Q&A: Should we change our family language strategy from OPOL to mL@H?

by | Dec 17, 2015 | Babies, Challenges, Coaches, Family life, Q&A Choosing the right family language strategy | 1 comment



I currently live and work in China. I am from Australia and English is my mother tongue. My wife is Chinese. We have a 19-month-old son, Daniel. When it came to deciding which approach to choose in order to raise Daniel as bilingual, OPOL seemed to be the best choice.

However, as both my wife and I work, Daniel lives with my parents-in-law in their small hometown, which is the normal practice in China. Luckily, their hometown is not too far away and I’ve been able to arrange my work hours so I spend about three days with Daniel every week. There have been times in the past, there are now and there will be in the future times when Daniel stays with his mum and me.

During the recent long summer break I returned to Australia for long period and was unable to take Daniel with me. After I returned to China, I quickly saw how far his Chinese had progressed. I’m starting to think that perhaps our situation is more like mL@H, so do you suggest I change our family language strategy to mL@H, stick with OPOL or go with something in between? I should note that I teach English as a Foreign Language, but not to children.

Stephen Jobson

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Hi Stephen,

I would say three days a week is probably enough English for him to continue to grow in fluency in the language, so I wouldn’t worry too much. Either choice is probably fine. If, when you are with him, he still speaks a mix of English and then Chinese with mom or others in the house, I might look at switching to mL@H. He is definitely going to be fluent in Chinese since he lives in China, so you really want to have a plan for the English. I would say the more consistent exposure to English you can give him the better.

The other thing to look at is schooling. Will he be going to a local Chinese school or an international one where the majority language is English? If he goes to an English speaking school, much of the work on developing English fluency will occur there.

Best of Luck!

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Nick Jaworski

Nick Jaworski

1 Comment

  1. Rita

    Hi Stephen,

    I agree with Nick that if your son hears English for three days a week, he is highly likely to become bilingual. However, if you think there will be more prolonged periods in the future where you will be travelling, and not able to spend so much time with your son, then you might have to reconsider how to arrange enough English exposure for him.

    With regards to changing to mL@H, while it probably would be beneficial for your son’s English, it is very much up to how your wife feels about this change. Would she be comfortable to switch to speaking only English with your boy? How fluent is her English? It is not easy to change the language you have spoken to your child, so you need to have a thorough discussion before making this decision. What you could do is to have a mixture of OPOL and Time & Place, where you could dedicate a day or two in the week to all of you only speaking English. This way your wife would not have to fully switch from talking Chinese to English with your son.

    Nick’s suggestion of an English-speaking school is a great one, as this would definitely consolidate your son’s English.

    All the best, and do let us know how it goes.



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