Raising Baby Bilingual
Saigon Shane | June 4, 2009 at 01:54 pmby
552 views | 11 Recommendations | 4 comments
His parents are both bilinguals from essentially monolingual cultures and countries. Saigon Sam's father is Australian and his mother is Vietnamese. While both of these countries have substantial communities and groups within their populations who speak different languages, the vast majority of their peoples are monolingual.
The road to learning their second language for Saigon Sam's parents was very, very different. While his father learned Vietnamese in a strict, rigid and intensive 46-week course at a Military Language School, his Mother learned her English second language in a more common way - necessity. By mutual agreement, English was the langauge chosen for communication in the home. Saigon Sam's parents deliberately chose to make their home-life communication "an island of English in a surrounding sea of Vietnamese" in order for Saigon Sam, his Mom and later siblings to acquire English in a natural way.
Saigon Sam's language acquisition is now at an interesting stage in its development. About 60% of his language is now Vietnamese AND English. Aspects of his life that take place at home (in English) and with his Vietnamese relatives account for all of this language. For these things, he uses either language freely. When called upon, Saigon Sam switches effortlessly between the two languages without faltering or hesitating. While he will usually repeat the entire utterance when asked to switch languages, on occasions he as simply continued with that train of thought ... in the other langauge.
Approximately 20% of his language is exclusively Vietnamese OR English. These are concepts or ideas he can only present in one language or the other, but not both. There are a number of situations which only occur with his Vietnamese-speaking family, or at home in English, so this makes sense.
The remaining 20% continues to be an interlanguage that has been dubbed "Samlish". Wikipedia states that "... interlanguage may be thought of as a temporary tool in language or dialect acquisition." Essentially, an interlanguage is a temporary language that the human brain 'invents' or 'constructs' while it is in the process of learning a language. Any language. Those who have raised young children through the initial language acquisition years will recognize and understand this phenomena which appears at about 18 months. The child begins to construct "phrases", "sentences" or even "paragraphs" which obviously have some meaning to the child, but are incomprehensible to anybody else.
Saigon Sam's parents see two main ways to raise a bilingual child: Separate Home Languages or Minority Home Language. Each has a couple of variations, but both are heavily dependent on the discipline, attitude and input of both parents, but especially the mother or primary care-giver.
Separate Home Languages (SHL): Is a method whereby the mother or primary care-giver, speaks one language to the child and the father (or other partner) speaks the other language. There are variations. The key role is played by the primary care-giver and which language that person chooses to speak. In this method, we believe the primary care-giver should always speak the minority language, that is, the language NOT used by the majority of the population. In Saigon Sam's case, this language is English.
This situation gives the child the greatest volume of meaningful communication in the most difficult of the two languages to learn. The most crucial point to remember about this method is that each parent MUST NEVER address the child directly in the other language. The child must always associate one parent with one language.
Minority Home Language (MHL): This is a method whereby both parents speak the minority language in the home and allow for natural acquisition from the surrounding community to deliver input for the majority language. Saigon Sam's parents have chosen this method. Here in Vietnam, English is spoken as the language of the household. In Australia, the exact opposite would be true: Vietnamese only at home.
Vietnamese is the minority language at home but is the overwhelming majority language in the surrounding society. The only exception is when monolingual Vietnamese family visit, and then it becomes about 50/50.
The MHL method requires conviction and perserverence, but can be maintained and supplemented through language videos/DVDs and reading materials. Electronic readers such as the Leap Frog "Tag Reading System" are especially useful for toddlers.
So how is Saigon Sam's progress? Very good it seems. At this early stage, a "B+" in Vietnamese acquisition and a "B-" in English. The sheer volume of exposure to Vietnamese outside the home, and especially from his monolingual Vietnamese Family, means Vietnamese has a slight edge over English right now. His Vietnamese vocabulary is much larger. While he uses some quite complex Vietnamese grammatical structures, he is probably just benefiting from the fact that Vietnamese grammar is consistent, and therefore predictable. This predictability should, logically, aid language acquisition.
Interestingly, there appears to by no significant influence on accent from one language to the other language - although it is certainly too early to make any final judgments on this yet. While he has problems with the English /th/ sounds, which don't exist in Vietnamese, so do many monolingual English speakers.
For his parents, there is a definite sense of pride and achievement at watching one so young communicate naturally and effortlessly in either language. It makes the effort entirely worthwhile and is ample reward of its own.
Most Recommended Comment
New York, New York, United States
New York, New York, United States
A. TranThese members have powered this story: