Category Archives: Culture Adaptation

Raising A Bilingual Child (4 of 4) Helps

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Now that the case has been made to encourage your child to learn both languages at the same time, what are some things we can do to help our kids learn them?

First, know what to expect! The following excerpt from an article gives us some insight:

“What should I expect when my child learns more than one language?

Every bilingual child is unique. Developing skills in two languages depends on the quality and amount of experience the child has using both languages. The following are some basic guidelines:

  • Like other children, most bilingual children speak their first words by the time they are one year old (e.g., “mama” or “dada”). By age 2, most bilingual children can use two-word phrases (e.g., “my ball” or “no juice”). These are the same language developmental milestones seen in children who learn only one language.
  • From time to time, children may mix grammar rules, or they might use words from both languages in the same sentence. This is a normal part of bilingual language development.
  • When a second language is introduced, some children may not talk much for a while. This “silent period” can sometimes last several months. Again, this is normal and will go away.” [1]

Second, allow your children to be exposed to both languages. Let them do things in both languages. If they watch movies, let them watch it in both languages. If you read books to them, read in both languages.

“Research suggests that a child needs to be exposed to a language 30% of his or her waking time to actively speak it, and since waking time is a finite quantity, so, too, is language acquisition.” [2]

“Children learn to speak only when they hear people talk to them in many different circumstances. Language development in the early stages depends crucially on vocabulary knowledge. The more words children know, the better they will learn to speak and the better their chances of doing well in school. Book reading is an excellent source of help in the acquisition of vocabulary. Book reading in any language, even when a baby can hardly sit up yet, plays a highly supportive role not only in the learning of language but also in the emotional bonding between child and parent. Furthermore, it is an activity that is viewed in many cultures as appropriate for both mothers and fathers to engage in, and it is an excellent way of introducing children to aspects of culture that they may not see in their local environment.” [3]

“Do what comes naturally to you and your family in terms of which language(s) you use when, but make sure your children hear both (or all three or four) languages frequently and in a variety of circumstances. Create opportunities for your children to use all of the languages they hear. Read books to and with your children in each of the languages that are important to their lives.” [4]

Thirdly, come up with a practical plan, exercise patience and encourage your children along the way (depending on the child’s age and the language being learned).

“There are endless variations on the two most successful language systems. The most common involves one person who always speaks to the child in the ‘foreign’ language. Anyone who is spending a significant amount of time with the child can function as this primary speaker. The second most common language system is where the whole family speaks in the foreign language. To add another language beyond those already spoken within the family, or if your family doesn’t speak any foreign languages, you’ll need to provide an outside source like an immersion program, a nanny or an au pair.”[5]

“…play dates that will provide your child with the ultimate language teachers – other kids. Books, music, movies, and toys in your minority language are the most obvious ways to boost your child’s exposure, but there is also an amazing range of other household items such as place mats, tableware, posters, etc.”[6]

“As with most aspects of parenting, it’s a long term commitment and there will be ups and downs. But remember, that’s happening to the parents of the monolingual children too! Don’t worry if your child doesn’t speak his multiple languages as quickly or as adeptly as his peers. Instead focus upon his successes and marvel at the development of his little brain. Always praise, praise, and then praise some more!”[7]

I hope these articles have helped you better understand how to raise a bilingual child like it has helped me. If you have an other ideas or helps, feel free to leave them in the comments.

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Raising A Bilingual Child (3 of 4) Myths

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I have heard many different opinions, maybe a better word is “attitudes,” about raising a bilingual child on the mission field and how to carry out the process. There are many myths that people believe, and some of them even come from the doctor’s office. With these myth’s going around, it can cause well-intentioned parents to be hesitant to teach their children or allow their children to learn in both languages at the same time.

Our oldest daughter is at that age of starting school, and now she learns in both English and Chinese. She will be learning to read, do the math, etc. but in what language? It is to these questions that I did some research and found these common myths about bilingual children.

Below are excerpts from an article naming the myth and then giving select commentary on each one.

Myth #1 – “Growing up with more than one language confuses children.”

“From just days after birth, all infants can tell the difference between many languages,” says Barbara Zurer Pearson, author of Raising a Bilingual Child. She says this is especially true when the languages are quite different from each other – as different, for example, as French and Arabic.”

“At that young age, infants generally still have trouble telling two very similar languages apart, like English from Dutch. But by about 6 months of age, they can do that too,” she says.”

Myth #2 – “Raising a child to be bilingual leads to speech delays.”

“Studies have found that children with language delays who are in dual language environments gain language at the same rate as those in monolingual environments,” says Kester.”

Myth #3 – “Bilingual children end up mixing the two languages.”

“Mixing languages is both inevitable and harmless. But to some unfamiliar with bilingualism, it’s proof that the child can’t really tell the languages apart.”

“Experts agree that mixing is temporary. Eventually, it goes away as a child’s vocabulary develops in both languages and he has more exposure to each one.”

“Sometimes people do it because they don’t know a word they need in the language they’re speaking,” says Pearson. “Some people mix on purpose because they like the word or phrase in the other language better.”

Myth #4 – “It’s too late to raise your child bilingual.”

“It’s never too late – or too early – to introduce your child to a second language.”

“Learning a second language is easier for children under 10, and even easier for children under 5, compared with the much greater effort it takes adults,” says Pearson.”

“We hear so much about the special ‘window of opportunity’ for young children to learn two languages that it can be discouraging to the older child,” says Pearson. “It’s true that it’s easier to start earlier, but people can learn a second language even after the window has closed.”

Myth #5“Children are like sponges, and they’ll become bilingual without effort and in no time.”

“Although it’s easier for children to learn a new language the earlier they’re exposed to it, even then it doesn’t happen by osmosis. It’s unrealistic to expect your child to learn Spanish by watching countless episodes of Dora the Explorer on television.”

“Learning a language doesn’t have to be a chore. But introducing a second language to your children does require some kind of structure and, most important, consistency, whether it’s through day-to-day conversation or formal instruction. The idea is to expose them to language learning in meaningful and interesting ways that are connected to real life.” [1]

The above myths and portions are from a more extensive article that I would encourage you to read, click here, to get the full perspective on these myths.

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Raising A Bilingual Child (2 of 4) Our Children

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Currently, we have two children, a 5-Year-Old and a 19-Month-Old.

Observing our children this far has been interesting. Our oldest was two years old when we came to China and she could speak English really well. She could speak in sentences and had a quickly growing vocabulary. When we arrived in China, she would mock Chinese words if someone was trying to teach her a new word, but she obviously opted to speak in English. The sudden “culture shock” of everyone around her changing to speaking only Chinese made her more bashful than she was normally. She didn’t have a good attitude about it at first and it was probably scary for her. She only knew two kinds of people existed, you were “Chinese,” or you were “English”.

As time passed, we encouraged our daughter to learn Chinese. It was a struggle at first for her. Those who watched her while we were in language school also had a slight struggle since there was a language barrier. She eventually learned the essential words but still was shy to speak the language to people she knew only spoke Chinese. She then had a tutor that would sit down and go over flash cards with her and play with her. She started to enjoy Chinese more and more. Her tutor could speak both languages and so our daughter would often switch between the two with her or she would respond in English to a question asked in Chinese.

After two years of living in China, we returned to the States for three months where she had no problems communicating in English. She loves to talk. When we came back to China, we weren’t sure how much she would remember since she didn’t speak Chinese for 3 months. Once we arrived back, it was like she just turned it back on and starting speaking Chinese again. Some of it did take a while to come back but she was eager to learn this time and had a good attitude about it. She started playing with the neighborhood kids and we enrolled her in kindergarten and now her Chinese is really starting to take off, though her English is still more advanced.

Now, you will find here switching back and forth between the languages often. I can speak to her in either language and usually, it is fine. If she doesn’t understand a Chinese word, she will ask in Chinese “what does that word mean”? If she doesn’t know the word in Chinese, she will just substitute it with an English word or vice versa.

Our second daughter was born in China. As soon as she was born she heard Chinese and English almost simultaneously. As she has grown up in China, only spending 3 months of her 19 months alive in the States, she has heard an equal amount of Chinese and English. Her first words “Mama”, “Baba” and “Bye Bye” can actually be considered first words in both languages. The “baby talk” that she does sounds Chinese as you can hear her make noises with tones. She is starting to build a vocabulary of words that she can say in both Chinese and English words with the amount of words being the same. She doesn’t speak in sentences yet in either language. But she does understand when you speak to her in Chinese or English. I will say “come here” in Chinese and she comes over to me. I will say “go to your room” in English and she goes to her room.

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Raising A Bilingual Child (1 of 4) On the Mission Field

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For a missionary, learning the language is extremely important. Knowing the language of the people is the key to communicating the gospel, being accepted into the culture and being able to feel “at home” where ever it is you live. Therefore, it is not only important for “the missionary” to learn the language but it is also important for his family (including his wife and children) to learn the language, so they also can carry out the above goals.

Living in a new environment demands that the language of that environment is learned to be successful and without limitations. For our children, learning the language is of the utmost importance.

One article says it this way:

A bilingual environment is most often a necessity, not a choice.

Many discussions of the advantages or disadvantages of early bilingualism seem to be based on the idea that a bilingual environment is something that parents choose for their children. This, however, is usually not the case; young children growing up bilingually are for the most part doing so because there is no way that they can grow up monolingually. For example, it may be the case that the child interacts regularly with monolingual individuals, some of whom speak one language (e.g., teachers and classmates who speak only Italian), others of whom speak another (e.g., parents who speak only French). Other children may grow up in a community where most people speak the same two languages on a day-to-day basis. The usage rules for these languages determine when a particular language is spoken. Imposing changes in these conventions so that all bilingual speakers in the child’s social world would limit themselves to one and the same language in all circumstances is not only impossible but also ethically dubious, because it would infringe on individuals’ linguistic rights.” [1]

Our children are still young, and so I don’t have much experience in this area, though I have observed how our children have adjusted so far and have done some research to help make sure we are moving in the right direction.

I think there are different approaches to how you implement the languages based on how hard a language is and the age of the child learning the “new” language. But it is clear, as stated from above that missionary kids should learn both languages if the language of the people among whom they live is different from the native language of the parents.

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Two Cultures – One Brain

It took awhile to adjust to life in China, but we did eventually adjust to life here. We didn’t really realize how much we adjusted until we went back to the States. We were able to see the culture clashes from both angels.

When we when back to the States for 3 months, it didn’t take long for us to re-adjust to our American life. You never fully adjust back to normal but we were back to doing things the American way.

Now the weird thing was, while we were in America we couldn’t image our lives in China. It was like it just vanished. Then when we came back to China, it was like the Chinese part of our brains came back and the American side left.

It is like your mind has two tracks and you can only run on one at a time. You can’t think or image the one in the other. If feels like we just picked up where we left off even though we didn’t.

Going back and forth between the cultures… it is are to explain… it’s weird.

Cultural Dos and Don’ts

When I went to Peru as a mission students, I learned many different things about culture and missions. Several of those things have stuck with me and help me to this day. Here are some “Cultural Dos and Don’ts” from Austin Gardner, that I think equally apply to China. These are good reminders for short-term groups when visiting the mission field.

Cultural Dos and Don’ts

1. Do not treat their church any differently than you would a church in the United States.  Their church is just as good, and many times much more spiritual than a church in the US.

2. Don’t treat national pastors any differently than you would a pastor in the United States

3. Do not eat or drink in front of them without offering them something.

4. Do not constantly criticize their country or talk about your country and all that you miss there or how it is better,  etc.

6. Develop a taste for their foods.  Eat with them.  Do not turn your nose up at their food.

7. Do not skip church or stay outside the building during church services, etc.  Get involved with the people in the service.

8. Look at things like they do.  They aren’t strange or new–you are.

What is one of the hardships of living here?

I was recently asked about the hardships of living here. Moving to China has definitely been one of the most challenging and hardest things that I have done.

The hardest thing for me, thus far, has been the language (and a lot of the other hardships come out of this). Language is everything and without it there are many frustrations.

It is a roller-coaster ride of emotions. One moment everything seems to be going as planned and the next moment you are wondering how you will ever learn this language. It is a lot of work and patience. Both of those are hard, especially patience. I wish I could just put some change into the vending machine and press a button to get what I want, but it doesn’t work like that.

Everything else that might seem hard, such as weather or food, doesn’t even compare with not being able to fluently or comfortably speak, especially when you are a communicator.

So at this point in the game, language is the hardest thing for me.

Uncomfortable (2 of 2)

The next time he would come over with his family for a Chinese Holiday. I decided that I need to try to be bold with him and I was going to give Him a Bible as a gift. He gave my family several gifts and I offered Him the Bible (Chinese/English) and he rejected it. He said he understood my meaning but couldn’t accept it on the based that he was Communist and he believed what they believe.

This was kinda of a shut down for me. I was disappointed about it and was looking for a way to start talking about the Gospel. I even told him I studied the Bible in college, that I wanted to be a teacher and pastor when I learn Chinese, but nothing seem to interest Him in asking about God.

I started this story saying that we recently went to his house for a meal. I was tired and didn’t want to go and even tried to cancel but he was already preparing and excited to have us. They made us a great meal for our family and gave us this huge picture of famous Chinese Characters painted by hand. They were so generous.

I was praying for an open door to start talking about the Gospel. His sister was there and they were talking about me wanting to be a pastor and the lady said that she is a Christian. I was surprised but then saddened when she explained. She said a few years ago she faithful went to the Three-self church to pray because they said praying helped you sleep better..?!? But then She asked me question about some of the old testament laws and it opened the door to start talking about the Gospel. I started to try to remember everything that I had learned and memorized and clearly tell them about the Gospel. I could tell my police officer friend probably was a little uneasy about it because he would walk in and out of the room, but his sister listened intently. Praise the Lord!

The whole night they carried around the video camera and recorded our every move from the moment that we got out of the taxi. We had to eat food that we normally don’t eat (most of it was really good, at least from my perspective). When we left it was poring down rain and freezing…but it was all worth it just to be able to share the Gospel. Their were a lot of things that made this situation uncomfortable, but we didn’t come here to be comfortable, and I needed to be reminded of that.

Uncomfortable (1 of 2)

Recently, we were invited over to a Chinese families house for a meal. This family has been over our house before and now they wanted us to come to their house and see how they “Chinese” live. The thing that is different about this family, is that the husband is a police officer.

When I first met this man, I met him at the police station. He spoke a little English and I spoke little Chinese. I was trying to be polite as I waited for those working on our paperwork, so I told this man that maybe he could help me practice Chinese and I could help him practice English. He thought it was a great idea and wanted to exchange numbers and so we did. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into!

After that, he called often and wanted to get together. At first I thought it was good and then after a while I thought it was annoying. Since He was a police officer, I didn’t want to always be hanging around him. I know that attitude was bad, but I just didn’t like the stress of having someone always wanting to be around and asking questions.

He wanted to come over and help me speak Chinese, so we studied in my office. He looked through all my books (mostly Christian), asked about the quote on the sword in my office (given to my at my ordination), and asked many other questions. We studied and I kinda tried to make it boring so he wouldn’t want to do this everyday.

None-the-less, the Lord was teaching me to be bold and compassionate. It was like He was saying “So you think you’re bold?” This man was sincere and wanted to be friends.

So I decided that if we are going to get together then we should do two things, Study Chinese or try to be a witness to Him. (A missionary in West China told me of a story how he had been challenged about the least reach people group in China: Policeman! This too was convicting.) There needed to be reason to get together, more than just consuming time.

Next Post: Uncomfortable (2 of 2) – “The next time he would come over…”

Being on the Mission Field with a Kid (3 of 3)

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Another thing that has been tough on the mission field is leaving our kid with others. At first I thought it wouldn’t be a problem, but after our first babysitter, I reconsidered. Here is what happened: I think it was right when we started language school, we hadn’t found a full-time nanny to watch our daughter, so we got one of the girls from the church to watch her. She spoke some English so it made us feel more comfortable. But somewhere in the explanation when my wife explained to her what to do, a few key details were lost. She thought that my wife had told her that after she put our daughter down for a nap, that she could leave, so she did. About an hour later, we return home from language school and found our daughter standing on a stool in the kitchen looking mischievous. We started to look for the babysitter and she was no were to be found. We looked in all the rooms and nobody! My heart started sinking. Our two-year-old daughter had been home alone for almost an hour. I am glad that she was most likely asleep for the majority of the time. We made some phone calls and figure about what happened.

After awhile we realized that a lot of the college age students here don’t have the same experience with kids that most Americans do. I think this is mainly due to them being the only child (because of the one child policy) and the grandparents seem to take of watching the kids so babysitting opportunities aren’t as common.

Another example is after church one night, one of the girls was watching her and she let her go to the water machine and push the hot water button. Of course the next thing that happened was that the hot water burned her hand. It wasn’t too bad. After talking about what happened we realize that she told our daughter “no” but she wouldn’t stop her from pushing the hot water button. Apparently, she didn’t have much experience with a two-year-old.

We let them know that is was okay to treat our daughter like a normal kid, or as their kid. I think they were a little scarred of not being too strict with the foreigner’s kid.

Things like this helped us learn patience. Of course, we got mad and frustrated at times, but we didn’t quite or ride everyone off. Since the church is fairly “young” in those who attend we helped them know what they should/shouldn’t do. For example, we requested that they would ask us before they gave our daughter anything to eat. Not because we are super picky about what she eats or don’t trust them, but because they spoil her with so much candy. Our daughter would eat tons of candy but then she wouldn’t eat her lunch or dinner. They understood the situation and still spoil her…haha!

During language school our daughter stays with a nanny at our house for 20 hours a week. It took sometime for our daughter to get adjusted to her, but now she adores her. We watch our daughters reactions closely and how she treats her. We can tell that the nanny treats her well. Also, my wife taught her what to do and even stayed home several days just to make sure everything was working out. It is hard to leave your kid with a stranger, but it’s exciting to see our daughter take a liking to her, watching them play together and see her learn so much Chinese!


  • It’s hard to leave your kid with others.
  • Be responsible and use common sense.
  • Don’t be paranoid about your kids and others.
  • Be willing to be patient.
  • Be willing to teach.
  • Be willing to forgive.