chinese so it’s more of a choice that he makes. But, it really does take a lot of work to get children to be bilingual. And even if your daughter is not responding in Chinese now, she is learning it and developing the skills to use it later in her life, so I would encourage you to keep it up in whatever capacity works for your family.

Sophie Beach: Sorry I just reread your post and realized I responded in a hurry and didn’t exactly answer your query. Sorry!  I think if lack of Chinese books is the problem, one solution is just to translate or paraphrase English story books on the fly as you read (as long as your daughter is young enough that the stories are pretty simple). It sounds like the main challenge is not the reading but the fact that you are the only one who speaks Chinese to her so her exposure is limited. But I would say keep doing what you are doing and it will pay off eventually!

Lina Dickson: Rita Roseback: Your comment makes me sweat, because I read the exact the same research before that minority language parent uses BOTH the majority and the minority language to communicate with the child, bilingualism in house will fail! I think I just need to do whatever it is right thing to do depending on the individual situation.

Rita Rosenback: Dear Lina – sorry, I didn’t mean to worry you! To be precise, the research doesn’t say that parents who use both languages WILL fail in passing both on, just that the success rate is lower than if parents are consistent in using only one language. Since you are aware of and thinking about the situation I am sure you will find the best solution for your family. Have you looked for Chinese fairy tales on-line? Maybe there are other Chinese families you could swap books with? Translating English books on the fly is great, but I know it can be quite exhausting in the long run. I know, since I have tried this – and my daughter also made the comment “Mum, that’s not how you read the story last night!” Children are so attentive…

What is your experience
to help your child achieve bilingualism?

Related posts:
How I help my baby acquire a second language?
How babies acquire languages?
How children acquire second languages?
Bilingualism and cognitive development
More resources on bilingualism and its effects
Why my baby isn’t talking yet?


  1. 1
    Paul Wandason // November 14th, 2013 at 12:37 am

    I must admit that I don’t read to my child in my second language (Dutch), either directly, or doing a live translation into English. If I try to read in Dutch, my pronunciation is so terrible (as well as my understanding of what I’m trying to read) that I don’t feel that the time I’m spending with my daughter is special. Conversely, I don’t translate it into English on the fly, as my level in Dutch is so low that I can’t pick up the variety of vocabulary and grammar, so my English version is full of my own stutterings as I try to fill in my gaps.
    My Dutch wife reads fluently in English, and can also translate from English into Dutch very well. Shame on me – when I tell my daughter I can’t read a Dutch book (we keep Dutch and English books on separate shelves) she says “But you can try Daddy!” Perhaps I should try a little harder…

  2. 2
    Lina // November 14th, 2013 at 7:43 am

    @ Paul: that is so funny of your daughter. So there are two sides of opinions. I guess there is no right or wrong straight answer to this question. Whatever works better in your situation is the best answer to help your children learn a second language.

Leave a Comment