There are two things I want to discuss here. The first is how to raise kids to become bilingual, and the second related topic is about so-called ‘semi-lingualism’ in teens and adults: people who are 90% fluent/literate in two languages, but without having achieved full fluency/literacy in either.
I know there are alot of bilingual families out there. What are you doing to boost your child’s English skills while living in Taiwan? I have a book “Growing up with two languages” by Una Cummingham-Andersson and Staffan Andersson which I have found very useful.
Some basic points in the book stress that becoming bilingual doesn’t ‘just happen’ simply because the child has parents who speak two different languages. You do have to work at it very hard. This is difficult because I am working for most of the day like a lot of people. Tapes, books and the like help, but without going to an international school, which is unbelievably expensive, I just don’t see how my son’s English is ever going to reach the level of a native speaker back home in England.
In the book, the authors state that it is almost impossible to become truly bilingual unless the child spends equal time in both countries. However hard you try there will always be gaps because of the limited exposure to the language. The authors talk instead about majority language (ML) and minority language (ml) depending on where the child is. For example, my son’s ml is English and his ML is Chinese because the ML of Taiwan is Chinese.
The nightmare scenario for me would be for us to move back and then find that his Chinese gets worse while he is still playing catch up with his English.
I have met several teenaged students who were born in Taiwan, moved overseas when they about nine or ten and then moved back here. While they sound like a native English speaker, they often have a poor grasp of grammar, their written English is atrocious and to top it all off they tell me they can’t write in Chinese, though they seem to be fluent in spoken Chinese, albeit with an overseas accent. I would hate for my son to grow up semi-literate in two languages like this. Actually, in the book the notion of semi-lingualism is dismissed, but I’ve seen it and it’s ugly.
I would be interested to hear your comments, thoughts, advice. Cheers.