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We have a 1.5 year old boy in an English-only household. We'd like him to learn Chinese (Putonghua / Mandarin) over the next ten years or more. What are some of the best ways to get him exposed to the language (and at what rough ages should we start that exposure)?

Bear in mind at this stage he is developing quickly his understanding of English and starting to speak basic English words. So we don't want to confuse his English learning and development but want to offer him the best opportunities to learn Chinese at the appropriate stages.

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If you'd like your son to learn Chinese as a child, it must be relevant to him. Older children and especially adults are better at studying a language out of context, but a young child's natural ability to learn a language only works when the language is very relevant to him/her. So if your son does not have relationships with people who are communicating in Chinese with him, it will hard to make it relevant to him.

If you learn Chinese at the same time, and as you learn, start speaking to him in Chinese, play games with him in Chinese, sing songs etc. in Chinese, and enjoy Chinese together, it may become relevant to him, and he may learn well. Alternatively, it may be possible to make relationships with other Chinese speakers. But if he is just learning Chinese in isolation, the language won't really be very relevant, and success will become much more difficult.

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The key is to recreate the immersive language environment, you don't have to worry children will get confused with different languages, the truth is that they will and they won't. For the start sure they will, but like you mentioned the period of time they developing so fast so it won't be long until they distinguish the difference between languages. Thus for the nonnative speaker the best way could be to play the Chinese cartoon for kids all the time, make them get familiar with the sound and pronunciation, they don't have to watch it, but only listen to it is enough since they absorb almost everything at that stage. And also you can try to use some apps to help with it, like currently, I am using an app called Ling to learn Chinese it turned out very good, I don't think it suitable for little kids, but it would be good if you can pick up something and practice with your kid, the interaction between you and your kid would the best teacher!

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My wife and I are Chinese. I'd like my boy to learn English and raise a bilingual child. I think the best time for children to start learning a new language is on their first day. Older children can still learn new languages, but unless they are gifted, they will never be as fluent as native speakers. Take myself as an example. I started learning English when I was 14 years old and completed my university and postgraduate studies in Canada. I can speak and write English, but I will never be as good as the natives.

According to my reading, if toddlers are exposed in a bilingual environment, they will initially be confused and they will speak later than other children. But gradually, they will catch up. At school age, they will be able to master the both languages, and even have a better understanding of their native language than the other kids.

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    Thanks for your response. What ideas would you suggest for "toddlers [to be] exposed in a bilingual environment" given my wife and I are English-only speakers? TV shows in Chinese (although he haven't introduced TV to him yet)? Chinese radio?
    – kmccoy
    Nov 28 '20 at 2:38

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