The Guest Room

A Hong Kong blog that does a lot more than blog

myHK: Choices, choices, Choices


Having a 3 year old in Hong Kong, of course I’m getting a boat load of chatter about which school my daughter will attend and how many thousands we need to put down for school applications and so on.

I’m also seeing some of my daughter’s friends already learning Mandarin.

The belief is that learning Mandarin is going to provide an amazing advantage for their futures.

As you may know, at The Guest Room we can be a bit tough on China. That is if you believe calling out a country that puts contaminated materials into baby formulas and pumps up slabs of meat with sewer water to make more money, tough.

Personally I don’t feel comfortable setting my daughter up on a date with China.

Actually, I don’t see the rush to push any second language on her. Which I guess has a lot to do with her being an English speaker, such a widely used language.

However, for me, it really boils down to priorities and I rank learning a second language well below learning the first. I also place more emphasis on happiness and health over schooling and memorization at the age of 3.

I realize I’m probably the odd one out in thinking this way. Feel free to put me in my place in the comments section below!

What are your thoughts on the importance of learning a second language at birth or soon after?

Hope you’re having a great week!


6 comments on “myHK: Choices, choices, Choices

  1. brielle87
    February 20, 2014

    I do have to say, a second language is never a bad idea. I am a native of France, yet German was my first language ( grandparents) I grew up in the states so I also speak English-properly (thanks private schools) and of course I speak French. I learnt Spanish at a young age because my cousins are from Argentina and now at this point in life (mid-thirties) I want to learn Cantonese; I know a bit of Mandarin but that is not much help, but some of the tones are there.
    It truly helps you to connect to so many people when you are multi-lingual, it is a such a wonderful gift to give to a child, the ability to express them-self in another language and to connect with native speakers of a country. Not to mention the ease with which children are able to absorb things. So whether it is Mandarin, Cantonese, French, Spanish or any other language, do encourage your daughter in her studies. You will truly be doing her a service to help her in life
    Oh, and even though English is such a wide used language, there have been many times along my travels where my other languages have been invaluable.

  2. theguestroom
    February 20, 2014

    Thanks Brielle!
    Your story is very impressive! I’ve always had a bit of envy to those who can speak multiple languages. It’s very impressive.
    Unfortunately, growing up in Vancouver, Canada, our French learning curriculum was ridiculous (my excuse at least) and I couldn’t come close to having a conversation. Since then, I’ve partially attempted leaning Spanish, Korean and Dutch., stopping short in all attempts mainly due to the huge amount of time commitment necessary.
    So, I do see the value in learning a new language at a very young and receptive age.
    Right now my daughter is 3, almost 4. I’m not a believer in early schooling. Especially in HK for many reasons. So we are hoping to keep my daughter at home til 5 and a half.
    I’m a teacher and we spend a lot of time learning phonics sounds, creating stories, puzzles and so many other learning adventures.
    She has a play date almost daily. She is involved in classes during the week like ballet, funky dance and football. So she gets lots of interaction and fun. She paints and makes things with mrs J. Etc etc.
    So I’m having a tough time seeing the space for language learning, at this time.
    There’s only so much time in a day, never enough , and I really boils down to choices.
    I love the concept of her learning another language., but at this time I can’t see that being the best use of her time.

    Knowing what you now know of our choice, do you think we should still put language learning into the mix?


    • brielle87
      February 26, 2014

      Sorry about the delay in posting, too many emails from the Democratic party lately in my inbox.
      I will still stand by my decision to focus on languages. i am always amazed at people in the States here and the attitude towards languages and not seeing the necessity of learning a foreign one, even though most peoples I speak with daily here have such poor grammar comprehension it amazes me. I guess it is all part of the ethnocentric attitude which is quite prevalent; not hard to understand considering the scope and size of the USA and its being bordered by two oceans. At the same time, many people here do themselves the disservice of closing themselves off from the rest of the world and not appreciating the languages and cultures ; this is why I do not put my French/teaching degree to use here, but will continue on in achieving my Masters in TESOL. You and your wife, along with your daughter, on the other hand, have such a great opportunity in being immersed in a completely different country/culture which is ripe for learning and absorbing. Your daughter will make much better use, over time, of acquiring a thorough knowledge of Cantonese and Mandarin than she ever will of ballet/funky dance and other things; unless of course she want to bust a serious move around the time of her 24th at a friends wedding or birthday. I speak from experience. I took ballet, gymnastics, tap and played lacrosse. None of which ever came in handy for any reason under the sun; I grew to be almost 180 centimeters by the time i was in 5th grade, needless to say ballet and gymnastics were useless at that point.
      But language has always helped me to keep this huge world of ours just a little bit more village like and helped me connect with people much quicker than othrers I know. Again, this is why now in my mid thirties I want to learn Cantonese and master Mandarin also. I see myself one day hopefully living over in Asia, Hong Kong especially since hubby only speaks english (my husband jokes that he can barely function in english, thank goodness he is a computer software archtect-I consider it a second language). Plus learning languages opens up more areas of the brain, which is invaluable to keeping us mentally more astute as we age.
      Now I have a question to ask you. How did you and your family end up in Hong Kong? and do you have any pointers for someone who wishes to relocate there. Also, at what level do you teach?
      In closing I will encourage you to please add a language course to your daughters activities, i can assure you it will be invaluable to her in the future.
      All the best

  3. theguestroom
    February 26, 2014

    Hey Brielle,

    No worries about the delayed reply! We have all year!;)

    You may be 100% correct in thinking that second language learning at the youngest of ages is extremely important.

    However, I’d just like to put some points out there and see if this discussion sways either of our opinions.

    I’d like to discuss a couple of your points. One being that we, “have such a great opportunity in being immersed in a completely different country/culture which is ripe for learning and absorbing.”

    And another that, “Your daughter will make much better use, over time, of acquiring a thorough knowledge of Cantonese and Mandarin than she ever will of ballet/funky dance.

    Firstly, I do agree that my daughter is having a wonderful experience growing up in Hong Kong. In our building alone, she has met children of multiple ethnicities. It’s fun seeing her point out to me that, “the boy over there is Japanese!” Etc.

    The opportunity to live life and experience different cultures is not dependent on learning the language at such a young age. I understand that learning the language takes your understanding of the culture to a whole new level, but just how much of the culture do you expect a 3 year old to learn?

    Which brings me to part two about which will bring more benefits to my daughter’s future; dance or language?

    I think you aren’t putting enough merit to the importance of happiness during this young age.

    My daughter’s ballet and football classes give her a taste of schooling with some social interaction, but most importantly fun. She loves the lessons or we wouldn’t put her in them. She’s not learning ballet now with the thought of her doing that for a living! She will be a football player like me, obviously…;)

    I suppose if she loved her Mandarin lesson just as much, that would be all the more reason to try. I’m doubting that would be the case… But maybe it’s worth a shot…;)

    It’s very well documented that holding off from formal schooling until the age of 6, like in the Finnish school system, achieves great results.

    Although learning a language at the youngest of ages is easier, that early learning will be all for not if not continued. And languages, as you well know, can be learned later on in life.

    Do you agree that having a relaxed and playful youth opens up areas of the brain as well?

    And that there are countless ways to keep us mentally astute at an older age, like yoga and table tennis?

    So, I’m going to need some more convincing…
    Or have I swayed you?!;)

    I’m about to grab a drink with my wife. I’ll write about part two in a bit ;). Thought if get this quick reply in.

    Cheers !

  4. theguestroom
    February 26, 2014

    Hello again Brielle,

    We both had our opportunities set before arriving in HK. So that part was easy. It actually fell into place too easily, and at the same time, 8 years ago.

    Hong Kong is a really nice place to live. It doesn’t suit everyone, of course, but we feel very lucky to have the opportunity to live here. Our daughter was born here, in a public hospital I might add, and we will always be grateful for that experience.

    This happiness and gratefulness for the 852 doesn’t mean that I don’t have an escape plan. It’s still in the works… But HK will always be one of our homes.

    I teach English in a local public primary school. I’ve been in this government programme since I’ve arrived. I love my job and feel quite lucky to have it.

    If you, or anyone, has any questions about teaching in HK and want some advice, send me an email to I’d be happy to help.

    Coming to HK seems easy enough. Language obviously isn’t an issue …;) I guess it all depends on what industry you are in and if you can afford the life here. As you know, HK can be very expensive.

    Shoot me an email about this and I’d’ve happy to offer any advice that I can.


    • brielle87
      March 14, 2014

      I am so sorry I have not replied to this earlier, I just actually found two posts from you in my inbox; thanks Hotmail (guess it is not too hot). I hate when they give the messages as Russian Doll style and not all appear in the lineup. I will give a quick reply, then comment more later. At the moment it is almost 11:00 in the eavining here, so I will follow up tomorrow or saturday.
      I have definitely not been swayed, I am a true believer in the power of language; being multi-lingual, it is just the way I feel at my core when it comes to language and the power contained therein. But truly, it is a very North American way to feel, quite British also, that english will be understood in most places one would travel, but it takes away the bonds we all could truly create if we are able to converse in the native tongue of another. Think of how lovely it is when you are in a tough situation and you find someone who is able to converse in english with you. Many times I have been in that role while visiting France and find myself translating for American tourists. But anyhow, that is just the way I feel and languages are a passion.
      I will also email you for some advice on teaching over in HK.
      Thank you and again, apologies for the long delay in replying.

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This entry was posted on February 19, 2014 by in myHK.

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