On raising a bilingual child – 45-month mark

30 January For months now, I have been giving SLZ a chewable Flintstone vitamin and from the first time he asked “係咬嘅?” (“It’s chewable?”). He just loves the routine of the same question and answer and pouts if I joke and say he can’t. You can’t quite joke or be sarcastic with toddlers. Now, with impending baby, we want to keep it foremost in his mind and he sweetly pats my belly and asks “係真嘅?” (“It’s real?”) And we don’t joke about that one and ask him if he remembers if it’s a boy or a girl. He does and if I ask him if he wants that or the opposite, half the time, he wants the opposite!

This item was supposed to go into the previous one but here goes. It’s no surprise that when SLZ meets someone new, he’s confused and more shy than the next. My total reluctance to speak to him in English extends to when he’s meeting someone who doesn’t speak English. Like for my friend to here me say to him “寶寶, 呢個係叫做Auntie X” when not a minute before, he heard me talking to X in rapid-fire English. X falters and wonders if he will understand her English (duh – he does) and SLZ wasn’t going to be forthcoming and say hi anyways. I feel awkward because the utterly normal thing to do is to make introductions in English. But I don’t. (The same thing happens a daycare when I want him to respond to me and his teacher in English but I’m prompting him in Chinese. He knows what he needs to say that everyone understands but for various reasons, he gets shy and it’s okay – he’ll find his way.)

7 February Sometimes, I wonder if he thinks in Chinese, and it seems so wild to me, having long lost that ability. It is what he speaks in, at home. But he’s a kid learning English so maybe he switches to thinking in English at daycare? And he can fluidly switch back and forth without anyone telling him what language to use. That’s so wild and I can only imagine what cool neural connections are firing and forming! We adults are so rigidly set in one language.

14 February If asked, he will decline to watch Cantonese Peppa Pig. I’ve resorted to firing up the program when I want to lure him to the table to eat. (Shame on me!) At least we don’t have to watch a video every time when clipping his nails. We sing together my Chinese version of Finger Family.

He’s learning more sophisticated concepts about time on his own and through context. I haven’t drilled him about days of the week – what difference is it to a toddler? – but do try to teach him through context today, yesterday, tomorrow. The ones he picked up first are “now” 而家 – with a vengence! – and “always” 成日. So, sometimes it’s the wrong context, like when he says  你嘅枕頭成日舒服 “your pillow is always comfortable”. But he’s correct when he says 爸爸成日食糖, haha!

18 February One of the sweetest developments is this one. He can and does express his love for us. 我鍾意你 , 我好鍾意你 , 我 最鍾意雪糕 ! (Or nuunuu) We get to discuss why, a chance for me to tell him I’m in his corner and love what he does, when he’s “obediant”. I will also say and he hasn’t adopted it, 我最惜你 “I most cherish/kiss you”.

2 March Is he dreaming in English? He said something like, “I don’t want that,” and another English phrase. :(

8 March We were away for 12 days in California which I relish as solid mostly Chinese days for Evan. We were at LAX waiting for a shuttle bus to our car rental and I told him to look for a bus with an “H” in the sign because the rental company is Hertz. Without my prompting, he called it “Hert-zee” which is so Chinese and hilarious!

We marveled, as we do, at the palm trees in LA which I told him were called “pom”-樹, a deliberate deviation from “palm” and I thought my naming cactus “-tus” was kind of ingenious, blending in the word for “sharp” and it still sounds like cactus at “gut-tus”. Alas, we didn’t use it that often.

13 March For a month we’ve known he says “paa6 paa” instead of “haa6 paa” for chin (下巴), haha.

When he refers to a chocolate chip as a 啡色拮拮 “brown pointy”, I don’t correct him because he gets to entertain a world where things are named as they appear and also because I don’t want to arm him with the word for “chocolate” and “chips”!

24 March His manners are coming in, by observation of me more than drilling. He can be prompted to say hi, bye, good morning (早晨), good night (早㪗). And particularly nice, thank you (多謝), and today – “you’re welcome” (唔使) in response to a thank you. The first time I heard him use “you’re welcome”, he said I look nice in the floral bathing suit I was wearing, as he does when I wear something more colourful. That in itself is really sweet and I said 多謝 and he said 唔使! I told NPY later and it’s not quite the right context but I know he’s picked it up the phrase from me.

I had to look it up. Literally, if you just say 唔哂, it means, “you don’t have to” which is an odd thing to teach to a child. But it looks like it’s a short form of the full phrases, “no need to (politely) thank” 唔使唔該, “no need to thank” 唔使多謝, “no need to be so polite” 唔使客氣.

25 March During our California trip, we would be done morning activities and lunch so late he was practically desperate to rest, once begging us to start driving the car. He would say he’d keep his eyes open for a bit (when I told him to nap and he wasn’t quite ready yet) and then announce he was going to start resting and sure enough, he was eyes closed and wriggling a little bit of be comfortable but spot on!

26 March These days when explaining things to him, I’ll ask him if he knows the English word for things I’m explaining, which helps him appreciate – I think – how he knows two words and form the connection – it’s a precious time where he knows more Chinese and English than before but he’s still speaking Chinese at home, mumbling it in his sleep more than English – he’s not old enough to be rebellious so he won’t speak English because I try not to, but he’s smart enough that he knows I understand it.

Something I hope – we’ll see how it goes! – is that having #2 speak Chinese continue Chinese in the house for longer – we’ll see!

29 March He said “no…我係抌-er“, when I switched things up and wanted to throw and he still wanted to throw, to be the throw-er. It’s funny to us because he intelligently tacked on an “-er” to the action verb and to our Anglo ears, it sounds like “dumber”, i.e., his eagerness to be DUMBER, heehee.

He wanted to play a king/teacher (i.e., facing a classroom of his stuffed animals while wearing a styrofoam crown) and read a book. However, he doesn’t read word for word because he’s him, because I don’t read it word for word what with translating stories into Chinese, and show him words match the letters on the page – but I’ll begin the stories with 有一日, what I say for “Once upon a time”, and so it was brilliant to see he did, too!

21 April He learned the phrase somewhere and was repeating over and over “sticky but”. I tried to be hopeful and seemed to be right when he told us that “but” is a pen you write with. Yes, it is: . But it turns out he also knows that “but” is “bum-bum”. And of course our shocked response and discouragement is encouragement to him. And of course he does know the phrase is “stinky butt” instead.

We have fun rhyming and it seriously makes him giggle – , , , “ging” (awesome), , , 魚, , , , 蘋果, 成功, , 永遠, 應該 – as he learns to appreciate rhyming sounds. Our rhyming game is bilingual and he demonstrates he knows which ones are English, or there are several words, an early exposure to homonyms. Also cute are the words that rhyme with his nickname 寶寶, 倒倒, 好好, , , 帽帽/霧霧, 抱抱,, /兔子, 㕵㕵. There’s more rhyming words, but I’ve only listed the ones at his level.

24 April So, someone has taught him the Mandarin word for living room (客廳) and it kind of bothers me because (1) it’s Mandarin and (2)  it wasn’t me (or NPY) who taught him. As for it being Mandarin, I have my issues and should be happy that he is speaking some kind of Chinese. It’s unlikely he was going to learn “living room” because he’s 100% with regards to the other rooms: bedroom (), kitchen (廚房), bathroom (廁所), garage (車房), elevator (), balcony (騎樓), hallway (走廊). But I have an aversion to the proper way to say living room in Cantonese (haak3 teng1) and have been abbreviating it to just 廳 which is just harder for him to say, being one-syllable and all. It has to do with the word 客 which is homonym with frighten () and it reminds me too much of customers (客人) which reminds me of a life I don’t want to be reminded of. I do think that “haak3 teng1” sounds gutteral and gross but I think that “kè tīng” sounds terribly prissy. Not coming from kiddo, but in general!

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