10 March 2009

On bilingualism, part II

* A2's English skills likely exceed my estimations. This is because he almost always speaks Vietnamese to me and English to his father. And he switches in an instant. When we are all together, he turns his head one way to say something Vietnamese to me and flips around and says the same thing to his father in English. Often times, he generates words I have never heard him use before but do not surprise his father because these words belong exclusively to the father-son linguistic realm.

* A1's language is fairly fluid in both Vietnamese and English, but I notice that he alternates to suit his needs--though there's no telling whether this is a conscious effort on his part. For example, he uses English when he's asking for some object or privilege from which he wants to keep his brother away (I guess we're all under the assumption that A2's English is relatively more limited). Another beneficial switch is the way he speaks Vietnamese to me when strangers are around--he doesn't do this when we're at playgroups where he knows the other adults. In these moments, it's as if the Vietnamese is a secret code to which only he and I are privy, and that its use shields him from being seen.

11 comments:

Mindy said...

very interesting about him using the vietnamese as protection, as it were.

LH said...

Are your kids monolingual? Does Ivy only speak English?

I find it's so much easier to use whatever language is native to the mother, especially when she's the stay-at-home parent, you know?

Mindy said...

yeah, they are monolingual. tom doesn't know any chinese--his dad is from china, and his mom is 1st generation chinese american. here's the story on that. his older sisters went to chinese school here in the states(i think that's what they called it?)when they were young and something happened and they stopped going. tom didn't go, so he had grandparents he couldn't speak with. he knows a little japanese, but it's kind of rusty--been almost 15 years since he was last in japan. he worked there for a little bit.

anyway, sorry to ramble, but it makes sense to teach whatever language is native to the primary caretaker/parent.

Mindy said...

andrew knows some asl(american sign language), but that's still english.

LH said...

You didn't ramble at all! I love hearing from you!

I think language is about culture and not race or ethnicity. So if it's not part of their dad's cultural heritage to speak Chinese, then it makes perfect sense that the whole family speaks English.

If the boys' grandparents were farther away, I could see us being an English-only household, but it was important to me that my parents were comfortable speaking to my kids.

Hyacynth Filippi Worth said...

Ever since your last post on bilingualism, I've been mulling things over and wondering why I have not tried to teach Gabe Spanish when I know it pretty well. But the comments have given me a new way of looking at this situation -- English is both my and John's native language. It would be a drastic switch to go to speaking Spanish and not nearly as easy as if one of us had a different native language. Not using this as an excuse, but it's a little clearer now. Thanks for this post. :)

LH said...

Unlike in Europe, where your neighbor's preferred language may be different from your own, it is not the same in Midwestern America. I think it would be fun for Gabe to learn that the same object has different names in different languages, thereby instilling in him a sense of globalism, but I don't think it's absolutely necessary to be conversant in another language.

Like I said, language is about cultural history so you can have a Caucasian man who grew up the child of missionaries in China whose race/ethnicity is white, but whose culture is Chinese. Or, in Tom's case, you can have an ethnically Asian man who grew up here with a very western cultural heritage.

You shouldn't feel bad about not teaching Gabe to be fluent in Spanish at all! But I bet he would appreciate a word here and there. :)

Hyacynth Filippi Worth said...

Yes, you are right, Lam. We have been doing a few words in Spanish, and he finds it very funny when I say those things. Maybe I will start working on more Spanish now that he's got more English words.

Ivan Chan Studio said...

Fascinating!

I.

Michelle said...

Sometimes I feel like I'm cheating TLE out of an important connection with her culture because I'm unable to pass on any Tagalog. Then again I've got a whole slew of issues with my own culture. I take some comfort that, while TLE won't be able to speak the languages of her cultures, she'll at least grow up eating a lot of the food. Not quite the same as continuity of culture through language but it is something, at least.

LH said...

But why are you unable to pass on any Tagalog? Because you didn't speak it as a child--or used it so little that it's since faded away? If so, then there is no reason to feel bad--it wasn't a part of your cultural heritage, so it's certainly not necessary to be a part of her cultural heritage.

As for her father...well, it'd be more akin to his upbringing for TLE to speak German than Vietnamese! :)