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Dear List Moderator,

I’m a father of a two-month-old from Beijing, China. And I’d like to bring up my boy bilingually. I’ve read some articles on bilingual raising. And I’ve got some basic knowledge about it. But I have a problem on the language system in my family. I’d like to know the best approach and how. All your comments and suggestions are welcomed.


My situation is like this:
1/ Both my wife and I are Chinese, and Chinese is our native language.
2/ We both learn English at school. And we can speak English fluently, but not in every aspect.
3/ Other family members can only speak Chinese.
4/ Chinese is the community language.
5/ Our goal: To raise our kid bilingually of both Chinese and English.
6/ Problems:

  6.1/ Both of us are not native English speakers. 

  6.2/ We are not in English-speaking community.


We do have some native speaker friends, but we are not live in the same community, and very regular visits are not possible, especially when the kid is so young. And now we are trying to use the OPOL model. I speak English to my boy all the time. His mother speaks about 20% English and 80% Chinese to him. Other caregivers speak only Chinese. I speak 50/50 English/Chinese to my wife, and speak Chinese to others.


Here in China, children begin to learn some English words starting from kinder garden. And they’ll have English lessons as the second language in primary school. We hope to bring our boy up bilingually. And we hope that he might be able to acquire same fluency in English as us. But we’re not quite sure, ‘cause we are not native speakers and we don’t know English parentese (childrenese). Can we just use the common English language we’re using? Do you have better approaches or suggestions and how? Books, readings, CDs, anything helpful…


And again, the information you need:

1. Country you live in: P.R. China
2. Languages the family speaks: Chinese
3. Ages of the children: 2 months
4. Language system (OPOL, ML@H or any other method): mostly OPOL


Many thanks,




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Hi Jerry,

Wonderful to hear from you. Just judging by your written English, you should indeed be proud if your son attains your level of English!

So, to your questions:

In the ideal situation, you would both speak English to your son. He will get plenty of Chinese interaction through the community. If you can become a ML@H family, he is more likely to get enough interaction in the language, and to start speaking it back to you. However, OPOL works well also, but if you have the opportunity, the ML@H approach is a safer bet (has a higher ‘success rate’) in ensuring that children actually speak the minority language. You can read more here.  Another option is to put him in an English international school.

About using a non native language, as you can see both on this forum and in this article there is no reason to worry about the imperfections in your English. With the level of your written English, you have no cause for worry that your English is not good enough. I promise you! Anyhow, your son’s English can always be ‘polished’ later in life. It is more an issue for you (or your wife) to feel comfortable enough to speak it to him.

If you want to quickly refresh your English, you can tune in English speaking radio (also available on the internet), read English newspapers on the web, listen to audio books or Podcasts (many free Podcasts available on iTunes, and you don’t need an iPod to listen to them, just a computer). Plus, maybe you can find a tutor to help you get more comfortable with ‘baby language’. As you point out — that is the one thing parents tend to struggle with: “How do I speak to a BABY in a foreign language?”

Living in Beijing, getting together with English native speakers will be the LEAST of your problems — so just find them! According to the Beijing Olympic Committee, there are 4.5 million English speakers in Beijing. Probably not all native speakers, but still! Also, I guarantee you that there there are many English speaking play groups, day-cares and schools. It can take a bit of detective work to find the one closest to you, but once you start looking they’ll usually appear out of the woodwork. Just by looking at our school listings in our Resource Directory you have several. These schools will in turn have a wealth of information for you (and they may well host English play-groups for babies). Here are several other opportunities to get more language interaction for your son.

More for your son: Get as much language material as you can for you home. Try ordering English speaking children’s material over the Internet. Books are great the first year, but also TV/movies and music to hear the language from several sources. When he gets older, games and alphabet products will be great. For ideas on age appropriate books you can get some inspiration in our product section. You can certainly order here but the shipping can be costly. A local source for the material is probably both faster and cheaper, although the selection will not be as large, and otherwise there should be plenty in Singapore and Hong Kong.  BTW, here is a list of the top English bookstores in Beijing.

I’d like to please ask you a favor in return. Could you let us know any good websites you find for English children’s material in China — to help fellow bilingual families in China that don’t have as easy access to foreign language bookstores as you do. You can post it in the Ideas section of this forum.

Finally, feel free to put up an ad in our Classifieds section if you want to reach other English speaking or bilingual families locally.

Best of luck,
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Christina Bosemark
Founder & List Moderator
Multilingual Children’s Association


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Dear Christina,


Thanks so much for your advice. And I really appreciate your dedication on the website. It’s of great help for people like me.


Speaking English material websites in Beijing, I myself am having a hard time to find it out. I’ll put my search results on the list. But to tell you the truth, I don’t have much confident on local websites.


And by the way, I’d like to find some like-minded people here in Beijing. And I’m looking foward to getting more help from you and other list members. I hope there are also native English speaking families here in Beijing who would like to find Chinese play groups from this website. Maybe we can form a group together and benefit from both.


Best wishes,





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Hi Jerry

I bet you’ve already come across it but just incase you haven’t, check out the bbc’s little children’s website:

It’s great for stories and songs in English.


Reply with quote

Hi Helena,


Thanks for your concern. And thank you for your advice. The BBC website is a very good. I’m having fun.


Best wishes,



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Hi all!

I am so happy that I found this website almost 3 years ago! Thank you all!

My son is 3 and half now. He is able to speak both Chinese and English. And the most exciting news is: He’s got the First Prize in an English Speaking Competition in Beijing for kindergartners last week. Well, of course, not for native English speaking children. I felt that all my hard work is paid back. And I’m so glad that I decide to come back and found my first post in the site and give a new feedback. And I’d like to thank all of you who had helped me. I’d like to say to all the parents that are still trying “Keep up the good work!”

Best wishes to all!



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Hi Jerry,

I am happy to have found this website and your post in particular because my situation is very similar to yours. I live in Hong Kong where the community language is Cantonese.  My husband and I are local Chinese, Cantonese is our mother-tongue. I have lived in the UK for 5 years so my English is fluent enough to communicate with the natives on daily basis but still nothing like a native speaker!  

My son is 6 months old. Since his birth, I have been speaking ‘only’ English to him whilst his daddy to him only Cantonese. My family and my husband’s family ar all local people so they all speak Cantonese to my son. Therefore, you can imagine, his exposure to English so far is mainly from me. I do take him out to meet some English-speaking families but the meetings are not conducted regularly. English playgroups are held once a week. So, his main source of English is and will be from me solely.  

And, I speak Cantonese to my husband, to my & his family, and to the local people. It makes me worry, under such circumstances, if my son will be able to acquire English speaking ability.

I have some questions and I wonder if you can give me some ideas:-
(1) I worry if my son will refuse to speak English to me as he will know mommy can speak Cantonese but why doesn’t she speak it to me.  Has your son had this problem?
(2) Is your son able to communicate with native English-speaking people now?

A funny situation I recently noted is:  when I speak English to my son, he doesn’t always pay much attention. But when I speak to my husband in Cantonese, he will suddenly stop and stare at him. His expression is like:  “Ooop!  Why mommy suddenly speaks Cantonese?”  It makes me wonder if my son can now distinguish the difference between English and Cantonese and whether it is a sign that he can lead two languages.

I don’t expect my son to speak English as a native and I simply want him to be able to communicate in English, knowing that it will be helpful for him at school. After all, English is one of the official languages in HK.  I will stick to this OPOL langauge policy and I hope I can see some good results in the long run.   Some precious advice from you will be appreciated.

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