On raising a bilingual child – 51-month mark

(31 August) This interval is definitely more about my concerns than language acquisition and cute things. He continues to be speaking in Chinese to us, and in English to all others. He chatters and expresses his thoughts in Chinese in multiple sentences to outline his thoughts. I worry about lack of vocabulary and how tentative I still am to say the new words in English. I wonder if he knows the word patterns enough to know I that a new word is English, even if I (evilly) provide it to him accented. Actually, I’m sure he’s figured it out, if only subconsciously. Sometimes he asks me for the Chinese word. Not often though.

(5 August) I don’t like it but I see the double (triple/quadruple) whammy that is our scenario that expediates/promotes kiddo speaking more English – (1) more complex play we don’t have the vocabulary for (2) more play with NPY because (a) I don’t care for that kind of play (b) I have more domestic responsibilities (c) one of those parenting responsibilities – i.e., breastfeeding – only I can fulfill (3) promoting his independence means spending less time with him drilling in Chinese.

(16 August) I listened to a TED talk regarding the evolution of human emotion and it is posited that you understand an emotion better when you have the word for it. At the toddler stage, they are experiencing so many emotions, many for the first time as they meet the world. I am afraid that in this era where emotional quotient (EQ) is paramount, Kiddo doesn’t know different emotions because I haven’t given him the Chinese word for it. All the while though, I do encourage him to feel it, talk about it. Hearing the TED talk encouraged me to learn and list emotion words but I haven’t completed or posted it yet.

(18 August) I was told by elders that the second child learns less Chinese and this is nothing new to me given my observations amongst my cousins and in-laws. It’s good for a while because you have two kids speaking Chinese but then the older one switches, whether from daycare or kindergarten, and then speaks to the younger in English and then you’re done.

(27 August) This is not new but a note – if I can translate something to Chinese, eg, sunflower, I will. What’s funny is when the translation turns out to be accurate! For example, daffodils look like trumpets and that’s what they’re called!

He comes back from PNE and says “Super 狗仔”! But then another time he says “Superdogs”. Loved how he translated it himself.

(28 August) He knows about “new Peppa”. That is, there are only so many episodes to watch in Cantonese and if you watch the English episodes on YouTube or Netflix, it’s a big wide world. Peppa and her friends experience Everything and it would such great Chinese. We would not words like 鸚鵡 (parrot) and 城堡 (castle) were it not for Peppa!

(31 Auguat) In his semi sleep state, he’s not rational and prone to cry – refusing to have his diaper changed, crying because I wasn’t there – NPY was threatening him in English, angry beyond reason. The sad part of me dreaded how Kiddo will later be angry and lash out in all English. So I swooped in as the too compassionate “good cop” that leaves NPY angry at me – I don’t care. It breaks my heart to hear the English under duress because NPY claims he can’t speak fast enough. I know the truth is he feels more effective in English and I’ve actually thought through the detrimental effect.

(1 September) Sometimes it takes us time to think of the Chinese word so just now, when I wanted to tell him to pick up another slice of apple, I paused at 執起另外 (zap1 hei2 ling6 ngoi6) and I didn’t have to say 塊蘋果 (faai3 ping4 gwo2). I noticed that NPY will use a generic to get around the vocabulary and Kiddo understands based on context – how bad is that?

(6 September) It seems like he’s forgetting some words – I can’t tell if he’s truly forgotten or he doesn’t want to think about it because he’s a toddler and being rebellious.

(22 September) He requested that the discussion we were having about something banal and adult topic be conducted in Chinese – I love him for that!

Gnoh Hai yut go boe gai – redundant but love how he picked it up

(24 September) At least a couple of weeks ago, we cut off the videos cold turkey. It was getting crazy, like upwards of an hour at dinner and then also lunch on weekends, breakfast for 45 minutes some days and some 15 minutes before bed. He learned to game it. It was Paw Patrol in English on repeat. He was tired of Cantonese Peppa because the episodes were so limited and he asked for new episodes, which were in English. I like to think his Chinese got better when all that English got wiped! Or we’ve stalled the slide a bit.

(30 September) I’m super worried about the uphill battle I face after going away one week. NPY doesn’t even know/bother to say the simple words like “special” and correct Evan when he says “all of them” (所有) and “and then” (跟住) like I doggedly do. He doesn’t know the Chinese words that Kiddo knows like pattern “fah mun” and tight “gung” that he’s going to introduce to Evan for the first time. Ack! Actually, realistically, Kiddo must have heard those words in English at times and gaining awareness of their meaning. Which gets cemented when used by someone he learns from like NPY. I needn’t worry – as much – because he didn’t learn and cement all the Chinese in a week and he won’t lose it all in a week…

When I hear him playing alone and it’s in English, that clears up my questions about his vocabulary – he understands and can use the words I’m afraid of although I wonder about his ability to understand chatter in English when it’s not his peers in a play situation – no, then? and so we don’t want him to understand it by us conducting it – and we have been conducting more conversations in Chinese

(1 October) While I see the inevitable progression to monolingualism within the next year as if something nefarious is lurking, waiting to undermine all my work at once (serious!), I have to be reasonable and know that kiddo is not thinking, Ooh Mama is away, let’s turn monolingual. I mean, I flip flop every day between being uneasy and freaked out leaving him alone with NPY but it will be okay …. he knows I’m the parent who speaks Chinese, who does the language policing, who happens to understand all his English anyhow.

I got so pissed when NPY loses it (easily) and negotiates/yells/threatens kiddo in English. Such emotionally charged times and in English.

I wonder how much he will resent some of the stuff that I taught him because I wanted to squeeze in some more Chinese words, of it ends up embarrassing him. Like “M 餐館” for McDonald’s, “薄荷 Ernie” for Sparemint Ernie, “pom樹樹” for palm tree, “雷神” for Thor, etc. Some as so legit (like Thor) but others could get him teased for being sheltered (McDonald’s) but make no mistake kiddo knows the word for restaurant, mint, thunder and God that he could have skipped out on!

(2 October) I never frame one language as good or bad because you know what would happen if I were to suggest something senseless like English is bad, or I don’t like English.

Kiddo thinks the word for “wall” is 埲墻 (bung6 coeng4). How do we explain that 埲 is a Cantonese-only classified used only for walls? We dont. But for him to know the classifier like that, I think it’s a win! Meanwhile, he doesn’t know the correct classifier for “car” is (ga), but I also can’t seem to confirm that right now.

(12 October) when he was frustrated with me, after a great morning and afternoon together, he spoke to me in all English, asking me to help with his boots. I requested he say it in Chinese and the petulance, he didn’t want to. But he’s sweet again later and in Chinese. That is the progression away, a test, it feels to me and unconsciously administered by him.

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