This paper will go through the language
history and language use of a five-year-old child. In order to collect the
information regarding the child’s language history and the language use, I have
used qualitative research to collect the data and conducted a one-time interview
with the child and the mother through a language background questionnaire “L2
Language History Questionnaire (Version 3.0, 2015). The mother helped answer
the questions on the language background questionnaire and I gave myself some
freedom to inquire additional questions to understand the language history of
the mother, which I think needs some light on. In order to avoid disclosing the
name of the child and the mother, pseudonyms will be used in this paper.  Mrs. Smith and her daughter Emily live in New
Territories with their family of six. Emily is a five-year-old child, who is
currently studying in a local half-day kindergarten in K3 class.


In accordance
with the interview and the questionnaire, In Emily’s family and culture, Urdu
is the majority language and it is Emily’s mother tongue also. Therefore, her
first language is Urdu (L1), which she has learnt from birth.  Emily can understand Urdu very well since she
has developed her listening skills. She is a fluent listener in L1. However,
Emily began speaking in complete sentences in her first language when she was
four years old. According to Mrs. Smith, Emily has begun expressing herself
through speaking at the age of three, before that she mostly used to use her
hand gestures and body language to express her needs. For example, when asking for
water or when she feels hungry, she would express herself by using her hand
gestures and body language. Mrs. Smith considers Cantonese to be Emily’s second
language. Emily acquires her second language (L2) in Cantonese when she was in
kindergarten one. In second semester, she begun listening/understanding simple
phrases such as “Good Morning” and started writing the Chinese characters and
speaking at the age of four (kindergarten two) and developed her reading
skills, when she was about 5 years old (kindergarten 3). Moreover, Emily has
also acquired a third language (L3) in “English”. She started listening to
English at the age of about three because Mrs. Smith would frequently use
English when instructing her to ”sit down” or mentioning some vocabulary
”apple” ”orange”. And started speaking, when she was four years old,
however, her English speaking is limited compared to her L1 and L2. For writing
and reading, Emily started both when she was about four years old. Emily developed
her English reading skill when she was 5 years old (kindergarten).


Mrs. Smith
impresses me, as she has been living in Hong Kong (HK) for 12 years only. She
is not originally from HK. When looking at her language profile, She was a
monolingual before. But after coming to HK, she took English and Cantonese
classes in learning centers. However, she still considers herself as
monolingual, as English and Cantonese are just a survival language. One of the
reasons, she learned the languages was to educate her children in English. She
tired her best to input English as much as she can. Mrs. Smith is able to
communicate at a basic level with her children’s teachers.

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There are several
contexts such as home, school, and playground etc. where human uses the language
for various purposes. In Emily’s case, she has been listening in her first
language (Urdu) at home since birth and speaking at about three years of age
and she started using L2 and L3 at home at the age of four in terms of
listening and speaking. As mentioned before, Emily goes to a local half-day
kindergarten, where the official language is Cantonese and English is the
elective language. The district where Emily is living, Cantonese is widely
spoken in the community they are living in and Cantonese is the majority
language in HK society. Therefore, Emily doesn’t have a language choice,
whether to speak her mother tongue or L3 (English) in her community event or in
school with teachers.  Mrs. Smith
mentioned that Emily’s class teacher prefers to speak more in Cantonese with
her daughter rather then English. Furthermore, some information was gained from
Mrs. Smith, In order to evaluate which language does Emily feels the most
comfortable to communicate in terms of speaking in different environments. As
reported by Mrs. Smith, Emily feels more comfortable using Urdu to communicate at
home. However, when she is with her classmates and in school, she feels more
comfortable using Cantonese as she gets the clue that no other language can be
used here. Even, if she have limited choice of language use at school, she
still feels comfortable using Cantonese at school.


To rate the
skills of Emily learning new languages, Mrs. Smith mentioned that her daughter
would be average at learning her third language (English), because of the
limited input of English language into her life. Mrs. Smith also reported that
her daughter was quite good at learning her L2 (Cantonese), as she was highly
exposed to L2, at school and at home with her father and siblings. In order to
evaluate Emily’s language abilities, I would consider the four basic skills,
which are required in a language, Regarding the abilities of Emily’s first
language, which is Urdu, Mrs. Smith stated that her daughter, In her L1, she is
quite good at her using productive skill, which is speaking and she has master
her receptive skill, which is listening. As she has been listening to L1 since
birth and speaking fluently in L1 at the age of four. However, Emily has not
yet acquired literacy in L1, as she speaks and listens Urdu at home and with
neighbors with very limited reading and writing systems. Regarding her second
language (Cantonese), according to Mrs. Smith, her daughter’s receptive skills
and productive skills, which are listening, reading, speaking and writing, are
quite developed and Mrs. Smith believes that her daughter will keep progressing
her L2 and master it in all the four basic skills. For her third language
(English), regarding her receptive skills, her listening and reading, she is
able to listen and read the basic and everyday phrases. For her productive
skills, regarding the use of her L3 in her surrounding environments her
listening skill is functional, as Mrs. Smith developed her English listening at
the age of two and speaking skill is very basic as she has less exposure to
speak English throughout her day. For the language acquisition of Emily, I
would consider her as a sequential bilingual. As she became a multilingual child
by learning her second and third language after her first language was largely
developed (Paradis, Genesee, & Crago 2011). In a way, the process of
acquiring her L2 and L3 is in simultaneous way.


Mrs. Smith
reported the estimated hours/minutes her daughter spends in engaging the common
daily activities such as watching cartoons, reading for fun, reading for school
and writing for school. In terms of Emily’s first language (Urdu), she spends
about three to four hours, watching television in her L1 and don’t read or
write at all in Urdu as she has no reading and writing systems in her L1. Despite
the fact, Emily spends about three to four hours, watching cartoons in
Cantonese and spends around one and a half hour during her writing task, which
are given by the school. Mrs. Smith expressed her daughter’s liking towards
reading. Sally likes reading so she reads Chinese newspaper and Chinese
storybooks for fun at home for about twenty to twenty-five minutes.


Moreover, Emily
receives several reading tasks form school so she gets engaged in reading for
school task in Cantonese for about half an hour. Regarding Emily’s third
language (English), she spends about two hours in watching “Blue’s Clues” on
YouTube, Mrs. Smith pays an important role in choosing the television programme
for her daughter and spends half an hour doing her writing tasks for her school
work. As reported by Mrs. Smith about how Emily likes reading, Emily spends
around 15 minutes in reading English storybooks. Furthermore, she receives
English homework from school, so she spends around twenty minutes in doing her
work from the school.

From the above
information, I can see that Emily is an active reader and is active in watching
television. According to Kirkorian, Wartella, 
& Anderson, (2008), “Children are active viewers of television by
preschool age”. Mrs. Smith picks “Blue’s Clues” for Emily to watch in English.
Actually in the show “Blue’s Clues” the host creates some mystery and asks the
audience to help find clues to solve the mysteries and frequently repeat their
phases and answers (Kirkorian, Wartella, 
& Anderson, 2008),

According to
Paradis, Genesee, &Crago (2011), 
“Code-mixing is the use of elements from two languages used in the same
utterance or in the same stretch of conversation” (p. 88). In order to better
understand, code mixing can be divided into two categories as “intra-utterance”
and “inter-utterance” code mixing (Paradis, Genesee, &Crago 2011 p.
88).  In accordance with the interview,
Mrs. Smith reported that her daughter sometimes mix words from different language
when speaking. Mrs. Smith stated that Emily mostly mixes words from L1 (Urdu)
and L2 (Cantonese) and have gave an example. For instance, when watching
cartoons in Cantonese, Emily used Urdu to have a conversion with her younger
siblings than in between one or two sentences she switch the words to Cantonese
and sometimes switch it back to Urdu. 
This can be intra-utterance code-mixing, as Emily tend to mix the words
from two languages in the same sentence rather then inter-utterance code-mixing
which means when a person mix the words/phrases from two languages in two
separate sentences but is having the same conversion. In accordance with the
answers in the questioners, Emily usually code-mix with family members and
friends (neighbours) in mostly Urdu and Cantonese. She does code-mix in English
but limited compared to the other two languages.

Mrs. Smith
expressed that she feels her daughter falls into the category of being
bicultural. To explain this statement, Mrs. Smith reported how Emily tends to
follow their culture and Chinese culture together. Emily not only participates
in her own cultural festivals but also participates in Chinese festivals and
engages in art activities such as making lanterns for the Mid-Autumn Festival,
where she learns and understands Cantonese more.


Let’s go through
how the language used, exposure and experiences of Emily have actually shaped
her language profile. Firstly, the language used in different context has
largely shaped Emily’s language profile. For instance, she has been listening
to Urdu since birth, then speaking it fluently by the age of five. She’s been
largely exposed to and had lots of experience in listening to her family and
relatives. Therefore it became her first and dominant language.


Secondly, after developing
her first language in Urdu, Emily became exposed to English language by her
mother. However, due to limited exposure and limited use of English in
different context. Mrs. Smith rated that Emily’s English language is average,
even though it’s average. Mrs. Smith is happy that Emily understands and can
speak and carry out a basic conversion.


Lastly, compared
to English, Emily’s got the opportunity to use and experience Cantonese more
than English. She was exposed to Cantonese by the age of two through watching
television and some by her elder siblings. When she enters kindergarten one,
she became highly expose to Cantonese because of the official language of the
school and the majority language of Hong Kong is Cantonese.


To conclude, Emily
is multilingual, I believe that her L3 (English) will soon be well developed
because she will be stepping into Primary one. A number of factors, such as
environment, people, language ability and competence have played a huge role in
shaping Emily’s language profile. Sally has learned Cantonese, so she can
operate well in community/kindergarten and to take in the majority language of
HK. Therefore, I would consider her as a circumstantial bilingual as well. 


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