Bringing Up Bilingual Bebe
June 3, 2014 5:09 PM Subscribe
Belatedly realizing that if we want my baby to grow up being able to speak a second language, I'm the one who's going to have to be the one to speak it to him all the time. I'm not great at this language. Practical tips on how to do this?
posted by sestaaak to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
My first language was Mandarin Chinese but my fluency in English quickly took over by the age of 3. These days, I read Mandarin at the level of a kindergartner and my writing is even worse.
My spoken Mandarin is ok - I can handle conversations grounded in the vocabulary around home and family pretty well - eating, activities, endearments - and I enjoy speaking, especially in sweet, diminutive forms to children. But it takes some conscious effort for me - it's certainly not automatic. When I'm tired or stressed, it's just so much easier to speak English. And I feel like in some ways, I'm my 'true self' is in English - humor and wit and personality and all. I can't do that in Chinese - express myself the way I'd like, not just in meaning but in style and tone.
And in practice, "speaking to your child in one language all the time" is a little messy and confusing. I know I'm supposed to speak to Baby exclusively in Chinese, but then what about when my husband and I are hanging out with him? Do I switch to English with my husband and back to Chinese with Baby? What if I'm speaking to my husband but in that kind of performative way, for the baby to hear? What about when Baby and I are doing storytime, and we're reading books in English (I can't fathom trying to grind my way through a Chinese storybook) - am I supposed to do our commentary and asides in Chinese?
I guess I'm asking for best practices in teaching Baby a second language when I'm not effortlessly fluent myself, and tips for when to switch on and off ... because I don't know that I am capable of always being 'on' and I don't really want to be very hardass about it because life is short let's just enjoy each other, but I don't want to end up super confusing him, either. The grandparents help when they can in very regular and eager Facetime sessions but I'm basically on my own here. I don't expect Baby to grow up fluent but would like him to be able to have a basic level of spoken Chinese to tell his grandparents he loves them, tell me he's hungry or scared of the dark or whatever in a few years. Is this even possible? Baby is currently five months old. Thanks!