Will my child forget English?

My daughter is a very talkative three-year-old. She has just started going to a nursery school where everyone speaks in the Chinese language, as we live in Hong Kong. Because she is very vocal in English, I am afraid that she may feel disoriented by the other language. So far, it's been one week since school started and she seems to enjoy it, but do you think this will put her back academically?

Question:

I do not feel there is any harm in sending your daughter to a Chinese-speaking pre-school. She will certainly pick up Chinese, as most three-year-olds are very good at acquiring language skills. The real issue here is whether she will be getting enough exposure to English to be able to eventually read and study in her native tongue. (I assume that you will be sending her to an English-speaking elementary school.)

Speaking to your daughter in English is the best way to encourage, and reinforce, your daughter's native tongue. Do not use any other language. Also, you should read to her from English books, and have her respond in English. By reinforcing these skills, she should be ready for elementary school when the time comes.

Difficulty and confusion can arise when languages are mixed up at home, with parents interchanging from one language to another. I always advise bilingual couples to pick one language and use it exclusively in the home until their child is four or five. The next best alternative is to have each parent speak exclusively in their native tongue. Young children are able to distinguish between languages when they are spoken in different places, or exclusively by different people. Also, it is easier for a young child to learn a second language once he or she has mastered the first one.

Actually, you are giving your daughter a great gift. What a blessing to be bilingual!

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