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Chinese language acquisition

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
Hi there. I'm new to this board.
I'm mom to Valerio, 20 months. We are currently living in the UK, although we are going to move shortly to Italy and in 6 months back to the US.
I'm Italian and my DH is American Born Chinese.

We are raising Valerio trilingual. DH talks to him in Mandarin. I do not have an idea of what is a regular language acquisition for a Chinese baby. How do chinese babies go from cooing and babbling to words and sentences?
There are sounds that they cannot replicate at beginning or are harder to say?
My DH has not been too diligent and only in the last months he has been talking to our DS more and more. Valerio is saying many Chinese words now but he is often off. To say fish he says "ju", sorry for not putting tones here, to say shoes he says zizi or something like that.
His italian acquisition is also a little funny. He only repeats a syllable per word, although I know this might be normal at the beginning, it seems to me it has been quite a long stage for him.

Anybody could tell me more on Chinese language acquisition?

post #2 of 8

I'm no linguist or SLP, but it's not so much a matter of Chinese language acquisition in a baby than how much exposure your baby is getting to a particular language on a consistent basis.

Read "What's Going On In there: How the brain and mind develop in the first five years of life" by Lise Eliot if you want the long answer to this question.

All babies' brains are wired from birth to be receptive to human communication in any and every language. With repeated exposure to certain tones and sounds pertaining to the language(s) s/he hears from birth to age 2-3 yrs (check the book for the exact age) the neurons begin to pare down the neuropathways that would have been receptive to sounds belonging to languages s/he doesn't get a chance to hear.

For the record, I am a somewhat native speaker of Cantonese, and a SAHM to our 3 kiddies. The eldest spoke mostly Chinese at the beginning, but that fluency is now eclipsed by French, as DH and my in-laws are here in the city, whereas my family lives a good 600 km away.

DD hears French and English from her older brother, who now goes to school in English and French, so her Chinese isn't as strong as her brother's was at that age.

DS2 understands me quite well, but at 13 months his babbling is anybody's guess whether it's Chinese or French. He signs a little though :

Both DS1 and DD were capable of code switching (speaks to Mom in Chinese and Dad in French) from the time they were about 18 months onwards.

If your child is otherwise healthy and hitting all other developmental milestones on time, do not worry. If s/he has other health issues which lead you to suspect otherwise, listen to your instincts.

A child in a unilingual or multi-lingual milieu can have speech/language problems, but that shouldn't discourage you both from communicating with your child in your respective native tongues. If anything, having a solid grounding with both of you modelling correct language and speech patterns in Italian and Mandarin will help your child to spit things out correctly--as soon as the brain figures out a way to digest and process both more efficiently!

Good luck
post #3 of 8
Thread Starter 
Hi Felixmom,

Thanks for you reply. My question was due more to curiosity rather than worry. Italian kids has problem pronouncing some consonants, I was wondering how chinese kids learn their language, it is straightforward or they also have an hard time replicating certain sounds.
post #4 of 8

I think that it depends on the kids and the dialect.

My own kids, when they were babies would say things like "nai-nai" for milk "gai-gai" for going out or for a walk. But that may have been a response to Cantonese baby-talk. When adults speak in Cantonese to babies, they often do the repetition thing (I suppose similar to using the word "boo-boo" for a hurt; or saying "didies" for diaper (nappy) or "binky" for pacifier?).

When I taught English in Taiwan I noticed thatquite a few kids who were native Taiwanese speakers (a.k.a. Hokkien, or Fujian-hua) had trouble making the "sh" sound in both English and standard Mandarin. I assumed it was caused by the lack of that sound in their 1st language. Kind of like how some anglophones have trouble rolling their R's when learning Spanish.

My Cantonese-1st-language husband is pretty good w/ the "sh" sound in English, but sometimes misses it when speaking in Mandarin (Putonghua).
post #5 of 8
I'm no expert in language acquisition, but I think that in any language, some sounds are easier to acquire than others. English speaking kids often have a hard time with 'th' or 'r'. It's also very common for a young child to shorten words like you describe. I'm under the impression, though don't know for sure, that most kids being raised in a multilingual setting will take a little longer to sort things out (and therefore be later talkers) but will end up being able to speak each language fluently.
post #6 of 8
Like someone else previously mentioned, I don't think the type of language matters but the exposure to it. In order for a child to become fully bilingual he/she must be exposed to the minority language for a minimum of 25 hrs per week. I am currently reading "Raising a bilingual child" by Barbara Zurer, here she explains the theory on First Language Acquisition. Interesting read....
post #7 of 8
My 2 1/2 y.o. understands Vietnamese (which is 7 tones...I think Chinese is 5 tones) perfectly, but, being in an English dominated household, will only reply in English UNLESS I ask him to repeat something that I say. He might say things in the wrong tone, but if I correct him, he'll say it the right way. I think the PP had it right...all kids have trouble with some sounds but if you keep at them, they will eventually get it.
post #8 of 8
Originally Posted by Cohaiduanho View Post
My 2 1/2 y.o. understands Vietnamese (which is 7 tones...I think Chinese is 5 tones)
Lots of different Chinese languages (mutually unintelligible)- tones vary from 4 (Mandarin) to 8 or 9 (Cantonese)

Main types:
* Yue - represented by Cantonese
* Wu - represented by Shanghainese
* Min - represented by Hokkien
* Guan - represented by Mandarin (Putonghua)


Probably more than people wanted to know....
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