How to Survive: Raising Bilingual Kids

By Nicole Chia 2022-07-14 12:12:06

One of the wonderful things about living in an international city like Shanghai is having the opportunity to raise international kids! That not only means being able to expose them to a different culture, but also to a different language that may not be your own. However, raising bilingual children can be a challenge unto itself! Here are some tips about how to raise your own bilingual (or multilingual) children.


1) Exposure is everything. Little kids are as good as kitchen sponges- they soak up everything! Giving them the opportunity to take in as much of another language like Mandarin as often and as young as possible is only going to set them up for success. Asking your Ayi to chat with your kids exclusively in Mandarin is a great way to get started. Sure, neither of you may know what she is saying but eventually someone is going to make sense of what “wo yao jia xin” means. Or, find a children’s program in Mandarin and plop your little one in front of the TV while it plays annoyingly on a loop. Likely neither of you will know what is going on but you’re probably both soaking in some kind of language learning by osmosis. And eventually with enough Mandarin playing in the background, one of you is definitely going to know all of the lyrics of “xiao ping guo.”


2) Embrace them as your translator. Delete all translations apps from your phone and insist on your child being your guide. Let’s be honest, they can’t be much worse than waiting for Google translate to work with the firewall skipping app. Take them out shopping and when people greet you, make sure you use your best confused face and then defer to your 7 year old. Sure, they may tell the person that you want mens underwear instead of a flat white at Starbucks but they’ll never learn unless they make mistakes and you pay for them by probably being laughed at.


3) Be an example. Your child will always look to you for encouragement when it comes to continuing to learn a language that isn’t their native one. A great way to keep them interested is continuing to practice and learn on your own too so that you can chat together. Trying your best to have short conversations in another language together will help you both. A good practice example is:


You: Qing zuo hao ni de gongke. (Please do your homework.)
Them: Wo bu xiang. (I don’t want to.) 

You: Wo shuo, qing zuo ni de gongke. (I said, please do your homework.) 

Them: Bu (No.)

You: Jin wan meiyou Roblox! (That’s it, no Roblox tonight!)


The point is to have fun with it.


No matter how many languages you’re currently tackling in your home it’s important that you continue to be patient with your child and encourage them to soak in as much of a language as they’re able to in the time you’re in Shanghai. Learning and being exposed to many languages at an early age can open up the whole world to them in the future in very valuable ways. Ask them questions about what things are called in Mandarin, ask them how they would order food at a restaurant, or ask them to negotiate for you at the fabric market, anything goes! And if you can get a cheaper deal from a seller who thinks they’re super cute trying to speak, well that’s just savings in your pocket!