Expatriates in China can manage to navigate their daily life without knowing a single word of Mandarin or Cantonese or any other Chinese dialect. This is mainly because many in China now also speak fluent – or at least functional – English, so language issues don’t always arise for many expats. This is especially true for people living in urban areas. But for those that are raising children in China, then there are a few more things to consider regarding language. So, if this is the scenario you face, then adding, “learn Chinese” to your agenda will serve you well. Here are a couple of reasons why:
Because your children will learn the new language.
Yours might be a ‘single language household’, but if you are raising children in China, the fact remains that your children will grow up learning the language of the people around them. Expats kids have a knack for picking up languages, so get ready to become a ‘multilingual household’.
When your children start their schooling in China, right from kindergarten, they will meet other kids who speak different languages than their own. Your kids will pick up foreign words sooner than you know. For those that are attending a more local school, Chinese will be absolutely essential to their school and personal lives. If your children are attending an international school there will be many students who also come from different areas and backgrounds. The common language for all the students is going to be English. But the Chinese language is also going to be a major part of their lives as well.
Once your kids begin to learn a new language they will acquire fluency in it in no time. So if you also start learning the language at the same time or earlier, not only can you practice the language with your kids, but this will help your kids assimilate better in a foreign culture. And what better way to experience a new culture than learning a new language along with your kids?
Because you will need to interact with your child’s caregivers.
Many expats in China hire an “ayi” or nanny to help around the household and with your kids. The nanny will undoubtedly interact with you and your children in her own language. More than likely, the nanny will not know English or your native language. If you want to communicate with your child’s nanny smoothly, then acquiring new language skills can really help.
With your new language skills, your interaction with your kid’s Chinese teachers and neighbors can also improve interaction and language acquisition a great deal. These teachers’ and friends’ English skills might be spotty and you might not know much Mandarin, but your efforts will pay off. If you make an effort to learn the language of your current neighbors and peers, then raising children in China can become even more enriching.
Founders of havingababyinchina.com, Jeremy and Jacquelyn have four children. The first three were born in three different hospitals in China and the last was born at home in the US. Jeremy and Jacquelyn created havingababyinchina.com in 2009 after they found little information for foreigners having babies in China. They love connecting with other foreigners having babies. Learn more about them on the about page.