On raising a bilingual child – 63-month mark

Should I continue these posts? I am so tardy in posting them although at the very least they are appearing in consecutive order. I find that I am not making so many notes as I was before. That is probably natural. And as this series is about BI-lingualism, I’m really ignoring and trying to beat off improvements in English. Or perhaps we will see that I will be commenting more about English creeping in. :( But not – as I keep having to remind myself – to be unexpected.

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(26 July) Kids are prone to exaggerate so when he wants to say some large number, he says 萬 (10,000). Then he corrects include the two large numbers he knows which is 一百萬 (100 and 10,000). He knows in theory about 1,000 but doesn’t say it often. We find it funny because of his desire to exaggerate and he has inadvertantly said the same amount that kid would say in English, that is, 一百萬 is 1,000,000 “one million”!

From his favourite riddle book, the joke goes, “What do you get when you cross a bat and a bell? A ding-bat!” He doens’t even know what a ding-bat is but it sound funny to him. So far, I’ve been saying to him, “一個 bat-雀仔 撞到 一個 鐘 響緊ding 叫做乜嘢呢?” He would be able to pick up “ding” and “bat” to string together ding-bat. Then I taught him that bat is 飛鼠 (flying mouse) and then he wanted me to say the joke with 飛鼠 and then his response became ding-飛鼠!

I catch myself almost saying the English word because he is talking more, asking more and I get as far as saying “s-” before catching myself and saying 歌 (song).

(27 July) NPY shows his roots and says 馬上 which I’m sure he heard in Mandarin and then says it in Cantonese and it sounds clunky to me, especailly if I think of the characters separately and literally! I never say that one, raised with using 即刻. Kiddo understands the meaning from either of us. NPY is often angry when he says it so the context is a negative. I’m not sweepingly eschewing Mandarin. The kids’ lives are enriched by me picking & choosing. Kiddo picked up the Mandarin version for 客廳 (ke4 ting1) presumably from MIL before ever saying it in Cantonese and I agree it sounds more polite than the Cantonese version I grew up with (haak3 teng1).

As NPY relaxes and slips in more English, I shout at him, “中文!” It doesn’t take a trained eye to identify how hostile and disrespectful I sound and NPY gets petulant. He speaks in English because he’s annoyed or incapable or lazy or whaever – I don’t give a damn because he was trying harder previously. When I make an issue of him not speaking in Chinese, I hope to cast English in a bad-ish light for Kiddo, with respect to using it in the home with family.

(29 July) I worry that NPY is not too unconsciously slipping in English words as Kiddo grows older, that since he’s happy to speak in English, his joy or the fun he can embue is picked up by Kiddo to make Kiddo enjoy it and respond in English. My nightmare!

Not a new observation and in fact observed it months ago – how does Kiddo knows that something is Asian? Without me directly educating him, he can point out obvious and subtle Asian motif and tell us he thinks something is, “中文嘢”. We confirm when he is correct because I want him to know without me providing a limiting description. Most recently, he said that with regards to the Dragon Palace race course in Mariokart.

(1 Aug) Here’s where I wish we had a constant recording of our lives because I will probably never catch in video or audio Kiddo saying, “中文!” requesting that I don’t use an English word and say the Chinese word he’s familiar with (unless I totally rig a scenario …) I had said “share” the way parents tell kids to share, the way it’s such a repeated lesson. The other word that parents are constantly saying is, “Gentle!” For that, I got both kids very accustomed to 柔柔. I think the term I should be repeating to them, in the context when parents are imploring their kids to share, is 分享.

I got shrill and yelled at NPY, “中文!” when he got mad at me about planning weekend activities and wanted to vent in English. I said (in Chinese) I wouldn’t talk to him in English. Meanwhile, Kiddo is watching and listening and internalizing something. I wonder which way it will go for him….

(2 Aug) As “they all say”, when Kiddo gets drawn out at school and English is normalized for him, he’ll switch. That English stuff will make sense to him. But what if he’s in school only a couple days? That’s where I hope the switch will be delayed.

(3 Aug) I heard him singing while he played, ad libbing but to the tune of Frere Jacques. It’s a very flexible tune that he’s heard me re-arrange (change the lyrics) as I change Baby’s diapers 換緊尿片 using different words every time. Of course when I pressed Record on my phone while trying to play it cool, he wound down his singing! I don’t even sing that song too often any longer.

(4 Aug) We differentiate between Cantonese and Mandarin and call them 我哋中文 (“our Chinese”) and 嫲嫲中文 (“Grandmother’s Chinese”) and I said that he needs to attend Mandarin lessons and he doesn’t want to. I don’t want to give him the idea that knowing Cantonese is ultimately useless in the global perspective. Given he’s learning Mandarin properly younger than I did, he won’t hate me for not teaching him A Language I Don’t Know to give him a leg up.

While he can barely tell me what happened at daycare, he was eager to tell me what happened in a Paw Patrol episode that introduced two new pups, relating the story to me in Chinese! And when he repeated what the characters said, he translated to Chinese to tell me, instead of parroting what he heard in English! That is, he understands what he hears.

(5 Aug) Who knew the word “cave” was so popular with my kid? We had been using the English word until I finally remembered to look it up and 山窿 is easy to remember and descriptive (“mountail hole”) so he switched over with ease and I’m so pleased whenever I heard him use it. It helps that it shows up in his stories, e.g., Batman’s Batcave. He might even have forgotten the Englihs word or he’s just not applying himself. Like when he’s doing homework and he doesn’t try hard to rememer the English word for 蜜蜂 is “bumble bee” – he knows it!

(7 Aug) Kiddo asked what “cereal” is in Chinese. Not a word I know, not a word I think I want to say: 穀 (guk1). So I just told him it’s not a Chinese food so there’s not Chinese name for it!

(9 Aug) So, NPY who is generally skeptical of what our GP knows, said that she told him one parent speaking Chinese is good enough. He must have expressed to her the stress of speaking to Kiddo in Chinese all of the time (or my disastisfaction that he’s slacking on it). He speaks Baby in Chinese because that’s simple vocabulary he’s been through with Kiddo but slips in English words to Kiddo when he damn well pleases. Which in turn makes me stressed out.

(11 Aug) Not Kiddo’s bilingualism but related: given it’s a mental health issue, I’m not supposed to harass NPY for speaking English but I’m so afraid of the example it’s setting and I am resentful of NPY not dissimilar to when I was mad at ex-boyfriends (who weren’t Chinese) for not speaking Chinese. How will this go?

(20 Aug) Kiddo’s cousin A lives in a “trilingual” environment so I endeavour to speak to the cousin in Cantonese because the kid understands because he’s “trilingual” or will understand the context and I certainly don’t like the sound of me speaking in English around Kiddo. NPY says A doesn’t understand but I don’t give a damn. It’s not like important stuff.

(27 Sept) In exploring and analyzing his word, Kiddo notices similarities and the vocab he likes to us is 似樣, e.g., “X 似樣 Y”. It has always sounded judgmental to me for some reason, especially when he says something isn’t 似樣. Now I know that 似樣 doesn’t mean “similar” as I thought but more so “presentable”. If he wants to use 似 + 樣, it needs to be phrased more like “X 似 Y 樣” which could be advanced adjective splitting for him.

My sister moved to our city in mid-August and I’m trying to spend as much time with her as possible because the weather is better in the summer and my mat leave ends at the end of December. Kiddo is hearing me speaking English fluently with my sister. Which isn’t necessarily that different from me talking to friends and in-laws. But it’s just something more. And for him to hear NPY speaking, openly defiantly to me in English, and I’m so afraid he’s getting the tools and confidence to switch …

(7 Oct) Why does Kiddo love the words 風球 (Canto for typhoon apparently, but I apply to tornadoes) and 坑渠 (properly means drain/ditch but we’ve been using it to mean pipe/sewer)? Because he’s a five-year-old kid!!

(8 Oct) Chatting with Kiddo before he goes to sleep, he told me that 900 is 九零零 9-0-0 and I quizzed him with 600, to make sure it’s not a fluke. I asked him if he knows what’s a big number, like bigger than 100, like 100*10,000. I had to tell him that 千百 (1,000-100) does not exist. Just some observations: (1) he’s so sweet with seemingly nothing but Chinese is going through his head and it’s not even an issue or question within him what language to speak in general or with me; (2) he seems to be at an equilibrium – learning every day, improving every day, which is to say he’s not speaking more English now than a few months ago. Not yet.

(9 Oct) Kiddo’s uncle and aunt were over to play Mario Kart and I observed that Kiddo speaks to NPY in their presence. Nothing surprising but noteworthy he keeps it straight still.

(11 Oct) Without prompting he’ll greet me in the morning “早晨媽媽” like a proper Chinese kid! At these times, I feel like I’ve trained him so well. And he’s greating his elders with or without prompting and is now enthusiastic. Maybe he understands how others appreciate it.

Listening to Chinese music, he’s open to it. We don’t know all the lyrics but he’s open to learning. What I do is ultimately slow down the music for us to keep up. I rip the videos from YouTube to a video file. Using my video editor, I slow down the video clip and strip advertisement chatter. I’ll export the audio file and the video back to YouTube to my library.

(14 Oct) I will literally wake up in the middle of the night with fears of Kiddo spending eight (actually six) hours of the day at school with the strong drive to teach him in English (cf daycare just child-minding him). Fears of him pushing back on Cantonese and questioning the purpose of us speaking it, increased difficulty encouraging him to learn Mandarin … ! It makes me so sad. How will I react when we get to that poiont? For how long can *I* maintain a space where he wants to speak in Chinese? Yes. Frustratingly, but also with some pride, it’s down to me to keep the Chinese in the house.

Regarding Baby: SometimesI worry that we aren’t fostering language development with her but it’s a fleetin worry because she’s surrounded by Chinese and she’s drinking it all in as a baby does and wants to learn about her world.

Baby’s words to date: mama (meaning me, but also her word when crying for help and solace), baba, bobo (ball), popo (my mother), chhhh (cheese), nana (milk and water), chek (bird) and hilariously “woo ahhh” for crow (“woo-gna”).

Baby is so used to me calling my mother every two days, after she’s finished her bath, and she’s heard Kiddo greet my mother, “Popo!” When NPY dials out on his phone when he’s often checking his work voicemail, she hears the dialing and shouts, “Bobo!” thinking it’s a call to my mother!

During this strange Covid year, Kiddo started Kindergarten and we had a lot of misgivings, wondering how equipped the schools were to handle physical distancing especially amongst kids who have no self-restraint. Since I’m on mat leave until the end of the year and the school board provided a transition option, it was a no-brainer to keep Kiddo out of the classroom for as long as possible. School started in September and children could start in October, November or December. We thought he would start in November, unless it became untenable for him to be at home and we needed him to start earlier. And we wouldn’t have him stay at home until January because that is when I return to work. I wanted to be present as he started and became adjusted to school. Which mean that Kiddo was at home and not in an English-language classroom for two extra months. Additionally, Kiddo has a younger sibling to whom he speaks in Chinese. And since March (seven months), he hasn’t had much exposure to the grandparents who speak more English than we do.

(14 Oct) In the midst of some Chinese singing or something, I asked Kiddo if he will always speak in Chinese to me and he said he would and I asked him why and he said it was because he “ho zhong yee nay!” Aww if my recording app wasn’t busted … !

(16-18 Oct) We traveled with my sister, her husband and infant. It was fascinating and encouraging and proud-moment to watch him fluidly switch to English for my sister’s husband and then turn to us and continue in Chinese. My sister knows how important it is to me and she wants her child to know Chinese, too, so we are both speaking to each other’s kids in Chinese. I hope my sister will in time find it strange to speak to Kiddo in English, as I do.

(21 Oct) I just wanted to have it on record that he was talking to my sister and he speaks to her in Chinese and she responds in kind. He was telling her about his room, his giant custom bed he named a 城市床 and how the 王帝床 is next door in the master bedroom, that I 畫畫 and telling her his parents’ 公司顏色. I’m so proud of his Chinese and the details he retains, and he explained to my sister which part of his bed is warmer and where he likes to sleep (the coolest part) and he talks to his sister and little cousin in Chinese. He doesn’t speak to his other cousins in Chinese!

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