On raising a bilingual child – 42-month mark

Since I prefaced each note I made for the past three months with a date, I’m keeping the dates and elaborating on the points. Thus this post (and subsequent ones?) will look like a journal log.

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8 Nov – He started saying “Actually” in English so I quickly taught him to say 其實 instead and it was adorable how quickly he picked it up. He wanted to use his new word all of the time, even when it was barely appropriate but not incorrect. Handing me one small stuffy turtle, 其實佢係 baby 烏龜 “actually he is baby turtle” (I just realized he’s not saying “wu gwei” but instead “YUU gwei”) then handing me the larger stuffie turtle, 其實佢係媽媽烏龜 – I’ll accept that!

9 Nov – There’s words he’s heard from birth in Chinese – 沖涼 and 洗澡 (a Mandarin term) that I can guess he might not know in English – he might understand it being said but doesn’t need to use it often in regular speech with others (it being a home activity) – that’s so cool, but it diminishes as his out-of-home life and scope of conversation increases.

10 Nov – Joanne walked me through the reason why it’s easier for a toddler/learned of Cantonese to say “heRng” than “heung”. There’s something about the sound coming from the tongue in middle instead of at tip? You see, I don’t do this kind of analysis. I log them, but I don’t trust myself to be able to figure out how the sound came out!

12 Nov – His adorable full/long sentence today was “白色 Transformer 畀寶寶係爸爸買畀自己” “white transformer for Evan is the one Baba bought for himself”. Actually, it’s not a sentence but a noun! Backstory: in order to bribe Evan into good behaviour, NPY told him there was a Transformer in our possession he could have … but we’ve been dangling it in front of him for so long without giving it up. Somehow, the kid keeps remember about it but doesn’t cry very hard for it.

Nov 18 – I love how he says (float in his stomach, an old one) and _過去 “lam go heuy”, to straddle/bound across. These what my mum might say is “zook yuu”/vernacular and it’s especially adorable to hear a toddler say it. It’s still Chinese and mind-opening! (

Nov 24 – Instead of saying 噉樣 for “this way”, he says 噉erng樣, adding a syllable because it might help the two words connect better. Did he get that from me? Do I slip up and say that? I don’t know if I’m learning bad speech habits from the kid because I catch myself saying that too!

Dec 8 – He said 好鬼快. He definitely got that from me. It translates to so darn/damn fast. But because 鬼 literally means “ghost”, Jeff disapproves. Maybe it is bordering on curse words, but it’s in Chinese! It’s still better than him saying, in English, “What the heck” (also got it from us) and saying something is “stupid”. Oh dear what a sponge he is now!

Dec 9 – For a long time, instead of saying the name of a kid in a book, I’ll just refer to them as 細佬仔. An elder (my grandmother? my mother?) was floored he knows children from grown-ups and the terms for each – but I taught him that early on for the fun of it, to see if he identified anyone erroneously. So while what I read to him translates in English to something like “the child goes to the park” or “kid(s) goes to the park” (1) slz is more informal than “the child” and (2) Chinese doesn’t have the articles like “the” or pluralization. It just works. And not using names is probably has some lasting impact on how he addresses people, similar to how I feel shy to speak aloud names, that I might refer to him in conversation as “the kid” as often as I say his name. But it’s also kind of Chinese? Like I’m setting him up to not just say Mrs. Lau, but Teacher Lau?

While reading a book about counting , I translate the English text to Chinese, so he does the counting exercises in Chinese. I think he’s forgotten/isn’t so smooth at counting in Mandarin at this point.

There was a video that my in-laws circulated where he and his cousin were sitting together on a bed with a pile of books. You couldn’t quite hear what E said but then his cousin with a toddler drawl and a surprising amount of incredulity, says “You speak Chinese?!” I didn’t catch Evan’s response and they were both chattering in English after. In fact, the cousin speaks it too, but I guess it doesn’t slip out as much from him as it does from E? But I thought that video was a gem and speaks volumes.

Dec 11 – We had dinner with my grandmother and so all the conversation was in Chinese and relatively slow-paced and about family-based topics. He knew we are talking about him or other children and he actually joined in, wasn’t so shy. So, that is where he’s comfortable, in Chinese, for now.

It is super fun these days to ask him these days 點解. Why? His logic is often very circular though.

One day, he started saying “but” in English so I had to route that out quickly with 但係!

Dec 18 – My mother observed that we never taught him to say 無講嘢 but when he’s insistent that we hear him, we stop talking about stuff he doesn’t want to hear, he says it. It’s something he made up all on his own!

Dec 26 – We were decorating gingerbread coookies and a word that he picked up and enjoys is 黐__ “chee nick nick” because what kid doesn’t want to dip into something sticky and fun!!

Dec 28 – I think it was during our gingerbread decorating session where I was trying to be soothing if something wasn’t quite perfect and I said 算啦. So we working on a sticker activity book and he didn’t stick one on so straight and he said 算啦! Cute, but made me immediately worry that he’s not going to try very hard going forward! But he stuck at it and tried and got the other stickers stuck on straight. But, oh, the casual hand wave and eye roll that he added so saying it! (It took me a while to find the character for 算. Does it mean “appear” or “acceptable”? It turned out I had to search for “consider”.)

Dec 29 – He thinks Lightning McQueen’s friend Sally is “sa yuu” because of his lisp that turns “l”s into “y” sounds. So Sally is 鯊魚/shark and I didn’t bother to correct him. It was short-lived anyhow as he seems bent on pronouncing the beloved character’s name properly. Other examples include him saying “yai” when he says . The truly adorable one is when he wants a hug and is quite insistent and he says “YAM gno!” instead of 攬我! Super adorable.

Come to think of it, he’s more naive than other kids and it’s okay and I just have to not compare, and I don’t do that very often anyhow. Naive in what way? He doesn’t sound as expressive as other kids. I certainly am doing my darnedest to make sure I’m providing a lot of backstory in Chinese for the way the world works, and we’re expressive at home. But he seems to sound less complex at times. Compared to a buddy who is basically unilingual, compared to his cousin who has less Chinese at home. But I know of the upcoming shift, the break he will make and he’ll catch up on all of that, with his peers. I know it’s not a problem but just an interesting difference and really did figuratively look up at the nearing 3.5 year mark and go, “WOW, I have been diligent at speaking to him in Chinese for 3.5 years. GO ME.”

And there’s still MIL who brags in my favour about how constantly I speak to Evan in Chinese/Cantonese. In usually wince when she brags but I’ll accept this one. :)

And there’s NPY and his brother who joke that they learn Chinese from the kid. Partly, it’s because they “speak Mandarin”, but also because their own Chinese is rusty from lack of use.

Jan 4 – More of his beloved words are 圓__/yuune doong doong, 吱吱喳喳 (okay, that’s not really Chinese). He loves to say that his face and NPY’s (basically, boys’) is round and mine – thankfully – is not!

Oh, to dream in Chinese! One time he woke up and told me “一個 baby 追我 and 紮_我 and 爸爸行開咗去”. He dreamed that a baby was chasing him and then sat on him and while he was in distress, NPY walked away from him. Needless to say, I was rushed to tell NPY about. I’m super impressed with his imagination and ability to express the circumstances!

I realized that he thinks his English name is Evan while his Chinese name is 寶寶, much like there is a Chinese and English version to so many other words. So if we ask him his name, he’s not consistently saying “Evan Tung” but at times it’s Bobo Tung. It’s not straight in his head and I’m not in a rush to correct that.

These days, he’s parsing together initial letter sounds, like p-p-ping guo (apple) and I don’t quite know how to deal with that yet. This is another example that he’s “naive” compared to his peers who are singing out how to spell words without quite knowing what it means to spell. It’s okay with me even if I grapple with it and don’t know how to deal with his interest in it because it means teaching him English. But it’s also a matter of teaching spelling vs teaching English, you know? I’m working on him writing letters (English, not Chinese) and I know in my heart (and the Dutch parenting book I read last fall) that he will not be behind when he starts school./p>

Jan 12 – He’s been saying 我想問你嘢 which translates to “I want to ask you something” and since he wants to share so much, and since we are so easily distracted, he says this to us a lot! We’ve learned that it’s not always a question he ask but just a statement, something he wants to tell us.

Jan 23 – We’ve broken through the fence and not just counting to 10! It takes some prompting and he counts up to 30 kind of reliably and I haven’t sat down to teach him the “theory” of multiples of 10s because how can you?! Counting in Chinese is so systematic that I’m counting on him to figure out the pattern after some time and get his way up to 100. And, unlike with the numbers up to 10, his Chinese grasp is currently, initially, outpacing his English counting.

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