Recently I was presented with a question that may concern many Chinese families who live abroad:
“I was originally from China. I think it is very important to teach our children Chinese. But they are reluctant to study Chinese. Do you have any suggestions?”
Knowing a second language, particularly one’s parents’ native language, will enrich one’s life in many ways. Children are like sponges, always ready to absorb new information. They learn quickly, and they are able to distinguish between different languages. After they have a good handle on one language system, say around five years of age, it is safe to teach them a second language.
I often hear Chinese parents tell their children, “Speak Chinese.” Or, they ask, “Why don’t you speak Chinese?” I’d smile and wonder why they are not speaking Chinese themselves. I think if Chinese parents want their children to understand Chinese, it helps to consistently speak Chinese to them, teach them Chinese songs and tell them stories in Chinese. They could select appropriate Chinese story cartoons and children’s song videos from Youtube for their children to watch. Speaking Chinese at home will not hinder the children’s performance at school. Of course, you will still supervise their English homework and tell them stories in English as well.
It is harder to make the children learn to write Chinese. As a parent, you could introduce them to a small set of basic characters and encourage them to write simple notes or short letters to their relatives in China or Taiwan. Ideally there is a weekend Chinese class that they could attend, and they also have the opportunity to spend some time (such during the summer vacation) in a Chinese-speaking community. When there is no one around who understands English, then your children will speak Chinese pronto.
“Thank you very much for the advice. They are great. I guess learning a foreign language is a progressive process. We learn it day by day and little by little.”
Yes, language abilities are like one’s muscles – They will grow strong when you flex them daily. 🙂