Friday, September 20, 2013

Bilingual road : Learning at her own pace

I was chatting with my coworker about kids. I was telling her my worries about my daughter's seemingly weak command in French compared to kids her age. She suggested that I should start speaking French and Mandarin at the sometimes with my daughter. She couldn't understand how a family can function like ours, where three languages were practiced at the same time at home.

Well, there were times that I have doubts about what we were doing.

The initial plan was that I take care of Mandarin and hubby takes care of French. One thing I didn't that into consideration was that a mother naturally interacts / handles more things with her child than a father. The outcome was that the little angel prefered to speak Mandarin than French, as she knew more vocabularies in Mandarin. We spent time together singing, reading and chatting in Mandarin. And then I wondered if I have put her in disadvantages compare to her pals at school.

1. At school while kids were singing songs that they have probably heard at home, she learned about them for the first time. Well, she did know a couple of French songs but not extensively.
2. She might not be familiar with instructions in French (while doing craft, drawing...).
3. During story telling times she might not understand much compare to her pals due to her weak vocabularies.

I suspected that these have made her behaved reservedly in classroom. While kids in her classroom started to form groups, she didn't belong to any and would usually play with boys or older kids. Her teacher used to tell me that she didn't speak much at class and sometimes didn't understand her instructions. Her after school carer told me that she was a quiet girl. I noticed that she spoke less fluently in French compared to kids her age.

And then this coworker told me: "Well, according to the National Education guideline, a kid that has finished the first year of Kindergarten should recognize 1 to 5. Does she know this?" The true is no. Yes, after one full year of school, she doesn't read 1 to 5. Another fact is that she doesn't know A to Z either. I'm restraining myself to teach her alphabet because I don't think I pronounce them correctly in French. I thought she would pick all these up at school. The coworker continued : "Some days I asked my daughter whether she had to work a lot at school, she told me no they were playing all days. The fact is, she was learning a lot but she thought it was games. They have a talented teacher who knows how to make learning fun, we are very lucky." I hope Aelig will meet a similar teacher, her current one has 33 kids to take care of, not sure if she could handle it.

At that point, I had all these questions to myself:
Should I change the method and start conversing with her in Mandarin and French?
Should I start teaching her writing and reading, even in Mandarin, even though kids here do these formally the first year they are in primary school?

In fact, kids in Malaysia start reading and writing since they enter kindergarten. They have dictations and small tests. I believe kids are capable of doing these before they turn 6. But I do ask myself what the rush? She still have a lot of time to learn. I started learning writing and reading when I was 7.

Before making any decisions, I decided to talk to her teachers. To my relief, her second year teacher thinks that she speaks well and blend in without problem with her classmates. Her after-school carer (the same one from last year) told me that she has improved a lot in term of expressions. And she eats well in the canteen. What a great news!

Now, we will continue the three languages practice at home (she doesn't speak English, she just tries to imitate us sometimes). And, I want to make learning a fun game for her. No pressure, she learns it at her own pace.

Teaching her how to write one to five.

She decides which exercise books she wants to "draw" with. Sometimes she writes a word, I write another one. She doesn't do it everyday.Well, learning is a lifelong process, way to go!


  1. Anonymous3:22 AM

    Parenting is tough, and multicultural parenting is tougher (although rewarding and fun!)

    We speak English at home, with some Chinese expressions 等一下,慢慢吃,等等。 I try to speak in French with Mark when I'm alone with him and my in-laws speak Mandarin to him. Sometimes, I'm afraid he gets confused!

  2. I grew up in Québec, and at one point, I stopped speaking Cambodian at 5. My sister didn't even speak until 3 because of 2 languages at home. Sadly, we don't even speak Cambodian with our parents. Don't worry about you teaching her Mandarin. Bilingual kids have a way to figure it out on their own. One (Chinese) friend of mine said that she only speaks to her children in Cantonese. One parent, one language, father speaks French. And school will take care of the rest.

  3. Hi Zhu,

    Like Vad, I believe kids will have a way to figure it out on their own. At one point they will know which language to speak to the person in front of him/her.

    Hi Vad,

    I do believe the one parent one language method. But I have doubt now about school will take care of the rest.

    Between, do you think you can introduce me to your Chinese friend who speaks Cantonese? I would be nice if we could have some experience exchanges in this topic. One of my friends speak Cantonese, Mandarin and French to her son.

  4. Hi Bee,

    Sorry all my friends are in Canada. One of my aunt is also Chinese and doesn't speak French. Her children speak French at home. My uncle has to translate. I found this sad and odd. This sometimes happen to second generation immigrants. It's a good thing you speak to her in Madarin. I can't wait to see my friend again in Canada, I wonder what language her children speak now.

  5. Vad,

    Do you speak French with your parents? About your aunt, does she speak Chinese with her kids, but they reply in French?

  6. I do speak French with my parents. My mom speaks Cambodian with me. Thanks to her I can understand but I have poor vocabulary. I totally felt awkward when visiting Cambodia for the first time. My aunt doesn't speak French, she does speak Cambodian to them and they reply in French. (She is Chinese from Cambodia. She understands some of it, but important stuff has to be translated through my uncle.

  7. Continuez à lui parler en mandarin et apprenez lui à lire et à écrire le chinois tant que vous y êtes mais faites le en jouant .

    Comme elle habite en France , elle est déjà dans le bain . Son français progressera inévitablement . il lui faut un peu plus de temps que les autres mais ce n'est absolument pas un problème .
    Croyez moi , je suis passée par là .

  8. Hi Bee Ean,
    I spoke Mandarin and English to my son since birth but very sadly he couldn't talk until 3 and by age 3 when i started him in kindergarten.. i decided to cut out Mandarin so that he could communicate with the rest of the world. which i regret til this day. as he can't communicate with my mom.. what i learnt is they will pick up but as you have said..only at their pace..

  9. Hi Bee Ean

    I think you're doing a very good job because Aelig is speaking mandarin to you. Most of the time, the kid refuse to speak mandarin. Hence, you should stick to speaking mandarin becaus she'll figure it out, by the time she's 6 years old, she'll be bilingual.

    My daughter can understand mandarin but she doesn't speak them. The only time she'll say the word in mandarin is when she doesn't have the vocabulary in French.

    Do ask your husband to read bedtime story to improve Aelig's French. That's what my husband do. During the time, I read and play with her but when it comes to bedtime story, the father will read the story in French to her.

  10. Bonjour Nghi,

    Merci pour votre encouragement.

    Hi Nyonya,

    It is still not too late to teach your son Mandarin, no?

    Hi Yongling,

    My husband would love very much to read bedtime story to her but she refuses most of the time. She would say "no, I want mum to read to me, not you!" My husband doesn't give up, every evening he would propose, and I have to push her to accept. One day we even punished her : if she doesn't want papa to read her a story then no story from mum either. Which I felt so sad because I wanted to read her a story.

    1. I wonder why she refuse. Is it because she does not understand the French stories but she can understand the stories in Chinese when you read to her?

      I think once she spends more time in school, her French will catch up. For example, my parents speak to me in Chinese ever since I was born but once I go to primary school, my BM and English - written and reading became way better than my Chinese.

    2. In fact it is not only reading she refuses, but she is tough with her father in most of the things : dressing up, taking a bath... She would always yell : No! I want to do it with mum! She would refuse to go out if I want to stay at home. That's probably because hubby is tough with her too.

  11. I can totally understand your doubt .. When she goes to school, her French will catch up and mandarin would be the secondary language.. she might not even want to speak to you in mandarin because you understand French ... if you would like to continue raising Aelig biligual or triligual, please do so, because they will figure it out themselves .. but just be prepared, you can't compare her language milestones with other kids ..

    1. Chew Lee,

      Is your daughter still speaking Mandarin with you after going to school?
      Yes, you are right, I shouldn't compare her progress with other kids. I just want to know if I should help her if she is behind in her French.

  12. I know it is not too late to teach my son Mandarin but once the language between mom and kid is set.. it is very difficult to change. I am trying to teach him some common words of mandarin here and there, he would just learnt and keep it, would never use it. Like Chew lee mentioned.. my son even prefer to speak french with me coz he knows that i understand french.

    1. Hi Nyonya,

      Now that you are in Malaysia, it might be easier to expose him to Mandarin? I mean some kids (eg my nephews) only know how to speak Mandarin or Hokkien, they don't know how to speak English.

    2. I am looking for Mandarin tuition classes where they have only chinese kids around so he could start getting used to the language. The thing is to find time.. The french school over here is not like french school in france. He has a lot of "devoir" not just so much of exercises but more things to learn and understand.. plus kumon and after school activies.. well, i am not going to bore you with this.. we just have to manage it ;)
      as for Aelig, mandarin with you french with daddy and school.. then maybe later you can let her learn english from internet.. "ABC reading eggs" is a very good programe to learn how to read and spell.
      Have a great weekend.