A colleague of mine has kids that are half Thai and half African (like Tiger Woods). In the home, both Thai and English are spoken frequently. A major problem with bilingual children is that one of the languages is never truly mastered. This is called semilingualism. The problem was not with the kids learning Thai because their mother was Thai. Instead, my colleague was worried about his kids developing broken poorly understood Pidgin English.
About 8 years ago there was another family whose children were half Thai and half American and they had faced the same problem. However, they overreacted and never spoke Thai in their home in order to make sure their children learned English. This led to the kids knowing only English even though they were half-Thai and lived in Thailand. My friend did not want to make this mistake.
What He Did
I suggested to my friend that he needed to set some sort of schedule in which time was set aside in the home for the use of both languages. Below is the schedule that he developed.
- Monday – Friday from waking up until 2 pm Thai language
- Monday-Friday 2 pm to bedtime English language
- Weekends-English only
- Exceptions-Home school curriculum is in English with the exception of Thai language
To further support the acquisition of English I encouraged my friend to never speak any Thai to his children. This has stunted his development in the language but it’s more important that they learn than him.
For the oldest daughter who is home schooled, Dan and his wife taught her to read and write in Thai and English at the same time. Many language experts would disagree with this and suggest that it is better to learn one language first and to transfer those skills to learning a second language. I see their point but my friend wanted his daughter to have native fluency in both languages to the point that if she is having a dream both languages could be used without a problem so to speak.
With bilingual children, all language goals are delayed. This is because the child has to acquire double the vocabulary of a monolingual child. My friend’s daughter didn’t really talk until she was three. However, by five things start to move at a normal pace with some “problems”
- Word order is sometimes wrong. ie my friend’s daughter will use Thai syntax in English and vice versa.
- Mixing of the two languages at times (code-switching)
Most kids grow out of this.
Raising bilingual children requires finding a balance between the two languages in the home. I have provided one example but I would like to know how you have dealt with this with your children.