On raising a bilingual child – 66-month mark

This quarter it seems I still have sufficient notes to keep this series up, fortunately!

Just a note – these updates take me a lot of time! I make notes throughout the quarter and then when I copy into edit for a blog post, I have to spruce up the grammer, convey those thoughts more articulately and add in the Chinese characters! It takes two to three blogging sessions!

(26 October) Kiddo’s Chinese sentences seem clumsy and is it because he’s a school-aged kid who is still learning or is it because I’m not proficient or is it because he’s adopting English grammar to his sentences? I didn’t note down an example. He will not speak mostly Chinese for that much longer and I feel like he would excel in English so I feel fleeting guilty about him stalling on these grounds.

If I am soothing Baby to sleep, I’ll recite a verse that Kiddo (and consequently I did, as I learned it better and he’s reluctant) learned in Mandarin class. It starts with “睡的早, 起的早…” She likes it and I’m so glad I can give her (and Kiddo) something in Mandarin that didn’t come from my mother but comes from their heritage nonetheless. Baby is going to experience Mandarin (and Cantonese) differently from Kiddo and my own upbringing. When I was younger Mandarin was yet to be on the rise so I didn’t hear it around the house. NPY’s household growing up portends to have a fluid mix of languages. The beauty of it is that I can control the mix and pick and choose the “best”. For example, she’ll know 不要 as familiarily as she also knows 唔想要! As mentioned before, I don’t mind the kiddos saying ke4 ting1 instead of haak3 teng1 for 客廳 in the least.

(29 Oct) He learned in English the song “For he’s a jolly good fellow” and can’t get enough of it. He also loved the Cantonese watermelon song and I can’t learn it fast enough and I’m afraid he will lose interest but it is just what I can do. Because I’m not ardent enough to cram it all into memory and my tongue is all tied up and old.

(1 Nov) Kiddo’s school required that I complete some forms that would provide them with profile information on him. Initially, a year ago, I may have answered that his home language is English. I heard that if you put any language besides English, the kid gets shunted into ESL where they fade instead of bloom. But there’s no ESL (at Kiddo’s school), and I wanted on the record that they have a student who started in Chinese. His teacher said that there isn’t a special, separate class and students who need it receive in-classroom assistance. I was sure he wouldn’t need it. He knows English.

(6 Nov) Mandarin classes require that he can write characters that he’s learned if I dictate them and he has respect for stroke order (unlike the alphabet). I think it helps that each stroke has a name.

Kiddo’s daycare friend’s mother worried that her child who went through a year of Pinyin Mandarin classes during his last year at pre-school would be confused between Pinyin and English phonics now that he’s started kindergarten and there’s the drive to learn to read in English. I can see how it could be a concern but know from other parents that kids sort it out. Kiddo knew phonics from videos, us teaching him, etc., but was forgetting it for lack of use. The Pinyin pronunciation education was coming in fast. That daycare mom ended up enrolling her kid in bopomofo (Zhuyin-based) classed – I surmise that one was the potential phonics mix-up issue but she was tired of trekking to the Pinyin school in Richmond and maybe the new school was better.

It is absolutely true that Kiddo is going to learn the words well if he doesn’t have the English word for it (duh) or the English word comes after. I taught him the word for “checkmark” is 對號 (but I can’t confirm that now!!) and so that’s what he calls his and NPY’s Nike shoes: 對號鞋! But – oh gosh – is he speaking gibberish?!

He was air writing characters before he went to sleep and we talked about characters. I loved-loved-loved it.

He picked up 傷心 (hurt feelings) from me when I told him recently that I was disappointed/sad during our errands in Chinatown. NPY was floored to hear Kiddo talk about emotions as such.

How do I approach language as English threatens to dominate? The term that I have learned from Chalk Academy is recasting: what he says in English, say it in Chinese and make sure he says it too. Part of the key is to not be so obvious about it – be consistent and a bit strict and lead by example. I cannot be making out English as bad, but instead gently that Chinese is our home language, his language with me and Baby.

(9 Nov) I’ve kept Kiddo more naive than the next kid so he’s in for a world of shock as he starts school. He can identify 中文嘢 and 中文地方 (Asian or Chinese motifs) and that he’s faced with 中文字 (Chinese words) but he doesn’t actually know he’s 中文人 (ethnically/looking Chinese) or particularly that he speaks 中文. He does know that there’s our 中文 (Cantonese) and 嫲嫲中文 (grandmother’s Chinese – Mandarin). He speaks with his friends but isn’t conscious that he’s speaking 英文. It’s shining a little light into how his brain works at this point. He knows that I sing the numbers in Spanish to a song we play a lot for Baby’s amusement (Salsa Tot Cheer) and asked for numbers in French and it’s cute to hear his tongue tripping over a different set of words.

He came home from his first days of school saying “easy peasy lemon squeezy” and I was so distraught inside but outwardly, I paid no heed and redirected to singing and reciting in Mandarin.

(12 Nov) I told my mum about my fears of the switch to English and she basically blamed me for giving up. (So utterly unempathetic.) She told me (not for the first time) about how her sister pretended not to understand her kids when they spoke to her in English. And look how well her kids turned out: a super-star doctor and a lawyer. Which segue to parents knowing best. And she couldn’t control herself to remind me of where I might be now if she hadn’t intervened. :(

(13 Nov) I want – no, need – to be the one to pick Kiddo up after school to get him directly back onto Chinese speaking track! I implicitly (or explicitly) can’t trust that NPY wouldn’t indulge him in English because he feels more comfortable that way.

(15 Nov) Can I keep up in making Chinese fun for him like when he comes home rhyming “easy peasy lemon squeezy” and “poppy poppy leaf leaf” (search me what that latter one is)? We riff on homonyms and it makes my heart full. Like 文怡姨 “yee yee” – I can’t find the characters for “yee yee” but it’s referring to the pith/thread-like strands when you’re peeling an orange!

(16 Nov) Once upon a time for infants, the guideline was to have at least 1/3 in a language you want to stick. Is Kiddo’s life still 1/3 Chinese or more? Six hours a day at school seems to dominate his day and then when he’s home, he’s not interacting with us every moment and then he’s also playing in English, too.

(17 Nov) Sometimes my anxiety is obviously misplaced because it can evaporate immediately when I remind myself that Kiddo necessarily goes to school which is in English because we live in Canada and it is for six hours and it’s not like the school is out to get him. Which places the onus on me to keep Chinese strong and somehow that responsibility is okay. Even if I lose faith, I am second-generation after all and I don’t look up every word for him (I just try to gloss over that part of the conversation). It gives me peace of mind.

Also, doesn’t he have to get better at English to have a bilingual brain?

(19 Nov) Kiddo seems disinclined to learn to read in English using his Leapfrog pen or if we try to coach him using his favourite books. He currently knows how to read more Chinese characters than English words! But once he accepts phonics, English will come along quickly.

(22 Nov) It super interesting how Baby’s first words reflect her interests: 畫畫 (“wah wah” for draw) and 襪襪 (“mut mut” for socks) and 抹面 (“mat meen” for wiping her face)!

(23 Nov) When in the heat of playing, Kiddo knocked over Baby, NPY shouted in entirely English something like, “That’s why I tell you to stop doing that!” I’m hoping these words basically bounce off him but some of it will absorbe. I asked him if he understood NPY and he said he didn’t. I asked him if he understands his teacher and he said he didn’t. I know he doesn’t know all about truths vs non-truths but I’m secretly glad he doesn’t think he understands. Whereas I know he gets it.

(25 Nov) I said to Kiddo that his bread was crunchy (脆/ceoi3) and he thought it was hot and a blow (吹/ceoi1) and he was patient when I trotted out a couple of other examples like remove (除/ceoi4) and rush (催/ceoi1 – basically, “blow”) and he started to sing “ceoi” in the four Mandarin tones which is not quite right but so delightful that he gets it.

He asked why I call him by his given name more often and (because I’m mad!) and request that say 寶寶 more.

(26 Nov) NPY said he was drawing a sword but said Jyutping:gin3 which Kiddo pointed out is what Superman wears and that NPY was drawing a “gim6”. BOOM – these moments are why I want Kiddo to continue learning and speaking Chinese!

(1 Dec) Good thing I’m fluent enough at normal interactions with Kiddo to justify speaking in Chinese with him although it’s not my best language. A moment of realization/reflection/gratitude.

Mulling over the reading pen that Chalk Academy recently posted about. It’s bilingual which the Leapfrog pen we have is not and works on any text that is the right size and legible. It’s portable unlike the Luka reading robot and its pricetag is like, “Whoa!” I justify that we’re not there yet. Sure, it’s fantastic to whip it out to translate something without pulling out a phone but we’re not at the reading lots of text stage yet. And it’s another device. And it’s first (early) generation. And it’s only in Mandarin.

(9 Dec) Kiddo asked me if things he’s eating are “ying yeung” and proceeded to ask that he gets to eat “ying yeung” things. Wow! It’s probably just a short phase. (I would later learn that he’s learned about that in school, eating healthy. Why can’t I find the characters??)

(13 Dec) Can I commit to listening to Fairchild weekly like Sunday afternoon for Cantonese (with some Mando) programming? Chinglish is okay, too, because it’s all part of the language. I heard the DJs say, in English, “high standard” which even I know in Cantonese as 高水準 (Thanks, Mummy!). It came to me as a realization to chill just a little about the presence of English but I’m not fluid in Chinglish to know how to incorporate it well.

(15 Dec) Kiddo completed his first examination! The written was super easy and meant for everyone to get 100% The recitation was an eye-opener. She had a selection of five or six passages and if the student couldn’t do the one she randomly pre-assigned to them, they were automatically docked two points (out of 10). Kiddo only knew one of the passages by heart and thank-freakin’-goodness it was the one randomly assigned to him. We fell so behind on the recitations!

(16 Dec) When Kiddo is drawing a staircase or block-shaped Ninjago, he mutters to himself 横-豎-横-豎- and when he was drawing blades of grass, he was singing to himself, “豎-豎-豎-豎-“! It is so helpful to learn the names of the strokes. I hadn’t learned them probably and only knew 劃 (horizontal), 戙 (vertical), 撇 (“swipe left” lol) and 點 (dot). I laugh and my heart melts to hear him.

(31 Dec) It’s not a regular thing but we had a Zoom chat with our friends because it was New Year’s Eve and we’d regularly have gotten together with the kids. Kiddo was excited to his his peers but refused to answer our friends’ questions inquiring how he’s doing. He and his friends all started Kindergarten this year. We had to explain why Kiddo wouldn’t (or couldn’t) answer simple questions and one couple confirmed that once you go English (not that they really tried to speak Chinese before), you can’t go back. So I don’t intend to “go English”. R&M said they tried speaking in Chinese after all this time and it worked for “half a day”.

(4 Jan) NPY keeps shouting at Kiddo, “(Will you) Stop it!” or “That’s enough!” entirely and – worse – consistently in English and it’s not going to bounce right off Kiddo. It happens often when he (often) misbehaves during his daily baths and I’m making dinner. I curse and bang things and really want to break things when I hear it.

(6 Jan) Well, he’s dreaming in Chinese or moaning about toys in Chinese. Lol.

(11 Jan) I was disappointed to hear Kiddo say it was “雪緊” instead of “落緊雪” because it seem to me that he was adapting English to Chinese. But at least he had the right tense. And maybe it’s a bilingual brain not quite perfected. Actually, it’s probably because it doesn’t snow much here so he doesn’t know the present verb. Whereas it rains a lot here and he knows to say “落緊雨” (I’m pretty sure).

Kiddo is at school for six hours of the day which is about the same as the time he’s awake and at home (half an hour before school, and then from 3:00 p.m. until 9 p.m.) Fifty-fifty, which is why when he watches English language programming, it really upsets me.

(12 Jan) I will always feel like my foundation is weak and thus so is his. When will he realize who rudimentary our Chinese is?

(13 Jan) With my return to work, I have to nip out for a bit (less than 15 minutes) to drop Baby off at daycare on her daycare days three days of the week. Which means NPY has a larger hand in preparing Kiddo for school and I miss the connection. It’s dwindled down to a bit of time while he is eating breakfast and a hug until the elevator arrives. And then when he’s home and I’m still working for another two hours, how to stay connected with him?

(21 Jan) Kiddo’s Kindergarten teacher announced the kick-off of the Home Reading program. Chills set in for me. I am the control freak who wants to make sure him learning to read in English is wrapped up in a Chinese-delivered environment. For his first book, he read the word “glue” (assisted by the images) and when I asked him what the word was in Chinese, he couldn’t come up with it!

(23 Jan) I got upset as per usual when NPY shouted at Kiddo in a full English sentence, not just an exclamation to “Stop it!” He shouted, “What are you doing?!” Kiddo was probably doing something that needed to be curbed for Baby’s safety. NPY was petulant about not using Chinese and I accused him of not trying. A whole sentence!

I had a heart-to-heart with Kiddo. He observed that English is the language that prevails outside. He thinks he doesn’t know English because Cameron and Bradley say things he doesn’t understand. Without praising him too much, glorifying English, I told him. He’s five, he just started learning starting English (that’s what he thinks anyways) so everyone doesn’t know stuff and they don’t know Chinese! I guess it’s a testimony to keeping home Chinese that he feels rooted in Chinese.

Since turning 18 months 19 days earlier, I’ve observed such a ramp-up in what Baby will say, how hard she tries to mimic us. Finally, also because we’re tossing more new words at her, she’s got 哥哥, saying “je-je” and even attempted to say her own nickname 檸檬 “mong-mong”!

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