Originally written for New Express, a major Chinese newspaper.
My son is learning to speak, but he is slow. Most of the other kids his age speak already, they have a few words to show off to the world, but my son, mostly just points and shows us. This sounds bad, until I tell you the other half of the story. My son is learning a lot of languages. English and Hakka are his main languages, but he is also learning Cantonese, Mandarin, Spanish and Russian.
It’s a lot of languages, but he is an international baby, one who will learn to speak them all when he is ready. Luckily, he already understands them. His English is great, the other day I asked him “Where is our money?” Wordlessly, he walked to the living room and pointed at mommy’s purse. His Chinese isn’t bad either, yesterday, as I searched 7-11 for something to drink I asked him if he knew where the milk tea was. He pointed right toward it, finding it when I couldn’t. His Hakka and Cantonese must be good, I have to trust my wife on that. My mother has taken it upon herself to teach my son Spanish. It’s working, and this morning when she said “Give me a kiss” in Spanish, he slobbered all over her cheek. His Russian still has a long way to go, but at least he has learned how to bring me his shoes when I ask him in Russian.
Learning to speak later than other children isn’t bad, it is a symptom of a multilingual child. The difficulties that face today in are nothing compared to the benefits. He will continue to listen and absorbs all of these languages. It will take him a few more months to speak, but in a few years he will be conversational in every one of the languages. By the time he is an adult he will call many of the world’s most important languages, his native languages, and best of all, he will never have to learn them like we have, he will know these languages from his earliest memories.