Iris Lee, M.S.
I no longer remember how I came to be bilingual myself, but I am certainly grateful for it. Bilingual development can be one of the most exciting, interesting milestones and processes in your child’s life, typically equipping children not only with high proficiency in two languages, but with a greater capacity in the long term for creative thinking. What we know about the differences between monolingual and bilingual development processes shows that we must approach each child using different tools according to different experiences with language. There are many obstacles and misconceptions surrounding bilingual language development. At the upcoming seminars in November, we will delve into these differences in some detail. Here, I will offer some brief examples.
In assessing a bilingual child’s speech and language development, the different developmental trajectory of bilinguals must be taken into consideration for accurate evaluation. It is important to attend to such phenomena as language-transference, in which children try to apply words from their new language onto syntactic structures from their dominant language. For example, a child whose dominant language is Mandarin Chinese may say, “You buy that tape is English,” when she intends to say, “Is the video tape that you bought in English?”
It may also be the case for children whose home language is Chinese, that, after a comparable timeframe spent in an English dominated classroom environment that development in Chinese, particularly in noun classifiers, may stall. This is not cause for alarm. In each of these cases, children are likely in natural phases of bilingual development.
Whereas it is generally estimated for a second language learner to take two to three years of formal language instruction to develop oral mastery, if at any point, a child indicates slowed development in the native language, whether in aspects of articulation, comprehension, expression, vocabulary, narrative or conversation, and additionally demonstrates similar difficulties in the second language, a referral to a speech-language pathologist would be warranted to ascertain the problem’s underlying reasons.
Handy tips to promote bilingual language acquisition-
- Language sandwiching. Alternate between dominant and second language, for example saying “小狗， (xiao gou) little dog, 小狗” can strengthen word association.
- Home languages: if parents speak to their children exclusively in their native languages, it can give children highly effective modeling for usage.
- Use of leisure: movies, television, games, books, and socializing with peers are all naturalistic, fun ways to practice language!
- Formal instruction” language and cultural centers throughout the city, in French, Dutch and other languages offer children a chance to learn language in a social environment.
For further discussion of this topic, come to our Bilingual Language Development seminar given on November 28th and December 3rd, at our Puxi and Pudong clinics, respectively. 再见！ (Zai Jian!) See you next time!