Published by under categories Bilingual Baby, From Lina | comments Comments (5)

To coordinate her lips, tongue and breath well enough to make herself understandable is the biggest challenge and milestone in baby’s language development. And I feel the same way.

Since month 21, DD began to speak meaningful words in English and in Chinese. It seemed she spoke more English words than Chinese words, although she could understand almost anything I said and followed my Chinese instructions without any problem.

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed. I talked to her in Chinese since her birth. I tried to create a Chinese-rich environment for her. Since I am the only person who speaks Chinese in her world, I tried to speak only Chinese to her.

When she was nine month, I began to read simple books to her in Chinese. Since month 13, I started to read story books to her in Chinese. We also listened to Chinese children songs, rhymes and stories via CDs, and watched Chinese animated movies via DVDs.

I did everything I could to help her acquire Chinese (see How I help my baby acquire a second language?). Why she speaks English more than Chinese?

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One reason I can think of is her language environment. Although I speak to her in Chinese all day and all night, her community-based language is still English. The majority language speakers talk to her in English.

The second reason, in my opinion, is the lack of Chinese resources. Although my parents and brother in China sent DD a bundle of Chinese books, CDs and DVDs, the resources in Chinese is still limited.

On the other hand, English resources are literally unlimited. I can borrow as many English Children’s books, CDs and DVDs as I want from the local library. And the Nick Junior programs run 24/7 on TV.    

Next, maybe to DD, it is easier to speak English than Chinese. Therefore she naturally chooses the easier way out when she is eager to express herself.

The forth reason, maybe also the most important reason, is 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.

Are these reasons causing her to speak more English than Chinese? Are they making big impact on her to achieve perfect bilingualism? So far I don’t find any answers yet. So I am calling for you, dear readers and parents, to join in the discussion.

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Related posts:
How I help my baby acquire a second language?
How babies acquire languages?
Stages of baby’s language acquisition
How children acquire second languages?
Stages of children’s second language acquisition
Never too early to learn second tongue
Being bilingual boosts brain power
Bilingualism and cognitive development
More resources on bilingualism and its effects
Why my baby isn’t talking yet?


  1. 1
    Gemma // October 26th, 2010 at 5:15 am

    This might be an out-of-the-box suggestion, but why not teach her Spanish? There is a wealth of Spanish for Kids content out here and maybe by learning a third language your child will start using Chinese more as she becomes more accustomed to speaking in two languages. The only problem I can see is that she might hesitate to SPEAK because she speaks it very little but once that barrier is broken (using Spanish as a bridge) the it won’t be such a large problem.

    Just a thought.

  2. 2
    Lina // October 27th, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    @Gemma: Believe or not, I do have the intention to let her pick up Spanish, and even French, German and Japanese, if it is all possible in the future. I let her watch Dora the explorer and Go Diago Go. These two shows have some Spanish words, and I even picked up some Spanish words. I also found a DVD featuring Dora the explorer in three languages: Chinese, English, and Spanish. I am going to get it for her very soon!

    Thank you for your out-of-the-box suggestions!

  3. 3
    Sara-Elizabeth // November 28th, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    I have a 19-month-old who is growing up bilingual (Spanish) and we are doing one-parent one-language. I’d encourage you to follow that more strictly, even though your resources are limited and certainly you shouldn’t feel guilty for speaking an English word to her now and then. Even when I’m “reading” an English book to Zoe, I don’t read the English words. I tell her the story in Spanish and ask her to show me things in the book in Spanish. When we’re watching Dora (which isn’t going to teach anybody Spanish, btw) I point out things and talk through the video with her in Spanish.
    Your trick will be for her to realize that Chinese isn’t this weird thing that Mommy does while the “normal” world functions in English. It will help if you increase your Chinese input so that even English-based media are discussed in Chinese. Also, teach your husband and friends how to say things like “hi” and “goodbye” and “thank you” in Chinese and don’t switch to English to tell her to say these things. Try, “[DD], say thank you” only all in Chinese, and then repeat “thank you” in English so the hearer knows that they’re being thanked. Even in the grocery store if someone says to Zoe, “you have such beautiful eyes” I say, “Zoe, dile gracias, thank you” and Zoe says “gracias”–and she hasn’t picked up “thank you” yet. Even though she’s in an all-English preschool about 5 hours a day, and her father speaks English to her, I’d say her production is evenly split between English and Spanish. She’s even already showing skill in switching words depending on the person (i.e. using “nose” at school but “nariz” at home).
    And I can’t emphasize enough–anyone you know who speaks the smallest amount of Chinese, get them to say anything to her. The biggest battle in child bilingualism is in the attitude, fighting the tendency to believe that English is the “better” language and the other one is less prestigious.

    Hope this helps!

    –an SLA linguist parent raising a bilingual baby 🙂

  4. 4
    Lina // November 29th, 2010 at 7:44 am

    @Sara: Thank you so much!! That is one of the detailed advice I have received so far! I especially like the comment “Your trick will be for her to realize that Chinese isn’t this weird thing that Mommy does while the “normal” world functions in English”. So true!! Sometimes I do wonder whether she is thinking that way.

    It is amusing to know Dora and Go Diego go these shows are NOT going to teach anybody Spanish, since I did think of buying those trilingual DVDs to expose DD to Spanish. I believe Sara should be the expert to say that, and I do realize that child bilingualism is much harder than I thought to be. It requires a lot of patience, persistence and passion from parents.

  5. 5
    Chui // June 2nd, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    I have a son who is bilingual at 17 months, speaking fluently in Mandarin and English. His father can only speak English whereaas I can speak a few languages.

    Similar to Lina, English resources are in abundant in NZ whereas Mandarin ones are very limited. Every month I could borrow up to 40 books in English, however the number of chinese books I might not even come close to that.

    As a result, right from the start, even though we are reading English books, I always read to him in Mandarin. Only his father will read to him in English. He turned 3 last week, a few days ago he said to me. Mommy, how come you can read in English? (he said it in Mandarin).

    Even though he hears me speak very fluent English to every one, except to him, it never occur to him that I can read in English too…To be honest, I didn’t realise that he didn’t know that I can read in English!

    In the past, both my husband and I will read to him and still does. If my son bring me a book, I will read to him in Mandarin. If he takes the same book to his daddy, his daddy will read to him in English. I find that learning two languages at the same time actually reinforces his understanding of the first one.

    In terms of communicating with my husband, I used to ask my son to convey my messages to his father. Eg, I ask my son to please and go and tell daddy dinner is ready. While I will speak to him in Mandarin, I will train him to go to daddy and tell daddy in English. Of course in the beginning, my son will automatically tell his father in Mandarin. He will realise soon enough that daddy couldn’t understand what he is saying and that he has to translate in English for him. I will tell my husband/sign to him what my message was, my husband will then expressed what my request was to my son in English, and my son will repeat after him. Though persistance, now my son does not even have to pause to translate.

    I find that like Sara-Elizabeth, always giving running commentary of what happens in my son’s surrounding helps a lot. When he hears other people talks to him in English, I will always translate to him in Mandarin (not because he could not understand what they were saying, but because I want his vocabulary in Mandarin to not fall behind his English vocabulary) Only then he will be able to communicate with me effectively and still find this language useful in helping him express himself.

    Recently through a friend’s recommendation, I bought some books that help him learn to recognise Mandarin characters. Whithin 3.5 months of starting the books and flashcards, he can now identify just under 100 chinese characters and read 8 books. I have never dreamt that the first book he read himself will be in Mandarin and not in English. But the reason, I started him early in Mandarin because I know Mandarin is harder to learn (in reading) than does English. If I wait until he goes to primary school, by then he will find it too hard to learn Mandarin because English is relatively easier to learn to read.

    Raising a bilingual child is never easy and there are lots of trial and error. Afterall there is not much personal experience we can draw on ourselves. I hope my personal experience help in some ways.

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