Getting ready to raise bilingual children?

Yup, you can’t escape this in Singapore. Our children need to be proficient in English and a second language. Do you still remember the good ol’ days where we have to memorise 汉语拼音, 汉子, 成语 ? Take on 听写 and 作文?Can you imagine going through this once again?!!

Admittedly, my Chinese Language isn’t too bad, I did Higher Chinese during my primary and secondary school years. Though, it has been more than a decade since I’ve learned it formally - my vocabulary bank has shrunk and grammar, all over the place.

Honestly, I’ve got issues perfecting the English Language, and throwing another language into the mix simply muddy the waters even more. Therefore, I too am worried about how adequately prepared I am to help Boi Boi be proficient with bilingualism.

Boi Boi is only 15 months old, I know it is never too early to start (neither is it ever too late to start)! There is a lot of literature out there that offers various ways and approaches to raising bilingual children (I'll share references at the end of this post). I do not follow all the guides strictly, but rather I tend to choose and adapt certain approaches to suit my family lifestyle and habits.

One of the key things that we try to do (as you will soon discover in the approaches below) is to give similar importance to both the English Language and the Chinese Language. Personally, I do find that there is a misconception that the English Language is 'easier' to master than the Chinese Language (due to our experiences). I try to not let that assumption be a self-fulfilling prophecy, hence giving both languages equal level of importance.

Here are some ways that I am readying Boi Boi for a bilingual future:

One Parent, One Language (OPOL)

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My husband communicates to Boi Boi predominantly in English while I (to the best of my ability) communicate to Boi Boi in Mandarin. Although, it is not proven that One Parent, One Language is efficient or particularly advantageous to Bilingualism, at least there is certain level of consistency for the child. I believe that consistency is key in helping children master anything.

In fact, as Boi Boi's preschool does the exact same thing (i.e. Chinese teachers speaking only in Mandarin and English teachers speaking only in English) we feel that maintaining the same consistency at home can be beneficial to Boi Boi.

So usually, if my husband gives a piece of instruction to Boi Boi say, "Please throw this into the dustbin" I will repeat the same instruction in Mandarin "把这个垃圾丢到垃圾桶去”. Hopefully this repetition can help Boi Boi understand how the same instruction sounds in two different languages



Exposure to English Letters and Chinese Characters

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I have items like magnets in the form of English letters and flashcards in Chinese Characters lying around the house. At this stage, I don't actually do any formal training with Boi Boi to memorise the letters or characters (he is not ready yet). I hope that by having them lying around the house would familiarise him with these letters and characters.

Whenever a suitable opportunity arise we would do 'show and tell' - I would use these objects to help him draw association with how the words sound and the letters/characters that represent them.

For example, if he is playing with an Apple, we will say that this is an Apple and it starts with a letter 'A' and hand him the magnet letter A for exploration. If he is playing with a car, we will tell him that '这 是一辆车‘ and show him the Chinese flashcard that has '车‘ written on it.


Reading Bilingual Storybooks

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Bilingual storybooks are life savers! Especially for most parents (like us) that have forgotten our mother tongue for the most part, bilingual storybooks contain both the English Language and Chinese Language in Chinese characters and Han Yu Pin Yin (phew!)

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So our circle of friends believe in Bilingualism so much that my husband and a few other buddies set up a Chinese Bookstore - Happy Times Reading bringing Bilingual storybooks into Singapore!

As we know, repetitive reading the same story offers many benefits for children. Repetitive reading the same story helps with comprehension. Each time your child reads or hears a book read to them, they learn more about the story itself. Context is important to help Children learn the language. Bilingual storybooks help exactly in this area (which is why I love them so much).

Are the approaches successful so far? Honestly, I do not know. This is one of the many firsts that I am doing as a first-time mother. I do not have another child as a benchmark, but this is what 'feels right' and I think it is important that we don't overthink it.

So there we go, 3 key approaches that I have chosen and adapted to our lifestyle and beliefs. As I like to say - Every parent wants the best for our child, I don't believe in a 'right' or 'wrong' approach, rather it is a matter of whether it is a 'suitable' or 'unsuitable' approach. You know your child best, so choose one that is the most 'suitable' for your little one.

How are you preparing to raise bilingual children? I would love to hear more!



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