Mother Tongue – How to assess your likelihood of success

One of the things I did as part of my research was to summarise the factors that contributed to a family being able to teach and maintain their mother tongue in their children while living / being educated in an English dominant environment.

First I present the table of factors, and then I present myself filling in this table as an exercise in my own home.

Analysis: The theories of MT acquisition and maintenance versus the reality of our situation

Theory
Reality – Chinese
Reality – Dutch
Child
Age (start as early as possible with formal MT education)
Both started Chinese immersion in Grade 1 (age 6)
Son started formal Dutch in Grade 5 (age 10)
Prior & current formal exposure to MT
1 hour per day class in International School
None
Prior & current informal exposure to MT
Not much – Hong Kong is Cantonese not Mandarin speaking. Daughter did learn characters through observation on the street.
Dutch spoken at home, exposure through paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
Interest / Motivation
Daughter – High;
Son – Low
Daughter not particularly interested, speaks on holiday and to family
Son – High
Aptitude
Daughter – excellent memory which is necessary for amount of memorization necessary
Son – difficulties with working memory due to ADHD doesn’t rely on memory for learning
Son – very good ear and pronunciation, has taken well to spelling and grammar as it’s taught in a formal structured way (unlike English)
Available time
In HK had ample time (27/28 hours a week in class plus a lot of homework)
Daughter: in SG 5x 40 minutes a week class time, 90 minutes a week tutoring, 100 minutes a week required homework plus whatever time she has for self-motivated study and reading
5 x 40 minutes a week class time (1x of which is self-study)
1 x 120 minutes after school tutoring.
Homework around 60 minutes
Daily reading expected 15-20 minutes (doesn’t always happen)
Access to language role models
Limited to school and tutor and one family friend who we see irregularly
Parents speak Dutch at home to each other, Father speaks Dutch to him, Mother speaks English unless in Dutch context
Personality / resilience
Very determined, sees events as challenges rather than setbacks, competitive, responds well to reward systems, perfectionist, introverted and shy
Very sociable, extroverted, not scared of making mistakes. Quite emotional, inclined to give up when things get difficult, or need help to keep going
Family
Anticipated period of time abroad
Indefinite
Indefinite
Plans for tertiary education
Undecided, probably English medium
Considering studying film or photography in Netherlands (early thoughts)
Availability of language role models / support at home
Mother studied Chinese but level is not sufficient to support high level language and literacy needs practically, only in abstract
Both Mother and father speak Dutch in the home
Language level of parent(s)
Mother – Low level
Father – none
Mother – Fluent speaking reading, listening, written poor
Father – Fluent speaking, reading, listening, writing
Willingness / ability to finance choice
Yes
Yes
Culture of reading at home
Yes – but needs prompting and encouragement as slow difficult process and access to the right leveled material is difficult.
Yes – when father is home do co-reading as well
Help from extended family
None, only moral support
Yes – regular phone calls / FaceTime, visits during vacation and go to school with cousins for a few days
School
Language offered at MT level
Yes in theory.  However in practice the amount of time and level is not adequate, plus not enough leveled reading resources and mentoring
None in curriculum until G9. In G7 & G8 offered after school.  His Dutch classes are an exception and privately arranged and funded
Language community in the school
Yes, however she is not particularly a part of it.
Yes
MT support after school or other proviso
Yes, 90 minutes private tutoring after school, school provides walk in clinics 2x a week
Only from G7, however he’s not at the level required yet
Accommodations for MT (reading or writing in MT, creating identity texts)
Yes, in school (since middle school only) and tutor supplements
Yes, but still limited due to level
Sufficient BML teachers and administrators as role models
Administration & non-language teachers traditionally English / mono-lingual with some exceptions. This is changing a bit.
Administration & non-language teachers traditionally English / mono-lingual with some exceptions. This is changing a bit.
Access to parents and older children as role models
In principal – but need to tap into this more. No formal structures.
Yes, cultural events organized by Dutch Teacher.
Community
Existence of language community in country
Yes, large Chinese speaking population, however local families are not part of school
Yes, Dutch club and fair sized community with events
Accessible MT community on-line or through home visits
Possibly – not investigated yet
Yes
Community based formal language classes
Many tutoring schools that cater to the Chinese curriculum of local schools
Yes
Community based fun and cultural activities
Not as many as in Hong Kong
Yes through Dutch club and school
Community pride in the MT
Many classmates in MT group are not very motivated to learn Chinese, within SG community Mandarin is the formal standard Chinese while most families speak a dialect at home
Generally yes, however many Dutch people speak English well and will switch in mixed groups


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