1. What is the typical process of learning a second language?
There is really no “typical” process of learning a second language because every child is different. To speak as generally as possible, children who are learning two languages at a time seem to have a speech delay because they are processing more information before they could produce the sounds of the languages. Maybe the following academic model will answer this question:
Stages of Language Development (PEPSI)
- Level I: Pre-production stage (Silent Period): Minimal comprehension, no verbal production.
- Level II: Early Production Stage. Limited comprehension; One/two word response.
- Level III: Speech emergence stage. Increased comprehension; Simple sentences; Some errors in speech.
- Level IV: Intermediate Fluency Stage. Very good comprehension; More complex sentences; Complex errors in speech. 3
2. How long will my child take to speak the second language?
It depends on your child’s willingness to learn. For children with carefree and bold personalities, it is probably earlier than children with shy and reserved personalities just because children with bold personalities are willing to try and take risks. Although they tend to make a lot of mistakes (that’s because they speak more often), they learn faster. If you want to use the Stages of Language Development (PEPSI) as a guide it seems that children can start imitating and making sounds as early as in Level II. That is why at CSEB, we make language learning fun and instruct with “purposeful playing” so children will start speaking the language without their noticing it. We work at removing the inhibitions from the children so they can freely make sounds, experiment with it and soon they will be speaking it.
3. Does my child translate from one (native) language to the second language? Or vice versa?
“Code-switching” is common among bilingual children. They do it so automatically. There is never a real “balance” or equal proficiency in both languages. There is always one language that seems to predominate another language based on the amount of exposure one has to it as well as the opportunity and practice one has to speak it. If these factors are all equal, the “balance” of proficiency is close to being achieved. (Code-switching is switching from one language to another.)
4. Will my child feel anxious?
Anxiety is part of what most people feel when they are attempting something new or being in an unfamiliar environment. A little nervousness is actually good and shows that the learner is anticipating the new changes in the new experience they are about to encounter but overly anxious is not. A nervous learner can look at learning a second language as a way to enrich their life and not as something upon which to be tested. If your anxiety persists, you may want to go deeper and examine your attitude of learning a second language. If your anxiety still persists, you may need the help of a professional counselor.
5. How will I know that my child’s language development in each language is normal and acceptable?
The best way to find out how your child is doing in his/her first language as well as in the second language is by communicating with his/her teachers. At CSEB, we do oral assessment from time to time. We don’t necessarily send out a “report card” home but the teacher is constantly assessing your child’s language development as she teaches. She will assign the Language Lab assistant to work on that particular area that your child struggles with. That’s why it’s important that your child also attends the Language Lab in addition to class. It is during this time your child will get more reinforcement. We also recommend that the parents review the class with the child once a week. You will get helpful tips on how to do this at the Parent’s Chinese class. We want to build a stronger partnership between home and class. We welcome your questions and try to answer them to the best of our ability. If there is any doubt that you think your child is struggling in class, please let the teacher know. Parents can also sit in on the classroom to observe your child.
6. Do boys and girls differ in their language development?
Boys and girls are different biologically and therefore they learn and receive information differently. Not only do boys and girls learn differently but also each child learns a second language differently. At CSEB, we don’t want to “stereotype” a child based on his/her gender. We extend the same care, heart and dedication in teaching each child regardless of gender.
7. Will my child become equally fluent in both languages?
Only with exposure, time and opportunity to practice will you become fluent in one language. Whenever you can nurture the second language, that’s when you increase in fluency.
8. What if my child already speaks or knows another language other than the one (Chinese) he is studying at CSEB, will (s)he acquire Chinese faster? What would happen to her/his other language ability?
Yes, children who are already bilingual will learn their third language more easily. The ability to learn a second language greatly increases as a third language is learned as well. Collier thought “As children are learning the second language, they are drawing on the background and experience they have available to them from their first language. The interactive relationship between language and cognitive growth is important. Cognitive development will not be interrupted when children and parents use the language they know best.” 4
How parents can help
What role do parents play in the
child’s bilingual development process?
1. How can I help my child reinforce the other language? Especially when I don’t speak it?
Parents can provide their children with opportunities to speak and practice the second language they are learning. Learning a second language is more than imitating the sounds and structure of the language, you are learning a different way of life and a different culture because language and culture are inseparable. That’s why we have Language Lab at CSEB. We know it’s not always possible for parents to find native speakers for their children to practice with. We provide our students with this opportunity so they can practice Chinese with a native speaker on a regular basis.
2 .How can I help my child develop his native language?
Learning a second language should not hinder children from developing their native language. Parents should continue to read to their children in their native language and provide opportunities for children to continue using their native language. Another way that the parents can support their children in learning a second language is to curtail the number of after-school activities they take. Learning a second language takes commitment, perseverance, and a lot of nurturing. Children can get distracted when they have too many after-school activities, which also can take up a lot of their time and energy. Parents have to prioritize for their children and sometimes almost have to “protect” them from spending too much of their time in non-productive activities such as video games or sports that might take up too much of their time unless they really bring them real benefits.
3. How can I help my child over the summer or long break?
For long breaks and summer, the best parents can do for their children is to travel to the country which speaks the target language and let the children see the culture associated with the language they are learning. If traveling overseas is not feasible, parents can host a student from the country of the language they are learning. In the Chinese program, it will be China. i.e. hosting a student from China for the summer. If that is not feasible either, parents can at least send their children to language camp. There are many language camps around the country.
May you enjoy this life transforming journey!
 From David’s English Teaching World: www.eltworld.net
2 Definitions taken from Wikipedia.
3 Adapted from http://www.earthrenewal.org/secondlang.htm For more elaborate explanation of these stages, please check out: http://blog.innovativelanguage.com/tag/stages-of-language-development-pepsi/
4 Clark, Beverly A. “First and Second –Language Acquisition in Early Children”