When Russell was little, before he learned to talk, we did not make an effort to expose him to Chinese language. My hubby and I converse 90% of the time in English, plus Russell did not start talking until he was 15 months old, so we thought sticking to just one language would be easier for him. Until he was 2, I tried to introduce him to Chinese (very half-hearted effort then), he was not receptive at all. Nonetheless, with the influence of the Chinese playgroup, and as he gets older, he became somewhat more interested and spoke a little more than before.
After my experience with Russell, I realised that I should expose Netanya to this language from day 1. After reading some articles about language-learning for children, the conclusion was there was no evidence that children who learn more than one languages at the same time were in anyway confused or lagging behind kids who learn one language at a time. In fact, under normal circumstance, the earlier the child starts, the better it will be for her to master 2 or even more languages.
Since Netanya was born, I made it a point to speak to her only in Mandarin. Sometime I struggled to find the right vocabulary and I had to subsitute with English words. But Mandarin is the language of communication between us, and daddy still speaks to her mainly in English. In this way, she is immersed in a world of 2 mother-tongues. And because of Netanya, the whole family’s spoken-Chinese has improved, especially for Russell. Sometimes he would say something to me in English, the next moment, he would turn to his sister and say the exact same thing in Mandarin. I am very encouraged by his progress.
Progress, I say, but still far from the level of proficiency a 4 year old should be at if I compare him with kids his age in Singapore. For example this incident that happened 2 days ago. The kids and I were walking home from the mail box, Netanya turned to me and said, “妈妈，抱抱…” I picked her up, took a few steps, then realized that with mails in one hand, it’s really hard for me to hold her, she’s pretty heavy now, so I asked her, “妹妹,你自己走路好不好?” She shook her head, at that moment, Russell was listening to the whole thing, blurted out, “妈妈, 我可以跑路吗?” I was trying so hard not to laugh, he meant to ask me if he could run on the sidewalk, not knowing that “跑路” has a totally different meaning (in Singapore, we interpret that phrase as escape from trouble, ‘zao lor’ in Hokkien) from the literal one. Ahem…I was good mommmy, I controlled myself and did not even giggle, I corrected him gently, “你要跑吗? 可以啊, 可是要小心.” We still have a long way to go, but at least he is trying.