Dear Dr. Gupta,
I could do with some advice. We are an OPOL family, speaking Italian (father), Cantonese Chinese (mother) and English (between the parents) at home. For Christmas I bought myself a device to stream TV from China but find, of course, that it is mostly in Mandarin, not Cantonese. There are some lovely cartoons and children’s shows–should I let our 22-month-old watch them? My Mandarin is so-so–I can understand children’s shows but I’m nowhere near fluent (or even conversational), so I would get into trouble quickly if pushed. I’m also not sure our household can handle another language! What do you think?
On the whole, I don’t think children under three should be watching much at all on screen, in any language, but I don’t see that it would be a problem if she watched occasional shows in Mandarin (if she enjoys them). Children can’t learn languages from watching TV–they learn languages in a social setting and need interaction. A television doesn’t answer back. So watching TV in Mandarin wouldn’t introduce a new language. If your child wants to study Chinese in later life, classes are likely to be in Mandarin rather than Cantonese nowadays, so Mandarin could be a part of family life later. And you might like to improve your Mandarin too!
Don’t worry too much about the ‘rules’ for being a bilingual family–there aren’t any. Just enjoy your child, chat and play in Cantonese (and English and Italian), sing songs, make rhymes, go swimming, bake together, throw balls around and have fun!