On raising a bilingual child – 4-year (48-month) mark

Wow, we’ve made it to four years old and the Chinese/bilingual game is still strong. I’m prepared for it to only go downhill from hereon in …

27 April We were at a family wedding where I’m going to stay mum, enjoy watching the kid have new experiences, and make my observations. One of which is that the kid was speaking in English with his relatives (aunts and uncles who don’t know to speak to him in Chinese and his cousin) and when he turned to me, he almost started in English and then knew to switch to Chinese. Brilliant!

28 April NPY, who thought it wasn’t necessary to speak in Chinese until kiddo was around age 2, is doing generally okay. But it totally breaks down when he’s yelling at kiddo. Even for me, it is far harder to maintain Chinese when your Anglophone brain is screaming obscenities in English and you think your English would be more effective (with an adult). Kiddo is generally more defiant these days and when NPY shouted at him, “Don’t you understand English?!”, it was like a stabbing feeling to me. I really hate it.

4 May While the guys talked about whatever useless stuff at kiddo’s buddy’s birthday party, I hovered near some daycare parents that I never met before. Kiddo and his friend don’t start school this year but a couple of invitees are slightly older and the parents could share their plans for the fall. Given my own experience having to commute over 15 km by car to school for 12 years, I wanted a better experience for the kid. Our own catchment school is some 14 blocks away (and up a hill) and NPY would drive regardless of any school’s location (boo). A daycare parent talked of declining their offer to the Mandarin program at John Norquay and I got to thinking … what would my mother say if I didn’t try to get kiddo in? Despite my personal issues with the language, I can’t deny it’s relevance. Bonus: he won’t have to go to separate Chinese school! Detraction: I hear there is no after-school care for that school, whatever that means …

5 May This one is not new: for the fun of it, because it’s super-boring to have to call out to relatives he sees, he pitches his voice low for the fun of it. When he does, 媽媽 sounds like 嫲嫲 and it bugs me!

7 May It is a great mental exercise and so satisfying to be teaching the kid more abstract concepts like
(to become accustomed), 如果 (if) and (zero, means nothing, or not yet one). I was happy to be able to impart to him, “if you are happy, then we are happy”: if/then (如果你開心, 我哋你開心,). Or convincing him to try things – that he can be scared or nervous about something he’s not yet done before but then he can become accustomed to it. And he thinks the concept of nothing, the number zero is so fun compared to whole numbers! (He still lisps slightly on that word and says “ying” instead of “ling”.)

8 May I was using his bowls to portion out some oatmeal, half for him and half for me and he queried why I was using his bowl for my portion. I tried to get away with some Chinglish saying that I the bowls are the “ size-ee” (correct size). I suppose “size” is not a familiar word to him so he shouted at me, “中文!” (Chinese!) and I grappled to say that then using the same bowls helped me know the oatmeal portion is “啱咁大” (correct big). Wow, he was strict!

In conversations before bed, he likes pretending he is Skype and I am Chase (characters from Paw Patrol) and I asked him if he likes the name Skye (there is also a Sky in Super Wings, and a Chase in Super Wings and amongst Transformers Rescuebots, by the way). He said no. So I asked him what name he liked and I wondered if he would say the one we’ve asked him about a couple of times as a possible name for #2 and he said he wanted instead the Chinese name for Sky(e) which is 天空. That kid!

10 May It could be short-lived but these days you hear the kid shouting at NPY to speak in Chinese. So precious. So short-lived to be sure!

11 May The kid likes play acting being Jett from Super Wings who announces “On time, every time” when he arrives at the package recipient’s door. So I translated that for him and it’s pretty easy: “時時準時“. Which I immediately turned on its head because I realized the same “zeon” sound and told him he could say “時時俊成“, translating to “always this kiddo!” and familiarizing him with his otherwise-unused Chinese name!

20 May I’m not impressed to hear, when playing, when his dad is present, and it’s a disheartening mix of English and Chinese, he’ll address me in English, “Come closer” or something like that – I correct him, I tell him to use Chinese. Sometimes he’s stumped and I provide him the words. When he plays with his toys alone, he’s mostly muttering in English, but I’d like the interactive play with us that is more physical (i.e., not with his cars and toys) is still in Chinese.

Admittedly, his dad is making efforts to speak in Chinese. Even if he’s not comfortable with it, I’ve been doing it long enough in his earshot for him to have the guts to try it out himself. But sometimes he addresses me in Chinese and I shouldn’t be so startled by it. The context of him speaking to me in Chinese is often to obscure something he wants to say to me harshly and thus it’s often with a patronizing tone and it irritates me! For the kid, I need to make better effort to speak more Chinese to his dad in regular conversation (including giving him directives) – because the kid’s noticing, internalizing how I do speak English just fine for everyone else but him.

21 May With respect to the above, I guess when I speak to the kid’s dad, it’s usually transactional and so I’ll also sound patronizing even if I know how to insert a “please” and “thank you” here and there.

It tore me up to hear the kid’s dad yelling at the kid these past few days and the kid is weeping. Poor kid has been really miserable with a cold and fever and declines drinking water and taking medicine. It’s really alarming because water is so essential. We are threatening him – I try to reason with him first – because he should be old enough to start understanding consequences. His dad was yelling at him all in English, “Then drink it!” and Evan would have said 我唔想要飲 (“I don’t want to drink”) but he was responding to the English, “我唔想要 Drink It”. And I think he was whining, “I don’t want to!!” His dad can’t control himself, thinks he gets through better in English – breaks my heart on so many levels. And here I thought it was good that he was sleep-pleading 轉彎 instead of, “Turn around” and other things he mutters in Chinglish in his sleep!

If his dad can’t do better, than I simply have to.

I love the few minutes I might have in the morning when he’s awake and I haven’t left for work yet. We were having fun with tones and we ran through the different words that sound like “bao”: bread (), wrap (), include (包括), full (), explode (), abalone () and – funny enough – give birth to ().

28 May I think I was having a bad day but was very sensitive to the words that he was using in English that he wouldn’t have heard from me – and maybe not in our home either – and he was definitely saying in Chinese before. Like “pillow”. Gosh, his English sounds adorable, too, so it’s hard to not relish it in some small way. But otherwise, “Argh!”

30 May He so fluidly uses Chinglish. Apparently he doesn’t know how to use “to be” in either English or Cantonese so he’s just using the word “was”. For example “我 was 做緊嘢” (“I was doing something!”). I think he only had to make the substitution and say “我 係 做緊嘢” but it feels like it has different impact. The power of Chinglish!

8 June These days, there are more negotiations taking place. Can you do this first and then we can do something else? However, NPY can’t remember a few simple connecting words and kiddo follows suit saying “first” and “after”. So I’m constantly correcting/teaching him:  “, 我哋食嘢, 跟住我哋可以玩” (“First, we eat; then, we can play.”)

18 June Kiddo has been having nightmares of unfitful sleep for the past few days and it’s heartening that he’s whining in Chinese.

I was listening in on conversation between kiddo and his dad and I’m pleased to hear the dad trying to say it all in Chinese. If kiddo were instead an adult Chinese-speaker who knows English, he might have switched to English for NPY’s benefit. But kiddo is a kid and his dad is speaking to him in his primary language and so it’s largely in Chinese. And I shouldn’t fret about the English word here and there because both NPY and I are more English speakers. Kiddo is clearly thinking in between the words in Chinese and that, I am happy he has for as long as possible. Huzzah! Breakthrough revelation!!!

22 June We love how kiddo can teach his dad, uncle and even sometimes his grandmother Chinese words. He only knows how to turn the TV on and look at Google Images via Chromecast and we are fine with that. I like to think that observing the amazing nature or cityscapes, he’s learning about the world. One day, it was a waterfall photo and NPY just wants to refer to it was water (水水) but kiddo knows the name! What is it? It’s a 瀑布! Which quickly became the nickname-de-jour for kiddo whom we otherwise refer to in a similar tone with 寶寶!

4 July #2 was born and we gave her the name we had decided upon months ago – kiddo already has his own nickname for her that I hope we’ll adopt, concocted in light he learned this year he likes lemon (lemon water) and even can drink lemon juice straight- he refers to her as 檸檬!

6 July Kiddo enjoys using the word 撈攪 and I love seeing him embrace a word. It’s kind of a catch all for messed up and messy and can be used to described a lot of situations you don’t have other words for!

7 July This time around, NPY is comfortable and starting with P in Chinese right away. Meanwhile, I found myself awkward talking to a non-responsive newborn in Chinese such that I just didn’t talk to her much. Anyhow, NPY’s Chines with P is an excellent example for kiddo to be around.

11 July An older toddler petulant tone has entered kiddo’s Chinese, it’s endearing if not as sweet as before! And it’s still Chinese!

14 July Kiddo corrected NPY on a difficult tone and was validated for his knowledge in the form of loud cheers for him. I can’t remember what NPY said but the correct tone/word was one kiddo enjoys using: “erect”, as in stand on end as hair does.

18 July After all the effort of correcting him whenever kiddo said “all” and “and then”, he said 所有人! And 跟注! There are a lot of words for “then” but this one I like to use because it literally means “following that”

21 July I was talking to a daycare dad about grandparents support and I came to a random “justification” thought: that I must be vigilant and continue speaking in Chinese even as kiddo changes his mind because he doesn’t have the second set of grandparents here, the ones who would speak in Cantonese to him (to me, too). I presumed that that daycare family doesn’t speak in Chinese at home (I’ve overhead their conversations) while the parents certainly understand me when I speak to kiddo in Chinese – and I presume the kid knows Chinese from grandparents.

22 July We continue to have fun with wordplay, like  三衫, which turns out exactly the same tone!

23 July After Evan made a dental impression in NPY’s arm, NPY schooled Evan re 牙印 vs 牙形. I got into it when I schooled NPY who thought 形 meant shadow but that is actually 人影. English was used here and there to provide direct translations of the Chinese words in question but there was much appreciation of the language and laughter over the exhange. :)

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