On Saturday, Mr. Jencks and I sat as close as we could to the panel for the discussion, “How to Successfully Raise A Bilingual Child.” Front and center, Mr. Jencks had out his notepad, and I had my laptop fully charged and ready to record notes.
This is a topic close to our hearts as parents and as educators. We were wowed, comforted and challenged by the expert responses.
For our family, we realized our children are in dip periods, where both of their languages are dipping in progress, but soon they’ll explode with language acquisition. Personally, I have been particularly burdened with my daughter’s rough adjustment. I hate hearing her teacher say she doesn’t have a best friend, or that she has difficulty relating to her peers. Her advice to have more playtimes with Chinese classmates outside of class was confirmed by advice from Dr. Hu, clinical psychologist with the United Family Hospital System. Even the host, Ms. Eyee Hsu from CCTV, agreed she needed to balance out playgroup time for her own son.
As educators, bilingual education was laid out clearly for us. First, Ms. Mary Jew, the Primary School Head at Keystone Academy, defined a bilingual child, “There are many definitions, but you can’t separate language from culture. A bilingual child is not just defining the language aspect, but also the cultural.” She emphasized keeping family ties and being proud of “who you are” is an extremely important part of successful bilingualism.
Later, the panel made this clear by exemplifying that both languages need to be modeled as “cool” or “valued.” Ms. Hardage noted that their schools have teachers who can interact in both languages so that students see the language is cool. Dr. Hu and Ms. Hsu both rebelled from speaking Mandarin in their childhood, because the language was not valued in their social circles in the United States.
If that’s a bilingual child, a bilingual education seeks to put two languages in the part of the brain that considers a language as primary. Dr. Hu is in the emergeing field of bilingualism and multilingualism, and he assured us all that this is totally possible. He gave his own scenario as an example that he does not confuse English and Mandarin, but he does confuse French and Korean, both of which could be considered as his secondary languages.
All of the educators on the board agreed the structure of that education must show language is not taught as a subject, but as a skill and means to acquire content. Ms. Jew pointed out that immersion programs, where 30% of time is spent in another language, could be two-way or one-way. Two-way programs are where there are model speakers of both languages in the classroom. One-way immersion programs are closer to Canada’s current program, where everyone learns in English, but all are required to learn French. There are rarely modeling French speakers, however.
In the States, some parents are concerned being in an immersion program will sacrifice something in English. Comparatively, parents in China might worry more time spent in English will compromise something in Chinese.
Ms. Jew said this is not true, and there’s data to prove it. In reality, immersion programs add ability to the child’s brain, not take anything away.
Ms. Hardage, Chief Academic Officer of Ivy Education Group, the umbrella organization over Beijing’s Daystar Academy, explained that children are still able to learn because there is input of a subject spent in both languages. In Ivy Education bilingual schools, they spend 50% of the their time in English, 50% of their time in Chinese.
Ms. Christine Xu, Chinese co-principal of YCIS, gave us a clear example. Let’s say students are studying history. In English, students will study the Roman Empire, while in Chinese, they’ll study the Ming Dynasty. This allows them to learn academic language in both languages while also comparing the cultures through the languages. When they talk about both of these topics later with peers or with parents at home, the comparison will cause the students to use self-regulation as they mentally process these topics.
Truth be told, most programs in China that claim to be bilingual programs are either English as a Second Language programs or even English as a Foreign Language programs. Both of these types of programs will only allow students to acquire the language up to a certain degree. The most telling sign that a program is not bilingual is if the students are learning the language as a subject rather than using it to learn content.
For most children, the journey of a bilingual education will take five to seven years to learn the academic language in their non-home language. Parents often feel pressure to speed up that process, but that can cause unnecessary anxiety and stress to a journey that is already arduous for young children and teenagers.
Again, all of the panelists agreed that there are so many things parents can do that are low stress activities. Ms. Jew warned against tutoring programs that are workbook based since that requires student output. Writing requires creative and critical thinking, while many students who need tutoring would benefit most from language input.
What are those low stress ways? That’ll be discussed on my blog on Wednesday.
If you are an educator or parent interested in low stress language input, subscribe to my blog or one of my social media channels, or check back every Wednesday for my free ESL/EFL giveaways. These resources can be used in different ways in class, depending upon the educators’ use of the products. For parents, be sure to use the resources labeled as language input for low stress and fun ways to encourage development in English.