Episode 82: Q&A – How to adapt the family language strategy when a new language is introduced?

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On this episode of the podcast, I answer a listener’s question who is concerned that although her family has moved to Taiwan her children may have limited exposure to Mandarin.  She wants to help them to learn Mandarin, however, she already has her hands full supporting her children’s learning of Spanish.  I share my advice on how she can still encourage them to learn Mandarin while maintaining a focus on Spanish.

Transcript #82

Hello and welcome to another question and answer edition of the Bilingual Avenue podcast!

If you like what you hear, you can check this podcast out every week by subscribing to iTunes or Stitcher Radio.

Before we get started with today’s episode I wanted to tell you about a quick survey I have developed.  To make sure I am providing you with the best Bilingual Avenue experience, I am asking you for a little favor.  If you have just five minutes, really that’s all it should take, consider taking this quick survey.  The results will just help me understand how to best help you on your language journey.  We now have over 80 episodes and the feedback I have received from you has been amazing.  I want to make sure that I keep providing you with outstanding information so that you can best support those little linguist at home.

Now here’s probably the best part about the survey.  Participants can choose to be entered for a $25 Amazon gift card so you don’t really have anything to lose.  The survey is available from the day I am releasing this episode which is August 18th 2015 and will run for a month.  You have a chance to submit your feedback and be considered for the Amazon gift card until September 22nd 2015.  All you have to do is head over to bilingualavenue.com/survey.  You will find a link that takes you right to the survey and I promise it’s quick and painless.  Now I know many of you may be listening to this podcast on the go and you may not have access to a computer right this second.  But when you do, consider setting just a few minutes aside and give me your feedback, again all you have to do is head over to bilingualavenue.com/survey and you’ll find the link.  You have access to it until September 22, 2015. I will be forever thankful for your time and feedback.

Alright let’s now shift gears to our question from this week.

This week’s question came in from a reader at MultilingualParenting.com.  You can find the written response to my question at the show notes page at bilingualavenue.com/episode82 or on the multilingual parenting website.  I will have a link to the page on the transcript for today’s episode.

Alright, let me read you the question:

Here’s a little background on our family. I have two kids 5 and 3 who’s majority language is English. I am a stay home mom with Spanish as my native language. I have spoken in Spanish ONLY to my kids since birth. My husband does not know Spanish so English is the language at home, except for me talking directly to the kids in Spanish. They understands perfectly but other than mixing a few words they respond to me in English. We have lived always in the USA and in past couple of months moved to Taiwan for 3-4 years. None of us speak Mandarin. My kids will go to an American school where English is the language spoken although they will have opportunity to learn mandarin as a course (no more than few hours a week).

I want them to learn Mandarin and take advantage of the wonderful opportunity of living here. But it’s clear to me than unless I make the effort to expose them to more mandarin classes or playdates in mandarin they can be in this sort of “English bubble.” My concern and hesitation on how much to “push” the mandarin learning is the fact that they as it is do not speak in Spanish back to me. I try to give them as much exposure as I can (books, tv, traveling back to my home country) So, I’m almost afraid that focusing in Mandarin may cause for them to loose even more interested in Spanish. Any advise?

And on the topic of Mandarin, since my husband and I don’t speak a word of it (will start some classes in the fall) Is it best to put my kids in some after school class where no English is spoken, almost forcing them to learn? or wait until they have some basic vocabulary learned at their regular school? Appreciate any advise.

Cheers, Laura

Well Laura, thank you for reaching out to the Multilingual Parenting team regarding your language concerns.  First of all, congratulations on the move to Taiwan!  It sounds like it could be a great opportunity for the whole family.

You certainly raise some valid language concerns in your question.  My first suggestion for you would be to set some time aside to do some goal setting for your family’s language journey.  I say this a lot but very few people actually take the time to set those goals. Your children are clearly set on their English language skills especially since you indicated that your move to Taiwan is only temporary.  The question then comes down to Spanish and Mandarin.  What level of fluency would you like them to achieve in each respective language?  Through your goal setting, you may identify that you would like your children to keep up with their Spanish skills and perhaps improve them while in Taiwan.  If that is the case, the reality is that you will still have to support their development in that language since you are the Spanish speaker in the home.  If you want some inspiration on how to add more exposure to Spanish and create a need for them to use it, you can check out a previous episode at bilingualavenue.com/episode12

I personally think it is great that you are interested in taking advantage of this opportunity for your children to pick up a third language!  You are right, however, that if you do not expose them to Mandarin they could pick up very little even you do live there for up to four years!   Since we established that you will still need to place quite a bit of emphasis on Spanish, you will want the exposure to Mandarin to come from other sources especially since you referenced that you and your husband do not yet speak the language. Just like you mentioned, language classes can be an excellent gateway.  You do not have to force them to learn it, in fact, I would advise you against that.  Make sure that the language is introduced to them in a fun way so that it is much easier to keep their interest long term. If you want to expand beyond language classes, you can also check out some ideas at bilingualavenue.com/episode40. On that episode I talk about how you can introduce your children to the community language without having the exposure come from you. So you’ll get some great tips on that episode as well.

Now as far as timing goes, I would actually take your child’s personality into consideration.  Do you think it would make them more comfortable to have a bit of a foundation before they jump right into a class?  Or are they usually fine with just going with the flow?  Their personal preferences may help you determine which route to choose.  If you do decide to wait a bit, do not wait too long.  You will be surprised how quickly time can get away from you while living overseas.

There is one last thought I would like for you to consider.  Even though you are still taking the lead on Spanish you can still create a lot of excitement and appreciation for Mandarin!  Be as supportive as you can of your children’s efforts to learn the language.  If you are choosing to also learn Mandarin, show them your own progress and your own excitement. Modeling a behavior can go a really long way. A supportive environment alone can make a very positive difference!

Do continue to expose them, do consider their own temperament when you choose a path going forward and do share that appreciation for the language. This can be a family journey. You can all learn the language together, probably at different paces, but you can still show that same motivation and appreciation.

Well Laura again congratulations on this opportunity. Sounds like your familiar is going to make the best of it. I wish you the best of luck on your new adventure Laura!

That’s it for today’s answer and I hope you also found my feedback for Laura helpful.  Now just one last reminder to consider taking the bilingual avenue survey and be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card.  You have until September 22nd 2015 to provide your feedback!

To participate in the survey just go to bilingualavenue.com/survey

Thanks in advance for taking just a few minutes to share your feedback with me and I hope you tune in next Tuesday for another wonderful interview prepared just for you!

May you have fun travels on your language journey.  Hope to see you again on the avenue.



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