Since Mrs. T is originally from Denmark and I am originally from Taiwan, we both know the benefits of being able to speak more than one language. Naturally, we wanted our kids to be able to speak three different languages. It is our dream that they can be trilingual. We knew this was possible and it would simply take some hard work on our part.
We know that raising kids who are fluent in multiple languages is possible since we’ve seen it in our own family. For example, Mrs. T’s cousins, with a Danish dad, an English mom, and having moved all over Europe while growing up, are fluent in Danish, English, Swedish, French, and Spanish. A few years ago, they also started learning Italian.
The different language fluency levels
Now…Mrs. T and I have different fluency levels with our mother tongues.
Mrs. T came to Canada while she was finishing her master’s degree. She has had a full Danish education and is fluent in Danish.
I, on the other hand, immigrated to Canada when I was a young teenager. I only completed six years of formal education (elementary school) in Taiwan. Since moving to Canada, I haven’t taken any further Mandarin education and mostly only spoke Mandarin with my parents and my brother. So, although I am a native Mandarin speaker, I am probably not all that fluent.
Over time, my Mandarin fluency has slowly decreased because I only speak English with my friends. When Mrs. T and I are with my family, we communicate mostly in English so Mrs. T can comprehend what we talk about.
For a while, I didn’t speak Mandarin regularly at all. About five years ago, I began to use Mandarin more. Because of work, I was communicating with my co-workers in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Since their English isn’t super great, it was easier to communicate in Mandarin. This gave me more opportunities to speak Mandarin regularly.
When I first started talking to my Asian co-workers, they’d told me that my Mandarin was super rusty. I had to “think” a little bit whenever I had to switch back and forth between English and Mandarin.
Over time, as I spoke Mandarin more and more with my co-workers, I felt more comfortable speaking Mandarin again. I could switch back and forth between English and Mandarin effortlessly.
Teaching kids different languages
With the trilingual idea in mind, when the kids were born, we started talking to them in three different languages. Mrs. T would speak Danish, I would speak Mandarin, and when Mrs. T and I are talking, we’d speak English. We figured the kids could learn all three languages in this environment.
At seven years old and four years old, both kids are fluent in Danish and English. However, they aren’t all that fluent in Mandarin.
While I try to speak Mandarin with both kids as much as possible, I haven’t been as consistent as Mrs. T. She has been speaking Danish only with the kids and when the kids answer her in English, she’d ask them to reply in Danish.
I have been speaking English to the kids, mostly. I have only been speaking Mandarin occasionally. Lately, because the kids can’t really comprehend Mandarin, I’ve spoken more and more English with them.
Similarly, my parents were speaking Mandarin to the kids when they were younger but have been speaking English to them more and more.
The other day, my parents talked to both kids on the phone. Afterwards, they told me that both kids couldn’t understand Mandarin as much as they used to. They were concerned.
Mrs. T and I were just as concerned as my parents after hearing this. We really wanted both kids to be fluent in all three languages.
Given how many Mandarin speakers are in the world, being fluent in Mandarin would provide the kids with a lot of opportunities. I certainly am glad that I know Mandarin. It has helped me tremendously with work, also travelling in Asia.
Have I failed as a father?
So, did I fail as a father because my kids aren’t fluent in Mandarin yet?
I suppose it’s a bit of a failure in some sense. However, if I make some changes now, maybe I can be successful in the near future.
While I haven’t spoken Mandarin to the kids as consistently as Mrs. T has been with Danish, I realized I need to shape up. The kids aren’t getting younger, and it can get harder to learn a language as one gets older. We wanted language learning to be fun and to not have to send them to language schools later on.
After realizing that I needed to shape up, I decided to speak Mandarin with the kids consistently. Sure, they might not understand everything I say, but I can repeat the sentences a few times, then speak to them in English, then speak to them in Mandarin again. Hopefully, over time, they can pick up more and more Mandarin.
Another strategy that I’m deploying is to have the kids answer my questions in Mandarin. If they don’t know how to answer, I’d teach them the phrases in Mandarin. Again, hopefully over time, they can speak Mandarin more fluently.
I also plan to show both kids more kids’ videos in Mandarin on YouTube. Hopefully, by watching these videos, they can slowly pick up more Mandarin.
Will I succeed in teaching my kids to be fluent in Mandarin? I hope so, but this will not be an overnight success. It certainly will take some time, if not years, to get both kids to be fluent. Luckily, both kids have shown interest in learning and speaking Mandarin, so maybe it will be a straightforward path forward.
Dear readers, if you have kids, have you tried teaching them another language? How do you do it? I’d love to hear your experience and strategies.