I'm a terrible chinese person but a perfect example of chinese kids growing up in western culture. I was born in New Zealand, to Chinese-Malaysian parents, and moved to Hong Kong when I was 10 years old. I wasn't able to enrol in a local school as my cantonese was non-existent so joined one of the British schools instead. Much to my parents dismay, learning cantonese or mandarin was not my focus as a teenager (!) and me and my sisters were bribed into having private tuition every Saturday morning.
My mother still continues to speak to to us in cantonese and I can understand about 80% but for some reason, I just can't form sentences in my head so it all just comes out in english no matter how hard I try!
I have spent my adult life regretting not making the most of learning cantonese or mandarin, when they were both readily available to me. I wish my parents were harder on me!! Now that we are living in Brazil we are really make a concerted effort to learn brazilian portuguese. We even use our basic vocabulary at home as well as in our every day life (only a few in Tim's office can speak English and our nanny only speak Portuguese) to try and ingrain ourselves in this language, and culture, as quickly as possible.
But now that Sophie is on the cusp of starting to speak it has started to raise the question of, with regards to languages, how do we approach her language development. Do we send her to a Portuguese only school or a bi-lingual school? Should we only speak english at home? Should my mother speak cantonese with her (since I don't use it)? Is it to her advantage to be exposed to lots of different languages?
I found this article on the Myths of Multilingual Families which was interesting. I think it depends on a variety of different factors... where you are living, for example, here in Brazil barely anyone speaks english so we would have to make a special effort at home. As much as I want her to learn brazilian portuguese, I would not want her to lose out on her english either. If she went to an english school here I could very easily see her losing her brazilian portuguese as her communication at school and at home (80% of her life) would be in english.
I would be really interested to hear from other families, particularly here in Sao Paulo or Brazil, about their approach on raising their children in different languages.