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OPOL (One Parent One Language)

Updated: Oct 7, 2021

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We had some wonderful panelists at "How do we teach our kids Cantonese" Zoom event* on March 7, sharing a variety of different ways to incorporate Cantonese in the home.

Today, I'd love to highlight a fellow Cantonese mommy - Diana of Two Playful Peas - who specifically discusses the OPOL (One Parent One Language) method in her blog. This is not a method we use at home, but there are many success stories through friends and the community that it is very worth mentioning!

I don’t have much personal experience with OPOL, since my ABC husband can speak Cantonese. His English is definitely stronger than his Chinese. We were wondering if we should adopt OPOL at the beginning, but ultimately decided as a family to nurture our children in Cantonese at home as much as possible.

The parents should have a mutual agreement on what OPOL looks like in the family. Some questions to consider:

1) What level of bilingualism would you like your kids to achieve? To be conversational? To be literate?

2) Does each parent accept that not everything will be translated? If one parent doesn’t speak the language, they will have to be okay that there are times where they may not understand the conversation.

3) When will you speak the environment language?

If you do choose OPOL, I would recommend exposure to both languages should be more or less equal. This makes is very difficult for caregivers that are working full time out of the home. While not impossible, I believe that the parents should spend time teaching in the language to the child, and not just conversing, if the goal is complete fluency.

Some parents are doing OPOL language at home but it may not be the environment language. For example, one parents speaks Spanish while the other speaks Cantonese and everyone in the community (environment) speaks English. If the family’s goal is to be trilingual, then this is a great strategy; but if they want to be just bilingual then they may have to give up one of the heritage languages.

Diana's post describes a family life where her partner doesn't speak or understand Cantonese, and how they communicate as a family.

I hope you enjoy this read as much as I did, and can gain from Diana's experience!

*if you missed this event, sign up as a Cantonese Mommy member to access the whole panel.


Quotes from some OPOL families: "Someday everything will make perfect sense. Be patient. 💕" - Lee M.

"Our little ones are only going to know as much as we teach them." - Kaiyan

"I would focus on following the child’s interest and a balanced exposure to multiple languages in the early years. Even though it is important to start as early as possible, it is never too late if this approach fits the family's need. With OPOL, it is a collective effort, make sure every family member is comfortable with the practice. Focus on creating the natural flow instead of making it a rule. " - Kristy


Book Recommendation :

"Let's Go on a Hike !" is written by Mina Learns Chinese's Author Katrina Liu. This book has a representation of bi-racial family, Caucasian Dad and Asian Mom, which is not common to see in Children book. It's also an English/ Chinese Bilingual book, perfect for OPOL's family ! Also, please check out the English/Chinese Bilingual Books playlist on my youtube channel, so your non-Cantonese speaking partner/ caretakers can read the same book to your children in English.

Let's read this book with me on youtube.

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