23 January 2009

On bilingualism

When I came to the United States at age 6, I could not speak a single word of English. But because of the ease and speed with which I acquired English proficiency, I was undaunted by the notion of raising bilingual children. I knew, through empirical research and personal experience, that balanced bilingualism would not hinder development in either language, but would, in fact, confer benefits in both languages. As such, we are primarily a one parent/one language household, wherein James speaks English and I speak Vietnamese. Unfortunately, this practice was upheld more strictly with A1 than it has been with A2 and the effects are noticeable.

A1 spoke an enormous array of single words by 18 months and 2-word phrases by 19 months, and he was spewing paragraph upon paragraph of oral narrative by 20 months--all of which was exclusively in Vietnamese. In fact, he barely spoke any English at all until he started preschool last fall. And now, 4 months later, his expressive English is almost as fluid as his expressive Vietnamese.

A2's language acquisition has been steady but hampered by his birth status (he hears a lot of conversation, but less of it is specifically directed toward him) and the fact that our one parent/one language rule became diluted when A1 started speaking so much English at home. At 19 months, A2's expressive vocabulary is not as large at his brother's at the same age, and is about 70% Vietnamese and 30% English. I can tell that his receptive English is better than his brother's at this age as well.

At this point, I know it is going to be an uphill battle to maintain use of Vietnamese at home, but I will certainly try.


Hyacynth Filippi Worth said...

It is awesome that A1 and A2 are growing up speaking two languages. I *so* wish I had started Spanish with Gabe earlier than now. I'm not fluent, but I've got a good grasp on the language and for some reason, I totally slacked. And it's so important to have more than one language in our culture.

LH said...

There's no reason to lament the past when you have the present and future! I didn't know any English until I was much older than Gabe is now and that delay obviously did impede my progress. ;)

Jane Canuck said...

Please don't give up on the bilingualism. My brother's and I lament the fact that my Mother didn't speak her first language to us as children. We had a small understanding of German as children, but once we started school English took over exclusively. All we have left is a smattering of random phrases and words that my Grandmother uses with us since her English is not the greatest.

~ Jane

Ivan Chan Studio said...

Keep fightin' the good fight!

How's James's Vietnamese?


LH said...

Jane, that's pretty neat that you got some German from your grandmother. I find it so interesting how much cultural knowledge can be conveyed solely through the native tongue, you know?

Ivan, James took a few semesters at the community college but learned the proper way to speak Vietnamese, which means my family's ridiculous southern drawl is slightly outside of his understanding. He doesn't use expressive VN, but possesses sufficient receptive VN so that he can echo (in English) my requests/comments to the boys.