May 27, 2009

learning mandarin

Since my son was born — he’s now two — I’ve been speaking Mandarin to him. My partner speaks Vietnamese to him. I never really thought much about whether to speak to him in English or Chinese; I knew I was going to speak to him in Chinese, my first language.
Once he was born, though, I found myself looking for the right words to say to a newborn! My English is much better than my Mandarin, so it’s sometimes hard to stick to speaking in just Mandarin with him. Through raising him, I’m learning about my own limitations with Mandarin, and surprisingly, learning about my strengths and how quickly things come back. These old school phrases that I must have learned as a child just seemed to come out of nowhere! And Since he’s started to pick up more words, I realized how important it is to keep the language going!
One of the things I’m learning is that, like any aspect of parenting, it’s so important to surround yourself with a community of like-minded folks, or people in similar situations. When we have our friends over, who happen to know Chinese or Vietnamese, we ask them to speak to him in those languages. When my parents visit, of course, he will have a sudden explosion of Chinese words. It’s really amazing.
We’ve also been going to the local branch of our library. We’ve been checking out DVDs of “Follow Jade!” and music videos in Vietnamese. My son definitely likes the Jade videos (who he calls “Auntie Jade”) and though it’s bilingual and targeted towards an English-speaking audience, he still picks up new vocabulary from the segments. The library, especially in these tough times, is such a great resource in more than one way. I’ve also checked out multiple books on raising a bilingual child, and those have been helpful too.
I’m wondering if there are other parents out there raising their kids with multiple languages, and how that is going. Are people considering bilingual or even full immersion preschools to keep the language going? What are some other resources out there for parents raising bilingual/multilingual children?
Momo is a freelance writer and mom of a two year-old.


  1. Angelina says:

    We are raising our son to speak French and English as well as use baby sign. My husband is from Tahiti and his first language is French, so we knew right away that we wanted him to speak both languages. We wanted him to be able to speak to all of his relatives and related to them on a personal level. So far we are having great success. The baby sign has really helped. We sign the word at the same time as speaking it. This allows him to know that whether we are speaking French or English it has the same meaning. Our son is almost 14 months and has been singing for about 6 months. He is starting to speak words now as well. It is so exciting to see how pleased he is when he can communicate with us.

  2. sharon says:

    thanks for sharing your experience!
    we just adopted from China last year, and I have been searching for a good DVD series to use with my daughter.
    I will definitely check this out..

    I am sure you already know about Muzzy through the BBC and Little Pim through Pimsleur…a friend remarked that her daughter, 3, much preferred Muzzy to Little Pim..
    I will pursue Chinese school for my daughter (we have one 10 min. away, meets on sundays) when she reaches school age…It is for Kindergarten up…

  3. Suzi Saunders says:

    We are working hard to integrate Spanish into our essentially mono-lingual home. While we are both “euro-american”, I am bilingual English/Spanish due to time spent in Latin America. My 7 year old attends a spanish-immersion school, where all instruction is done in spanish until 2nd grade. My mother, who is also bilingual, speaks only spanish with him and my 2 year old daughter. It is really fun to hear them both use phrases/word from either language. Whichever seems to suit the situation, that’s the language they use! It is often surprising to “outsiders” to see such blondies speak Spanish so fluently!

  4. Niki says:


    Besides Jade videos (I think only two), you should try MEI MEI, she has several dvds. My kids enjoy SING AND DANCE with MEI MEI volume 4 the most. I think we played that dvd 3-4 times a day. Kids learn faster with singing and meanwhile learning new words. Good luck!

  5. Christina | says:

    I’m an American with a German husband living in Germany. I speak English with my son and my husband speaks German. We’re planning on sending him to the public German schools rather than private English schools, since I figure there is so much English out there, and it’s required learning in the schools anyway, it should be fine. But if the roles were reversed and we were raising him in the US, I would definitely look for a German language school for him to attend. Otherwise I think he wouldn’t get enough exposure. This is a very important subject for me, my mother is Thai and I can’t speak it because we refused to speak it with her as kids and she gave up.

  6. Tricia says:

    What perfect timing! This morning I enrolled my 18 month-old in a French immersion pre-school for the fall. She is surrounded by multiple languages every day. I admit, I researched all the views – from books, online blogs, other moms and instructors. In the end I looked at my little girl and realized she’s a language (and sound) sponge at this age! She is happy and healthy and doesn’t appear confused. Supposedly around age 3 there is a language ‘shut down’ period, where they sort out and architect a language construct. I’m not an expert, but my view is that in time we’ll figure out what works for her and in our home. For now, we’ll continue to speak our natural languages in context and focus our energy on having rich, interactive exchanges with her.

  7. Roohi Iqbal says:

    My daughter was born in Shanghai. We kept a mandarin speaking nanny for her and we speak to her in Urdu and English. She is native in mandarin but understands 100% English and Urdu and speaks more and more in these languages as well.
    We also introduced signing language ( when she was 5 months. She knows over a 100 signs now and signs regularly at age 2 and most importantly enjoys it.

  8. David's Mom says:

    Our 2 yr old son speaks and understands English and Spanish. Our nanny speaks Spanish with him pretty much exclusively – she’s with him 4 days/week about 10 hrs/day. We speak English and encourage his Spanish using what limited vocab we have. When he was an infant we also taught him baby signs which he used pretty exclusively until he was 20 months. We plan to continue encouraging his Spanish language skills through interactions with his nanny, media, books and hopefully a preschool that has Spanish programs.