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How to Raise Chinese and English Bilingual, Biliterate, and Bicultural Kids in Hong Kong

Having the ability to speak several languages is an important skill to instill in our children as globalization grows more widespread in society. Finding the ideal method to do so may be difficult.

Parents, particularly those who are bilingual, sometimes opt to have their children learn other languages through language classes. However, there is a far better method. Learning one or more languages via an immersion approach entails utilizing them in daily life instead of as subjects while studying them. These languages are being utilized as an instructional medium for math, science, and exploration time.

We also can’t overlook their other language. Dual-language programs are one of the most well-researched methods to learn several living languages. A dual language curriculum, for example, would combine learning English and Mandarin in all day-to-day life and academic content instruction.

Children who participate in dual language programs become bilingual, bicultural, and biliterate. They not only keep their native language but also develop into fluent speakers of another. They will instead gradually become a balanced bilingual individual (having the same amount of understanding in both languages and culture) through more focused methods such as giving more exposure to a weaker language.

“What’s the difference between an immersion and a pure language course?” some parents may ask.

  • Immersion programs are designed to teach students how to communicate in a new language without the need for translation by having them spend time with native (and non-native) speakers and absorbing the language around them. It focuses on how to utilize a new language to learn rather than simply practicing it. The target language serves as the medium of instruction for learning areas. An immersion program develops a child’s linguistic knowledge, cultural and contextual understanding, social benefits, and problem-solving and critical thinking skills in the target language; not just on the technicalities of a language such as vocabulary, pronunciations, grammars, etc.
  • In contrast, this is not the case with language lessons. In a language class, students focus on details such as sentence structure and grammar before becoming fluent in listening and speaking. Translation is frequently used by language schools to achieve faster results by converting from/to another primary language such as English.

Parents also ask “why is immersion the best way to learn a new language?”

  • Jessica Ye Trainor says the simple answer is because language can’t be learned alone without context. It is as if swimming can’t be learnt by practising on land without going into the water. By living life in the immersion language, learners embrace it just as they learn their first language.
  • The leading brain researcher at the Public Library of Science (PLOS Org) published a study that found those who had learned a new language with the immersion method had brain waves similar to native speakers of a language. Those who trained with the traditional language class also became more native-like in their brain processing, but only the immersion group showed full native-like processing of grammar.

How does dual language and dual immersion work in school?

English and Mandarin language and culture are fully integrated throughout every aspect of a child’s early years learning experience at Mulberry House International Kindergarten. Children effortlessly absorb and enjoy both English and Mandarin as “Living Languages” in their everyday lives. There are two qualified instructors present in each classroom at all times. One leads in English and one leads in Mandarin.

Children’s language exposure takes place at home and in the playground, as well. If a kid missses out on a specific language input at home, we advocate that they make up for it in other ways. During just 2-3 months of continuous immersion, we’ve seen youngsters under the age of six years old close the gap in a weaker target language.

How do we learn in an immersion school?

  • Children will be completely surrounded by the language they’re studying. Full immersion implies that the kid is only hearing and seeing Mandarin, and that he or she is interacting with people just in this language. Learners have the opportunity to hear the same words and phrases repeated in natural circumstances, and fluency develops naturally as a result of doing daily activities in Mandarin
  • The ideal situation is to group children with various language skills together so that no single group of kids feels like the odd one out or in charge.
  • The more fluent youngsters will acquire advanced phrases and information, such as how friction works. The less fluent ones will pick up basic words while still being able to learn about the world around them.

What if the child doesn’t understand?

  • Some parents may be concerned that their child will feel left out if he or she does not understand what is going on. It’s quite common for children to take some time to get acclimated to a new setting at first. They may not comprehend everything at first, but as they become interested in the class and motivated by their new friends, they will gradually pick up the tone, facial expressions, body language of teachers and other children. 
  • Students who learn and experience new words in a foreign language also develop confidence to talk as they increase their vocabulary and knowledge. Students in language immersion programs gain “greater aspirations” for the future, greater self-esteem, perseverance, cognitive flexibility, and ambition.
  • Given the chance, immersion is the most effective approach to learn a language like Mandarin. Children learn in an appropriate learning atmosphere, with the option to naturally inquire about the world utilizing different languages, as opposed to language lessons.
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