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  Reply with quote  #1 
Hi all:

We live in Canada.  I’m a native Cantonese speaker who is fluent in English.  I can read and write Chinese but can only speak Mandarin to a certain degree, so for unfamiliar words, I don’t pronounce accurately.  But I can carry an everyday conversation  with a native Mandarin speaker, although I speak with some accent.  My DH is also a native Cantonese speaker who is fluent in English.  He can understand Mandarin but don’t speak very well.  DH and I speak to each other in Cantonese and English. 

I have a 5-yr old, 2-yr old, and a 4-month old.  I started the 5-yr old with Cantonese and English, but failed, because I read to him a lot in English (Cantonese is a dialect and not very readable), so now English has taken over.  He is now reading English at 3-4 years beyond his age level, but he only understands 50% of what we say in Cantonese, and speak simple words with a heavy accent.  We also had a Mandarin nanny back then so he also speaks Mandarin.  Since we switched the nanny, I have been trying to keep up his Mandarin by bringing in a Mandarin babysitter/tutor 3 times a week.  I would say he currently speaks Mandarin at a 3-yr old level, even though he’s 5.

For a number of years now, we have been speaking English only to the children, which could be a mistake, but since the arrival of the third child this year, I want to change and start over again!  It’s never too late, right?

My questions are:
1) Should I focus on just two languages, or use three?  I’m sure you all know  the effort involve in introducing a language.  I prefer just focusing on Mandarin and English, because of the Mandarin babysitter we have, and the languages are more international.  So if I use OPOL, DH will speak to them in English and I will speak to them in Mandarin.  But on the other hand, my Mandarin is really not that great. 

2) Should I speak to them in Mandarin anyways, so I can take them to a certain level (i.e. simple words and commands), and let the Mandarin babysitter/tutor do the rest?

3) I still want to read to them a lot in English.  How do I do that, while speaking Mandarin the rest of the time?

Any pointers will be appreciated!

  Reply with quote  #2 
Hi there!
Sorry no one has answered you as I would like to see the replies! We are in Canada too! in Montreal, where majority language is French, though there are a lot of bilingual and anglophones. My first language is English, which I speak most at home. I am fluent in French, and speak it on the street, to neighbors and sometimes work. And I am learning mandarin because of my son.

He was adopted from China at 22 mos, and is now 3.5 yrs old. I started learning mandarin about 2.5 yrs ago. I would call myself an advanced beginner! I read better than I speak, as I have little chance to speak. We found a woman to come in once a week, who is from Beijing originally, and she has become a friend. My son correctly names her as chinese and associates the language with her now. He sees me learning Chinese all the time, and pretends to write characters “like mommy”, and can count to ten now, and knows a lot of objects and words. There are a lot of beginner products like dvds in Mandarin and a lot of stuff for more fluent speakers (ie bilingual english mandarin books that have characters but no pinyin: takes me DAYS to look up all the characters I don’t know in a dictionary)

My son really likes Dora the Explorer in Mandarin (it is mandarin for chinese kids to learn some english) and that has been really good for me understanding spoken mandarin. Also Pororo (penguin), Sing and Learn Chinese with Mei Mei dvds, and Bao Bei the panda (Early Learning I think is the brand).

Anyways, you can probably tell, I think three languages are great. Here it is pretty much taken for granted the english and french: I am anglophone to start and he goes to daycare, and later school, in French.  I sometimes forget the mandarin is the THIRD language! But it is working well I think, though not as well yet as your son who is speaking and not just understanding. I don’t know if I’ll ever get my son trilingual, but I figure that every little bit, whether singing “Liang ge Lao Hu” or naming body parts while play tickle, will add up and be a basis for further learning when he is older and wants to continue. Heck, I didn’t start French til I was in grade 6 in school, and now I am fluent!

I look forward to hearing how it goes with you.
Where do you live in Canada?
(and btw, there are a lot of cantonese materials in canada… I found it easier to find mandarin materials on the internet!)

Canada (French Quebec)
native English, fluent French, learning Mandarin
single parent: so just trying to fit it all in as much as possible
One son, 3.5 yrs old

Helen San
  Reply with quote  #3 
I have no solutions for you, but wanted to respond to your very interesting question.   I am a native Mandarin speaker (born and lived in Taiwan until age 5), but now my English is much,much better than my Mandarin.  I also speak Spanish.

1.  2 or 3 languages.  From what I understand, it is easier to do OPOL and maintain a language if it is the language that you are most comfortable with.  So if I were in your situation, I would probably speak Cantonese, and then switch to Mandarin on the days the Mandarin nanny is there–make those days Mandarin Days.  I don’t see why you can’t do 3 languages.

2.  Teaching a language that is limited for you.  My Mandarin is very limited, about a 3rd grade level, but I am teaching it to my kids anyway.  I figure 3rd grade level Mandarin is better than no Mandarin at all.  It will give them a foundation to build on if they want to study it later.  For me, I am emphasizing pronunciation so they can at least get the tones down pat.

I am also teaching Spanish even though I am a non-native speaker.  My kids are already bilingual in Spanish and English because we lived in South America for 3 years.

3.  Reading in English while doing OPOL.  I have this problem too, because I homeschool in English, while trying to maintain their Spanish and introduce Mandarin.  I don’t have a formal “home-school” schedule or setting, but teach throughout the day as they show interest. I would love to hear others’ feedback as well.  But what I am doing now is simply switching back and forth as I feel comfortable.  If I feel better teaching something in English, I do it in English.  Otherwise, I use Spanish or Chinese.

I just hope my kids don’t think Chi-Spanglish is a language.

  Reply with quote  #4 

It’s been 9 months since I raised the question.  All this time I notice that my older son doesn’t have the age-appropriate level of fluency in Mandarin as I would hope.  For example, he cannot name all the body parts in Mandarin, and he cannot comprehend some preschool-level children programs in Mandarin(like thomas the train in chinese).

I have decided to give “artificial language boundary” a try.  The choice of language is based on our family priority and preference. 
1) I will speak to the children primarily in English, because I feel closest and most relevant to them when we communicate in English(it feels really awkward to say “I love you, child”, “honey”, or “my dear” in chinese…my parents never said that to me). 
2) I would speak to them in Mandarin when the chinese nanny is here.  I told them it’s not polite to speak english in front of her because she doesn’t understand english.  And I’m trying to increase the work hours of the chinese nanny to have her come for at least 3 hours daily.  I have also arranged playdates with mandarin speaking children.
3) On the weekends, I will speak Cantonese to them.  It’s hard to do that in the summer holiday, because nobody, including me, remembers whether it is a weekday or weekend.   
4) For the baby, I have started her with Mandarin only, but would switch to the same system as she gets older.

I don’t give my kids TV time at home, but as an exception, I hand-picked them some chinese DVDs to watch this summer.  They understand that “you may watch TV, but I only have Mandarin ones”.  I guess they crave for TV, so they don’t really mind.

If this system sounds like a mess, it is.  But I can’t really think of a better way yet.   I feel that the relationship between us and the children come first, and we’ll use whatever language that can best facilitate it.  And also this means I have to brush up my Mandarin skills.  Since I converse with the nanny often, I am improving.

Would love to hear your thoughts again.

  Reply with quote  #5 
Florence – where did you find thomas the train in chinese? 

I’m in the U.S. and we are adopting from China also.  As it looks like we will still have quite a long wait before us, I’m hoping that I can learn Mandarin well enough to speak it to our daughter around the house. I’m working on finding people to practice speaking Mandarin (as well as spanish) with.  And I’ve just ordered some children’s books in Chinese – it should be interesting to see how difficult it is for me to read them!

Where were you able to get
Dora in Mandarin from?  That is one thing that I am behind on- finding children’s shows in Mandarin.  I would much rather find KaiLan in Mandarin though, but I don’t know if or when they will have a Mandarin version of it.  I’ve never heard of  ‘Pororo’ – where can you order it from?  Apparently they make Spongebob in Mandarin too  – I would love to get that on DVD’s.

It’s interesting that your son sees you learning the language and that it seems like it encourages him to want to learn.  I had been  wondering if that would work.  That’s an idea for all of us that are not native speakers – if our kids see us studying and trying to learn the language on our own, with a tutor or whatever it may help motivate them.


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