We have an almost 2 year old daughter and we are looking around for preschools to put her in. We are in Vancouver, Canada which has a large Chinese population and Mandarin is very common. Neither of us speak any Mandarin whatsoever.

My wife feels that our child will benefit greatly from attending an exclusively Mandarin speaking school, however I'm concerned that this will cause additional stress in the household and it may make our child feel somehow alienated.

If we do endeavor down this path, I'm confident that we will both learn the language along with our child, however neither of us is bi-lingual and I'm sure it will be a challenge. We both took the required French classes in schools, but it never really stuck for us.

Does anyone have any experience with a similar situation? What kind of hurdles are we going to need to overcome? And finally, do you think it is really worth it?

  • 2
    Have you discussed the possibility with one of the exclusively-Mandarin schools, and what was their take on it? I am curious what the perspective of educators is on the idea!
    – Acire
    May 22, 2013 at 19:50
  • Great idea. We've been trying to ask people we know, but going right to the source is probably our best bet. Thanks!
    – Sean
    May 23, 2013 at 8:58

2 Answers 2


Welcome to the site, Sean!

I generally encourage learning foreign languages but it requires that the parents can participate. Don't underestimate the challenge of new languages. My personal experience is that children can learn languages nearly automatically but adults find it very difficult.

If you have a history of little or poor language learning (your French) then you will find Mandarin exceedingly difficult to learn. Even if your daughter learns Mandarin, you will not be able to support her learning and you will not understand her. This causes frustration for everybody, and your desired benefit of her learning it vanishes.

You'd be better off picking a language that you have a good chance of learning. Given that Canada is English/French bilingual, French presents itself as a good alternative.

  • You have some valuable points. We were originally thinking French immersion, but since Mandarin can be a great asset in our area we are exploring other possibilities too. Thanks!
    – Sean
    May 23, 2013 at 9:00

I think it is an extremely bad idea to put a child into a school which teaches in a language you don't understand, and they have no background in. Children need help with their homework in order to do well, if it's in Mandarin how in the world would you even know if your child has even done it? And you are right to be worried about your child being alienated, it would not be a good experience!

Children in a Mandarin school are almost certainly raised in Mandarin households, and will already use it in their day to day life. Your child won't understand a word and as a result will not be able to interact with these children. It will almost certainly lead to isolation. And it won't help with academics either as the teacher won't have the time (or the inclination in many cases) to help the one non-native speaker.

Instead of being a help to your child's development I think this would be the complete opposite. You are right that people learn languages best through immersion but that is not the way to go about it.

  • Wholeheartedly agreeing. This should be the accepted answer. May 23, 2013 at 6:00
  • Thanks for your feedback. I'm curious what you think "would not be a good experience"? If they are in a Mandarin immersion school, all of the children around them are learning the same thing.
    – Sean
    May 23, 2013 at 8:56
  • @Sean, see my edit.
    – GdD
    May 23, 2013 at 9:11
  • All of the research shows that raising a child bilingually is not harmful to children. I agree that this specific situation probably is not a good idea since the parents do not speak Mandarin, but the idea that the child will become isolated and unable to interact is contradicted by every study I have ever read on the topic, and I've read most of them. At 24 months the child is in an excellent age range to be exposed to additional languages since the terminal myelination point has not extended past the left temporal lobe and neural exuberance is still occurring there. Jun 15, 2013 at 21:27
  • FWIW, it's very common for parents of children in Welsh-medium schools in South East Wales to have no, or only rudimentary Welsh. The kids do just fine. Most of my classmates when I was in Welsh-medium education had parents who did not speak Welsh themselves.
    – testerab
    Feb 2, 2014 at 16:21

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