Table of Contents
|Jul 10 2001
1 About bilingualism.
If you are reading this
column, you probably have questions about bilingualism, which is in our case the
use of English along with Vietnamese or Chinese, between you and your children,
or among your children. Chances are that you have also received unsolicited or
solicited advice from some "authorities" discouraging the use of
Vietnamese or Chinese with your children, lest their accent would be less than
perfect or they would get confused with using more than one language.
In the Vietnamese section
of this website, you can find two articles recommending parents to preserve
bilingualism among their children. The main reasons to keep them bilingual are:
1) Most of us first
generation immigrants do not have enough of a command of English to establish a
significant level of communication with our children in the English language
alone, to educate them and to transmit to them the traditional values that are
dear to us and that are indispensable in building character, laying ethical and
moral foundations in a child.
2) Parents and
grand-parents are people too and need to be able to communicate with their
younger family members at a level much higher than broken, short sentences of
basic English, in particular English used without any references to traditional
Vietnamese (or Chinese, or any other non-western culture) cultural and religious
customs and values.
3) As refugees who have
earned our freedom at the dearest price, we are the only ones from Vietnam who
are really enjoying all the cultural opportunities that life in a free, modern
society can bring. It would be a great loss to our Vietnamese heritage if our
progeny were to become estranged from what has given meaning and purpose to our
past and present sacrifice and struggle.
The following quote is from
The Bilingual Family, A Handbook for Parents by Edith Harding and Philip
Riley, Cambridge University Press; about the different "authorities" who
might discourage you from practicing bilingualism in your family. Please note
the criteria set for a person to be qualified to give advice.
??Some of our best
friends are doctors, so we?d better be careful what we say. Or rather how we
say it, since the basic facts are irrefutable: these are that bilingualism does
not appear on the training syllabus of doctors, health visitors, nurses, social
workers, or even psychologists and speech therapists. It makes as much sense to
ask your doctor for advice about bilingualism as it would to ask him about your
Of course some doctors do happen to know about bilingualism,
just as some know about cars, but this only underlines the point that membership
of a particular professional category does not guarantee this knowledge. In
short, if you want to know about bilingualism and bilingual families, ask
bilinguals: and do not be afraid to ask for a second opinion.
Apart from the minority of
doctors (etc.) who are actually prejudiced against bilingualism (and who are not
often above justifying their prejudices with airy references to experts and
publications which do not exist, put yourself in the situation of a doctor faced
with questions on a topic for which he has had no specialist training. What is
he to do?.
What then are the
qualifications necessary if one is to give advice about bringing up a family
bilingually? We would suggest the following as a minimum:
i) Common sense
ii) Personal experience
iii) Knowledge of bilingual
families in general
iv) Knowledge of this
family in particular."
Hien V. Ho, MD