Bringing up a child bilingually with minor languages

Raising children bilingually is a wonderful thing. It's like you endow your children with a lifelong advantage for some areas. In Korea, English is regarded as some kind of privileged language, and a lot of parents find the bilingualism (Korean/English) as the perfect gift for their children.

As far as English is concerned... that's relatively easier, because there are everywhere found abundant English materials.

However, if the concerned language is some minor (or regarded as minor) language, the problem becomes quite serious. As for my case, I'm bringing up my 4-year-old son as a Korean/Esperanto bilingual. Most of neighbouring people show some kind of uneasy worry about the language of the child. Wouldn't it be better to give him English?

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Jinho, 4 years old, Korean/Esperanto bilingual


In my opinion, English is a language of school... So my son will learn English anyway, throughout the course of education. Even the kindergardens provide English program in Korea. So I think that English for my son is all up to himself. He'll get English without any help from me.

I have a plan of Chinese for my son. When my son will start to learn Chinese letters (roughly at the age of 13) I will help him only in Chinese(Mandarin) pronunciation for each letter. If he gets certain level of Mandarin pronunciation, he'll learn the Mandarin a lot easier than me. That's my plan, and eventually I expect my son will learn at least 4 languages. (Korean/Esperanto natively, English himself, Chinese with the help from me) Perhaps he'll choose at least one of other major languages - Russian/German/French/Italian/Japanese, totally up to his own interest. Just like I learned myself German/Japanese/Chinese of my own interest.

One principle of multi(bi)lingualism for parenting is ...

"You care for the minor languages only. Major languages will be learned by child itself anyway."


--Nomota, 2008-01-02.


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Father's Bilingual Family Project - Negative Questions.

Even native bilingual children show difficulties when they are first exposed to the radical differences between the two languages. One of those differences is 'negative question.' Unlike in most European languages, you have to say 'Yes' in East Asian languages when you agree to the given negative question. In this case, 'Yes' means, "I agree".

Therefore, for Asian people, answering to the negative question is quite hard to achieve. If you are among Korean or Japanese, you may hear quite often...

 Q: Haven't you had the hamburger?
 A: Yes. (... meaning that the answerer have not.)

So bilingual children do not easily distinguish the difference at first. My son, an Korean-Esperanto native speaker, had the same problem. In my son's case, Korean is far more advanced than Esperanto, because he listens a lot more Korean spoken by everybody except father. So he tended to respond in Korean way.

What makes more confusing is that the Korean word of affirmative answer 'Ne' (meaning 'Yes') is conincidently same with Esperanto word of negation 'Ne' (meaning 'No'). As the only Esperanto speaker around him, every time I have to guess his answer, whether he's responding in Esperanto or in Korean, when a negative question is given.

After a long period of corrections by me, my son Jinho, is now able to distinguish this kind of differences in the two languages quite well. For example, my wife says in Korean, "Haven't you been to the kindergarden, today?", Jinho answers 'Ne (Yes in Korean way)' noding his head up-and-down, but when I asks him in Esperanto right after, "Ĉu vi ne iris?" (Haven't you been?), he answers "Ne" (No, in European way) and swinging his head left and right.

It took long time to make this distinction. My way is to repeat everytime when he answers wrong for negative questions.
 
  Me: Ĉu vi ne tuŝis ĝin? (Haven't you touched it?)
  Son: Jes (Yes.) ... meaning that he haven't...
  Me: Jes, vi tuŝis? (Yes, you have?)
  Son: Ne. (No)
  Me: Ne, ne. Vi ne tuŝis! (No, no. You haven't.)

This way, I repeated and showed how I understood after negative questions, for at least 6 months. Now Jinho is 4 years old and shows clear distinction.

As for myself, I am not a good English speaker, and I feel uneasy whenever I listen a negative answer on a negative question.

Language is not what is to be learned by brain, but something to be aquired by skins, by hands, by heart and perhaps by butts.
 

--Nomota
 

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    This way, I repeated and showed how I understood after negative questions, for at least 6 months. Now Jinho is 4 years old and shows clear distinction.

I'm living in Seoul, Korea. Korean society is a quite monolingual society, but the whole Korean peninsula is mad at learning English. English in Korea means some kind of previlige. Those who have acquired English to a certain level are esteemed as being 'successful' person. Henceforth a lot of Korean parents want to raise their children as being near-native in English, by sending the children in some English schools. Even the kindergardens provide English program done by some 'native speakers'. The existence of blue-eyed white English speaker is very important to those kindergardens to gather new children.

Alas, however, my choice of language isn't English. 'Esperanto' is my language of choice. In Esperanto world, there's a word 'denaska esperantisto' (Esperantist since the birth), which means to the parents the ultimate love and dedication to the language.

I've long studied about languages. English gives a lot of chances in Korean society, but I feel very uneasy about English, because of the education that I've come through, which seemed like almost military training. I want to speak English well enough, but I cannot 'love' it.

Esperanto, on the other hand, is a language for everyone. I feel at home when I speak Esperanto, even in front of an audience of higher level of academy, because everybody there is equal to Esperanto.

I speak only in Esperanto, when I am with my child, Jinho, who is 4 years old. My boy understands both languages, Korean and Esperanto. It's simple to follow the traditional strategy about bilingualism: One person one language (OPOL).
 
Seemingly the monolingual environment of Korean society is overwhelming and the Korean of my son is far more in advance, in spite of all my efforts. Lots of Esperantists has just stopped speaking Esperanto when they had found the gap was too large to overcome, so there are more failure-stories than successful ones, around me.

However I had studied deeper enough. The balance of the languages is not important, if the minor language keeps being strong enough for normal conversation. My son will improve himself for the minor language, later on when he'll feel the necessity. My job is to keep being persistent at speaking Esperanto at least 10 years, until when my son will be able to read Esperanto books himself. After that, it would be up to him, whether to continue or to stop.

Lots of people show admiration when they see my son speaking Esperanto, and they readily ask why I do not try it in English. "Well... Let him learn himself English."

Recently, lots of Korean men (mostly from rural area) had married to some in-migrant wives from abroad (mostly from South East Asia), and I think their family would also have the same language problem. The children has to learn at least three languages for being a harmonized person, the father-tongue (Korean), the mother-tongue (Vietnamese, etc), and the language of the future career (mostly English). However as far as I guess, those families just neglect the minor language (of mother), for various reasons. I think it's bad not for the mother but also for the family as a whole because of the unbalanced perceptions of languages. From the perspectives of the society, it's not good either. Why not bring language diversity to Korean society?

Would such things or English break monolingual scene of Korean society? No way in my lifetime. Korean society is too uniform to be linguistically diversed.

--Nomota.


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Jinho Kaj mi - 2007

Saluton! Ĵino kaj Nomota.

My son, Jinho, is now 3 years old. I'd like to share my experience as a father of a bilingual boy, why and how I became a bilingual father and how I'm trying to keep going on.

Just like all the other Korean people, I myself was from a very uni-lingual environment and I was always interested in foreign languages and foreign cultures. That's why I decided to be a father of a bilingual child.

'Bilingual' in Korea means almost always a 'Korean-English' one. But for my case, English is not the language of choice. I choosed Esperanto instead, because I love to speak in Esperanto. I love to meet Esperantists around the world.

Thanks for visiting my first Multilngual Families blog.
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