On raising a bilingual child – 69-month mark

Could I be any later? Did I recently watch the Friends Reunion show?

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(24 January) When I was out for groceries, NPY sat down with Kiddo to do some homework and they wrote words and recited 兒歌 (children’s songs) together. It’s a great opportunity for Kiddo to teach and show his mastery! He also enjoys the role reversal and I only worry that NPY’s disregard for stroke order doesn’t rub off on Kiddo!

(25 January) Recently my friend Edna mentioned listening to Chinese radio. She was talking about looking for Mandarin radio programming and it’s all too high-level and I told her about Chillchat (I follow the host on IG, her handle escapes me now). So I was tuned into Fairchild (in Vancouver, 96.1 FM and 1470 AM) and Kiddo said he understood a little, because it’s “our” Chinese. He’s figuring the different languages out that he uses, slowly. I don’t really drill him on it and want him to come to terms instead. Instead of telling him what is used where. Lately, he was confused that I would write be Chinese characters, wondering why I’m writing his “school Chinese”. So I had to tell how it’s our Chinese, too.

I refuse to say the word “bored” around Kiddo. I was taught early on (from someone, but not my parents), “If you say you’re bored, you’re boring!” That is, find something to do! I will say to Kiddo, when I sense he’s bored, “你冇嘢做?” (“You have nothing to do?”). Like how if you have more words to describe happiness, you can help enhance emotional appreciations, does not having the word for “bored” mean he doesn’t get bored? Philosophically speaking.

(31 January) I am such a control freak about his learning to read in English. I will keep asking, “乜嘢意思?” (“What is the meaning?”) I want him to have comprehension because I didn’t (at later levels) and challenge his bilingual brain to pull back the Chinese words when the English one is right in front of him.

(2 February) He said a short sentence all in English to me and was defiant not to say it in Chinese, I can’t remember what it was or of it was a dream or not. I think it was a dream.

(6 February) Maybe it’s not the worse thing for him to hear, “Don’t do that!” in English because then he has the words to ask someone to stop whatever he doesn’t want. NPY gets lazy and often admonishes Kiddo now with that in English. And too many other commands.

(7 February) chalk academy comments –

I don’t know why I’m so proud of Kiddo knowing the word for wheelchair (輪椅) in Chinese. It’s a combination of him barely knowing the English word so he knows the Chinese word fairly well, doesn’t have difficult recalling the word to use it. It seems like a more polite word than the English. And it’s a word that I had to learn and it’s characters don’t mean a whole lot to me, but we both learned it.

Watching the original Mighty Ducks movies, Kiddo learned they were poking fun at someone who is fat (肥), which he previously called “wide” (闊) instead and I thought it was cute and less rude. But NPY has no qualms with not being politically correct. When NPY and Kiddo are re-enacting the movie, they both are reluctant to be the 肥 one and I want to scream!

I was vacuuming and when I turned off the Dyson, I caught the tail end of what I think was NPY yelling at Kiddo about cleaning up after ripping up sofa cushions to jump around, with a lot of English, because I caught, “Clean up after” in English. It makes my blood boil and that’s why I don’t trust him to watch Kiddo.

(8 February) The way I characterize Baby’s Chinese is that for some words, it sounds like she has marbles in her mouth in the most adorable way, like when I say “wei dao dao” (bib/圍兜兜) and she says “dao dao”. I think what it is is that she’s curled her tongue when she says that or when I say “lao lao” (coat/褸褸) and she is more gutteral sounding and says “yao yao”.

(10 February) Kiddo caught himself about to say, “Can you come up here?” He was excited to have Baby watch him do something and didn’t use the right language for once. He snuck a look at me. I kept a neutral face but I noticed.

We have fun when NPY confuses “sword” (劍/gim3) with “cape” (肩/gin1) and “shadow” (陰影/jam1 jing2) with “invisibility” (隱形/jan2 jing4). I love that Kiddo knows the difference! I hope he has an ear for things because of Chinese.

Regarding his Home Reading Program (reading an appropriate level book every night and log it), I’m trying to train his bilingual mind: read the text in English then quiz him on the translation in Chinese. I get disappointed when he falters, when the Chinese word escapes him because he just read the English one. (And reading that word for the first time might be really exciting but I don’t play it up.)

(13 February) Now I know why Kiddo says “雪緊” where I initially thought he was translating from English “snowing” is “snow”+”ing” which is 雪+緊. Nope, it’s because of NPY who said “凍緊” (“colding” instead of “getting cold”). I didn’t note the context but it’s wrong!

(14 February) I can tell NPY desperately wants to in the interest of time to explain the video game they are playing in English which would be a slippery slope because Kiddo would want to understand. I sound so callous of him learning English. The thing is, Kiddo could stand to learn videogaming in Chinese. As Chalk Academy says, new experiences in the minority language will cement some memories in that language. I’m all for that.

(18 February) Paige knows “appo” because of her tablet and “sit” from daycare probably. It drives me up a wall when NPY and Kiddo are egging her on in English whereas I’m trying to recast, keep the Chinese portion high in this household. Those guys never recast.

(19 February) Every bath time is super stressful for NPY because he lets it be stressful and Baby likes to spectate, threatening to throw toys in the bathwater and fall in herself, and I’m still working and he’s not understanding why I don’t steal away (everyday) and he is often shouting at Kiddo at bath time. Today it was “DID YOU HEAR ME?” because Kiddo was being typically non-responsive to the usual natter – it breaks my heart and makes me seethe at the same time.

(21 February) Baby apes what we say but she really likes saying “choo lai” (I taught her 出來, Mandarin pronunciation). Grudgingly, it sounds so sweet. Maybe because when you see her, she has to do duckface to say “choo”.

(25 February) When Kiddo counts in Chinese, it warms my heart. I just want to mark that he’s doing that because I don’t know when I won’t hear it any longer. I dare not ask him if he counts in Chinese in his head. Maybe I should ask to know. I’m afraid of putting ideas in his head to count in English.

(27 February) NPY introduced Kiddo to BTS videos and songs and asked Kiddo if he wants to dye his hair. Kiddo responded, “No,” he doesn’t want to look like 中文人. And so we have to ask him what he thinks he is. Which made him pause. He knows he’s Chinese. So he rephrases and he thinks they look like 國語人! He says this, mixing Mandarin and Cantonese, that is “guo2 yu3 jan4”. Hah! Otherwise, he does have a seeming fascination with being able to identify that things are dyed.

(1 March) While I’ve been marking up the monthly calendar with Chinese annotation, this was the first month where I got Kiddo to mark it up: 三月, 日, 一, 二, 三, 四, 五, 六. Super simple at this point of his Chinese studies and and I’m so proud of this little accomplishment – he contributes to our household.

(2 March) At the school playground, he heard the word “zombie” and even Baby learned to parrot him and say “za bee”, so I had to scramble to find the Chinese word! I thought I saw a translation and it was easy to remember and that was “活屍”. That is easy to remember because we know “vampire” is “殭屍” and I learned that “mummy” is “乾屍”. Kiddo is good at using the Chinese term to tell me to play the zombie. At the time of writing up this post, I can’t find support for the zombie and mummy translations now!

(3 March) We had parent teacher and Kiddo needed some remedial lessons in rhyming. So I made a point – a drop in the bucket since I didn’t revisit it – to go over rhyming (相同聲音) but keeping it in Chinese, making it fun. made a point to go over rhyming (seung tong sing yum) not the right word for rhyme – “zum” which means “just” but I can’t find it in the dictionary, 諗 (nam2 – to think), 揞 (am2 – cover with hand) / 匆 (cung1 – rush), 通 (tung1 – hollow), 檬 (mung1 – lemon) / 讀 (duk6 – read), 六/錄/淥/綠 (luk6 – six/record/scald/green), 木 (muk6 – wood), 焗 (guk6 – bake), 肉 (juk6 – meat). He participated and switched our initial sounds and not all were successful but that’s the fun. I know he didn’t pass the test because they wanted him to, for example, rhyme “mat” with “rat” but he didn’t know the word “rat” yet and so he didn’t think it was a word and didn’t have confidence to declare it a rhyme.

(4 March) As Kiddo gets closer to reading a full page of Chinese terms prescribed by Mandarin class – how many characters is that? – I’m proud of how can read more words than he thinks he can and he was picking out words from the recitations (poems he learns to recite). What is going on in his head – he’s doing Home Reading Program but alongside, reading a completely different language. We think he’s memorizing the Chinese terms where they are on the page, and which term follows which but he’s also learning the characters individually through the power of repeated exposure. Kid’s ability to learn like sponges is so impressive but also scares me I’m not challenging him.

(7 March) Baby’s new and most useful phrase/command is “開” (open) and applicable to packets of applesauce, pens, my wallet, etc.!

(10 March) Observation: Three classes into the second semester of Pre-school level Mandarin classes and the kids are starting to learn that the Pinyin initials and endings mean something. Like, “sh ou shou”. Pinyin is more straightforward to read than English which is chockful of exceptions and long and short vowels and silent letters. I wonder if I can get him to read Pinyin before English, or alongside English.

(11 March) A month or two ago, Kiddo brought a Ninjago book home from the school library and it mentioned “Spinjitsu” which I translated to him as “轉-jitsu”. NPY actually thought I was teaching the Chinese name for “jujitsu” haha.

Kiddo wanted to tell me that he worked on rhymes at school and we don’t have a good Chinese word for it except “相同聲音” which isn’t even accurate. So he whispered, “rhyme” in my ear. It’s me he doesn’t want to speak in English in front of and in so far as keeping him speaking in Chinese then, I’m okay for him to continue feeling that way! Because when he no longer feels that way ….

(12 March) I’m trying to keep up with Kiddo’s obsession with Ninjago which I’ve translated to 忍者-去 (Pinyin: ren3 zhe3-qu4) and samuria (武士, homonymous with 冇事). I will say it at all times in Chinese (Mandarin) and he doesn’t mind. Maybe because he knows the motifs are Asian?

(16 March) NPY has his philosophy and system to speak to Kiddo in English when Kiddo is around other parents and their kids. I guess I’ve gone the way of my mother, speaking to him in Chinese for “privacy” and could be felt as “rude” by Kiddo later. I’ve never agreed with it being rude because why do I have to appease others in English. Using my own language is not so that I can talk to Kiddo about other people. I don’t believe in doing that because that will just come back to bite you, and it’s a poor example. Someone who assumes that using another language is in order to slight someone, is someone with insecurities. So, Kiddo is exposed to and normalizes English from his dad in that context. March Break is making me nervous and when NPY is off and they have adventures, I want my kid back! I guess that’s how it feels when I take Kiddo on vacations.

(22 March) More rhyming (homonym) practice: how many Cantonese tones do we know inherently? Kiddo is formally being taught about four tones in Mandarin which he thinks extends to the other Chinese language he knows. Uh-uh Kiddo, there’s like nine Cantonese tones. Can we tell them apart? I tried to think of an interesting word where I know many of the tones:
ceoi1 – 吹 (blow), 催 (rush)
ceoi2 – 娶 (get a wife)
ceoi3 – 脆 (crisp), 趣 (interest, with “hing”)
ceoi4 – 除 (divide, exception, disrobe), 槌 (hammer), 廚 (chef)

Since learning that his nickname of 寶寶 seems sweet (“darling, precious one”) in Cantonese but translates to “baby” in Mandarin, I’ve been trying out, with his input, new nicknames. Jokingly, we came up with 橙仔 (“little orange”) to match Baby’s which he came up with and is 檸檬 (“lemon”). I don’t know of interpretation, but I didn’t warm up to it. He asks why I don’t call him that and I tell him I don’t like it so much. I suggested jiujiu because that is what Baby calls him when attempting to call him 哥哥 (go1 go1). “Jiu4 jiu4” is Mandarin pronunciation for 舅舅, which means “uncle” which is cute. However, I’m not super keen on his nickname not given him an identity other than being “older brother”. I certainly want them to be able to move fluidly between referring to each other as 哥哥 and 妹妹, of course.

For Baby’s part, as if 檸檬 was her given Chinese name, I started calling her by doubling-up the second character: 檬檬. She’s going to be so confused later when she learns she has a whole other proper Chinese name! NPY doesn’t like the nickname so very much. 檬檬 (mung1 mung1) sounds like 矇矇 (mung4 mung4) which means “blurry”.

Can Baby count? It must be grandma who is also minding cousins who are older than her. But let’s think of it. Right before turning off the showerhead, I do a countdown: 三, 二, 一 ! And I sing a counting diddy in Mandarin to her.

She calls cow’s milk “O-奶奶” which we find so adorable. I think it’s because of her inability to say 牛 (gnau4).

(23 March) Over the past months, Baby has been able to tell us with increasing accuracy that she 屙尿 (o1 niu6) or 臭臭 (cau3 cau3). She also seems to think those are the names of the body parts, although she does know 屁股 (pei3 gu2) too. When I change her, I do say part of the term for “vulva” which is 陰道 (jam1 dou6) which is symmetrical with “penis” which is 陰莖 (jam1 ging1).

Kiddo will announce he needs to 屙尿 (o1 niu6) which might have long ago replaced him saying “去 peepee” (I can’t remember!). NPY thinks it sounds crude and I don’t disagree. It’s as delicate as announcing, “I need to go urinate.” So I have to replace it with “小便” (siu2 bin6) which is like saying “going #1”.

Is there another word we know all the tones for?
ci1 – 癡 (crazy, with “seen”), 黐 (adhere), 粢 (glutinous)
ci2 – 始 (beginning),
ci3 – 廁 (toilet), 刺 (thorn), 翅 (fin)
ci4 – 磁 (magnet), 臍 (navel), 詞 (words), 辭 (resign), 遲 (late)
ci5 – 似 (ressemble)

(26 March) If a story has a grandmother, I will say 婆婆 (maternal grandmother) instead of 嫲嫲 (paternal grandmother). For Baby, a 婆婆 is almost an abstract concept. But I called my mother a few times a week after Baby’s shower and so there’s constant connection, but she’s just a voice over the phone, too.

(28 March) We made it through two weeks of March Break which was fairly absent of English and Kiddo is speaking Chinese to us as before. Will he still be speaking Chinese to us after three more months of school? He’s registered for many weeks of summer camps too. Oh boy.

(29 March) We’re watching the new Mighty Ducks series which is on Disney+. I am super pleased that there is a Cantonese track. We’ve watched it twice and when NPY started the English track and then asked if Kiddo wanted English or Chinese, I’m so glad Kiddo picked Chinese. Because his first exposure to the show is in Chinese (unlike Paw Patrol he wouldn’t switch to Chinese [Mandarin]). Kiddo might understand more in English he picked Chinese. There are English subtitles for us to full understand and be able to explain to him.

Update – none of the remaining episodes had Cantonese track, it was just a pilot episode thing and I was intensely disappointed. There is very, very little on Disney+ that has Cantonese (or Chinese) track. It was really random when I started up the live-action Lady and the Tramp and it had Cantonese track, but Kiddo wasn’t into watch the whole movie. Also, it is not possible to filter shows by language.

(30 March) He said, “媽媽! 攬我! 大力哋. 我好耐冇攬你. 因為我瞓覺.” (“Mama! Hug me! Harder. I haven’t hugged you in a while. because I was sleeping.)

My bilingual Baby was just muttering to herself over and over again “seeeet …. 坐”.

(31 March) In yesterday’s Mandarin class, some kids I didn’t think could rhyme off the nursery rhyme did while Kiddo (I) did not practice and could not. Only three kids volunteered to recite so maybe the rest couldn’t either. (Edit: a week later, he would know it.)

(2 April) It’s fun to riff with Baby already. She’s learned a few words with the same initial sounds: 飛機 fei1 gei1, 瞓覺 fan3 gaau3, and 番梘 faan1 gaan2!

(3 April) Kiddo just admonished Baby the way do to him, “咁快唔記得風球係乜?” (gam3 faai3 m4 gei3 dak1 fung1 kau4 hai6 me1) “You already forgot what a tornado is?!”

(4 April) It is sooooo hard to get Kiddo to come to the table to do his Chinese homework. To change things up, NPY sometimes monitors him, emulates a little how I conduct the homework session. Kiddo said the standalone word 尺 (che3, Pinyin) and NPY had no idea what that word was. 車 che1? So Kiddo learned from me how to put Chinese words in context and said to NPY, “尺, 間尺嘅 尺”! (che3, gaan3 cek3 ge che3!)
Got him to recite for popo

More consonants Baby is mastering: 早唞 zou2 tau2 and 枕頭 zam2 tau4

(12 April) It seems like since Baby moved from the infant room at daycare to the toddler one, she is coming home with a lot of English words! I try to figure out what she’s saying to recast. I hate that Kiddo and NPY are encouraging and repeating what she says in English. Somehow, despite my best efforts, I feel like she’s getting less Chinese from us than Kiddo did at this age. (He was in daycare one day less per week and I was off work one day more per week.)

(17 April) I bet NPY is thrilled to read in English to Kiddo but I’m heartbroken.

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