On raising a bilingual child – 60-month (5-year) mark

This update is so freakin’ late there’s a possibility I won’t get it out and the next one is due but here goes.

It feels like so much is going on at this time of writing (~8 October) but at the same time, not a lot. Maybe it’s because I’m not yet back at work and into Month 15 of being a SAHM. When I get back to work then a lot is going on!!


(28 April) We were watching a nature video on YouTube and the narrator says “giraffe” and I accidentally say it too and it’s happening more and more where I want to speak quickly and the English word comes up and I have to stop myself. In this case, he heard it and said, “中文!” My heart melts he wants it.

I don’t want to probe him to make him conscious but does he not like to hear English from me? Is Chinese his safe language because it comes from me and I don’t get as angry as dad does who switches to English? (At this time of writing I should remember this because I get so mad at him and perhaps I can be conscious of associating kinder discipline words with Chinese while NPY shouts and curses in English.)

I don’t want him to think we like one language and not the other. I don’t want to explicitly forbid Kiddo from English because you know what’s going to happen then!

Lately I’m madder than ever when NPY makes less effort or talks to me in English in front of Kiddo despite my explicit request that we speak in front of him in Chinese. So I shout none too elegantly and none too quietly “中文!” More often than naught, it only makes NPY petulant and shout more in English. Does that show Kiddo I’m trying to protect his safe language?

(29 April) Kiddo loves his Cars story book I picked up for him from Dollarama of all places. I’ve animatedly told him the story many times so I was happy to hear him whispering the story to himself as he was flipping through, using the same phrases I would have used.

In the jargon @ChalkAcademy uses, our majority language is Cantonese and minority is English. Meanwhile, hers is the reverse and she has to buff up the minority language and downplay the majority language. It’s kind of a waiting game for me when majority and minority languages flip here but it hasn’t by a long shot. I hear it’s a switch when they start school. Maybe Kiddo will defy the odds.

(2 May) He was playing in English and I asked him to speak in Chinese and he fairly respectfully said he didn’t want to. I didn’t press it because that is the wrong way to go about it.

(14 May) he’s having a lot of fun with words like 長癩癩 which is Cantonese vernacular to not just say something is long in length, but excessively long. Similar expressions he knows and I relish in sharing with him are 白雪雪 (“snow white”) or 滑脟脟 (I have been saying waat tuut tuut) and associated 滑潺潺 (“unpleasantly slippery”) or onomatopeic meaning “to peck away at”. I revel in how colourful Cantonese is and wonder how enthusiastic about English I will be, at first and later.

(16 May) He freakin’ loves a line I animatedly say from his Cars story when “Chicksy” (what I call Chick Hicks) loses and exclaims “唔係唔嗎!” which is a lot more colourful than the English text, “It can’t be!”

(25 May) He refers to an Imagine Dragons song as the “horses song” in all earnestness and we couldn’t figure out why. Then I figured out the lyric is, “Run me like a racehorse” and it all makes sense. His innocence just comes through and it’s so sweet.

(28 May) Given lockdown since mid-March and minimal contact with his cousin and extended family, never mind no days at daycare, and little screentime, how does he still know English lol.

(2 June) More onomatopeia he enjoys: 重踏踏 (“heavy thump thump”), 輕寥寥 (I can’t find what I say, “heng chang chang”), 嚡熠熠 (“rough”). Kiddo is eager to mimick these after first hearing them abd it’s hilarious to hear a toddler sounding so grown up to say it in conversation with a tad of emphasis!

(7 June) I don’t know the normal way to say it so I’ve said it kind of translate, “Have a good day! Have fun!” He learned from me and now says it back, or if we hear him pretending to be on the phone, “好好日子! 玩得開心”!

We’ve been playing a lot of Crazy 8s during dinner and his introduction to the concept of waste/ is when we say we wasted an 8 card. Lol.

(11 June) Kiddo said, “邊度係你嘅電話” which is more grammatically correct if it was “你嘅電話係邊度le?” Originally I thought he was using English grammar or intuition of it was NPY’s influence who certainly doesn’t have a feel for Chinese grammaar. But at the time or writing, I think he’s not really capable of forming good questions as it is and that “le” is something that takes time to figure out how to use.

(30 June) Kiddo was playing some phonics app on NPY’s computer and it was learning the word “koala” and it broke my heart because he previously only knows of it as 樹熊.

(1 July) More listening in on Kiddo when he pretend phone calls, “Hello! 好唔好日子?” It’s adorable and it’s brilliant. At this time of writing I realize he didn’t hear that from me and he’s formulating the question in the Chinese way of “good-not good”.

(12 July) I am totally appreciating that he initiates conversation with us in Chinese. I might have to recast (jargon I learned from @ChalkAcademy) words but not the basic sentences. I am truly appreciating it. It would feel so weird in English.

(16 July) Following a recommendation from @ChalkAcademy, Tuttle brand Mandarin picture dictionaries for everyone! That is, I recommended it to three other mommies.

I said “balance” to tell him to keep his hands out and he said “中文!” I haven’t yet caught this gem on video or in audio clip and maybe I won’t. And there are many words that I say and he doesn’t prompt me for the Chinese and one day he will accept all English from me. :(

(21 July) I am grateful for his flexibility to re-learn something when I’ve taught him wrong. All along we’ve been saying a “magician” is 魔術人, when it’s more accurately 魔術師. It was a good teaching moment to teach him what a 師 is. Or that Daschund is not the transliterated “香腸狗” but instead known in Chinese as a “臘腸狗”. Bonus because he then learns about Chinese sausage too.

I had Pleco read out the alternate word for “monkey” (猴) and then he was repeating it to himself.

(24 July) The first words when he woke up on his birthday were “今日係我嘅生日”!

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