On raising a bilingual child – 57-month mark

I feel like I made far fewer notes this quarter than the previous ones. I do note some great things and my heart swells to hear Kiddo sound native, particularly when he enjoys some expression like 黐黐湆湆 or exaggeratingly but correctly adding “la” as emphasis to a plea he is making.

Things are changing as we hit more complex ideas that Kiddo wants to learn about. My vocabulary surprises me at times and disappoints me most of the time. I’ve framed some of the English words I’ve peppered in as “there’s no Chinese word for this” and there might not be because it’s actually another language like French, but sometimes it’s just a lie and it’s because I don’t know the Chinese word. I’m happy to teach him a French word if I don’t know the Chinese word, with my last resort being the English word.

I’m ever conscious that we could be denying Kiddo from the enriched vocabulary he’d experience if we allowed ourselves to speak in English but I would never not teach him a concept about the world around him simply because I don’t have the words. But it means that NPY can’t teach him things he doesn’t have the vocabulary for and his is far worse than mine.

I should give ample props to NPY for operating so much in a dialect he long ago dropped, keeping up in the language as much as he does, and sticking to it when it’s been challenging like teaching Kiddo how to bike or how to operate the controller for a video game. He so wants to switch to English because he feels like he’s not understood but he didn’t (under my watch).

I’m not sure how frequently I’ll have these bilingual posts but I don’t want to stop just because things are going downhill. I need to document that too. These blog posts have been my reminder of how things have come along. And there are interesting confounding factors upcoming including Kiddo starting school and having a toddler sibling who “doesn’t understand English” but is about to say her own words.

(25 January) It’s like NPY decided to stop speaking Chinese in the house with me. Or, I decided to speak it more and am irritated by his responses are in angered English because he is often caught off-guard by the language I use. My general rule: speak to NPY in Chinese in the presence of Kiddo, unless it is “work” which basically means anything truly work or more technical.

(26 January) Not new: Canadian-born, NPY claims to be “Taiwanese” and that he converted to Cantonese because of me. Well… good! Good to have established a “family language”, as the lingo goes.

(29 January) The word for baby rattle is officially 嬰兒撥浪鼓. Um, yeah right! I just call it something somewhat onomatopeic: 擢擢 – it reinforces those two vocabulary words!

We were singing the “Green & speckled frogs” song and Kiddo asked for it to be sung to him in Chinese! Fortunately there is enough repetition and simple vocabulary that I basically have it. And nearly matched the tune:
五個點點蛙
坐上點點樹 (should be 木頭)
食緊好甜蟲蟲
一個跳落水
水水係好好涼
而家淨有四個青蛙!

(1 February) Due to me having to feed Baby, NPY is wrangling Kiddo more and more and things are getting more and more frustrating. NPY forgoes all restraint and shouts and threatens in English and Kiddo disintegrates into tears asks to be spoken to in Chinese! My poor Kiddo.

Sometimes (increasingly often) I don’t know the Chinese word and reluctantly give the English word but with a Chinese twang/accent. Some words, I’ve switched to Chinese that we’ve previously said in English (事故 for accident, 拍球棒 for bat) and he’s cool with the switch. He’ll say that “when I was a baby, I said ‘accident’ and now I say 事故”, even if it was just a month before! He hasn’t really grasped the concept of time well.

(13 February) I looked up the Chinese word for Superman and other superheroes and Superman (超人) is an easy one to transition to. He didn’t like when I read him his Justice League storybook when I kept saying 超人 so I was playing with his patience and would say “Superman” but then under my breath say “超人” and he says he can hear me but we have fun at it. Eventually, he doesn’t object to me saying 超人 at all.

(19 February) He obviously doesn’t know he’s using a classifier that isn’t the noun when he says 本書 so it’s interesting that he refers to his sticker book as “sticker 本書”.

These days, Kiddo is often exclaiming “我有一個主意!” (“I have an idea!”) Although I also will say “計劃” (plan), he hasn’t picked up on that term, that’s okay!

(20 February) When full-scale screaming in a meltdown and he was overtired, he shouted, “我好嬲” and my heart smiled a little because it will switch to English at some point. (Also, looking up this character, , turns out “anger” is a woman character caught between two male characters!)

(25 February) NPY and I often get brown (啡色) and gray (灰色) mixed up because we Anglo and they both start with the “F” sound. Kiddo doesn’t mix them up and corrects us at times! Or alligator/crocodiel (鱷魚) and shark (鯊魚), because a shark seems darned “ock” (惡) to me! Or between glue (which we’ve been calling 膠漿) and syrup (糖漿) so I think I’ll switch to the more proper 膠水 because I know it’s wrong if I’ve said 糖水 because that’s a whole other thing.

(29 February) Might the Kiddo be ESL?! Despite some people (NPY) thinking it’s a bad thing if he ends up in ESL, and I heard if you so much as list that their first language at home is not English, they land in ESL, it’s a point of pride with me, that he’s not as good in English as in Chinese, with me (!!) a CBC as a mom and NPY who is struggling to keep up. I can’t make entirely out what my notes from this day means but I think I meant to say that Kiddo doesn’t seem confident with his English around us, his scrutinizing parents who pay too much attention to him, but he’s also not ramping up his English. “Phonics okay” is what I wrote but I don’t know what I meant by that.

(2 March) Some fun word play today: 有油油 which means “to have painted”.

(5 March) I realized that should give myself some credit sometimes. In everyday conversations, we are so fluent, we sound so authentic. It’s just when we get more “technical”, that I sometimes falter, and we are limited by vocabulary and expressions. I’m trying to expand these!

(14 March) Since the routine we established in the beginning, we’ve switched and I’m with Baby until she falls asleep or he’s done getting Kiddo ready for bed. He’s had to deal with the full brunt of Kiddo’s whining and lack of independence and dragging his feet. In his impatience, NPY is harassing Kiddo a lot in English, things he thinks he’s more convincing in English: “Come on!”, “Hurry up”, “It’s okay.” I really, really wounds me to hear that. It’s so easy to keep in Chinese and he doesn’t.

(21 March) Kiddo attended his last day of daycare for a while and we began self-quarantining in all seriousness and this year where Kiddo is “supposed” to lose his Chinese any time now takes a strange turn. Until July, he won’t be in daycare or spending all day with his grandparents. Hurrah, his English proportion is much declined!

(25 March) The kid knows and is listening. He asked “Why do you and Baba not speak in Chinese?” I explained that NPY’s Chinese is not good. I also said that we’re talking about work and hope that any of these excuses will make some sense to him.

(2 April) For the life of me, I don’t know why he so often likes to bring a statue into his imaginary play. I looked up statue and thought I found something easy for us to remember: 石像. But it turns out the correct words are more like 神像 (god statue), 造像 (famous figure), 人像 (person figure).

Self-quarantine means Kiddo’s exposure to his playmates is through “Facetime” (What’s App video). He has terrible phone etiquette because he’s not practiced in it and scurries into his room for privacy that he’s starting to request and to escape my ear. He explained that he forgets the Chinese words and that’s why he’s speaking in English.

(5 April) NPY taught Kiddo to ride a bike using mostly Chinese instructions. That was a good and proud moment.

Loved this observation of Kiddo’s regarding the trials of hand clapping nightly to thank healthcare workers: 有時拍到腫sai “Sometimes I’ve clapped my hands until they are all swollen!”

(6 April) More chagrin when I hear things really fall apart during Kiddo’s nightly routine when he’s tired and NPY doesn’t bother with Chinese in his anger, “Hurry up!” “Don’t touch that!” “What do you want!” And I can hear Kiddo breaking down and crying and begging, “中文…” and I’m cursing at him behind a closed door because I’m feeding Baby. It tears me up to hear it. So I guess English is the angry language in which NPY and I argue, and NPY shouts at him and it upsets him. Maybe the negative association is good, for my purposes.
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(8 April) Where parents are often shouting after their infants and toddlers, “Gentle! Gentle!”, I’ve decided to go with “柔柔“. I’m so pleased that Kiddo snapped that one up so quickly. He’s a sponge and I feel so bad that I’m not giving him enough – not enough new, and only crappy translations.

Since self-quarantining, I started following Chalk Academy on Instagram who is “raising trilinqual kids” with a One Parent One Language policy at home and characterizing Chinese and Korean as the “minority language”. So it is so inspiring to see her ideas and I was busy re-creating some of them. However, I have some different challenges because so far Chinese is our “majority language” and our “family language” is Chinese. My big questions is that as the kids have higher vocabulary, how do you keep up? Do they just remember once? When they ask her a question, do they wait for her to look it up in a dictionary/online? When it comes to technical vocabulary, there isn’t always a mnemonic to remember it. At the very least, they are learning pinyin so if they see the word in pinyin, they can pronounce it. But not necessarily understand where it all fits in the scheme, you know?

(20 April) I try to find the Cantonese or proper Chinese name for car models. I’ll even invent some to teach Kiddo so more Chinese. For example, I told Kiddo that Infiniti is 無邊, which means “no border” or infinite. How quickly he picked up 三菱, the official name for Mitsubishi and doesn’t even know the word Mitsubishi, I’m so pleased. It aligns with his interest in cars!

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