On raising bilingual kids: 7yo and 3yo
Totally back-dating this post. I lost access to this website for six months from July 2022 until February 2023. Posted in February 2023.
30 Jan 2022 Kiddo got his report card and the ELL (“ESL”) report is far more detailed than the rest of the report card. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that he will get concentrated enrichment in language arts? Who’d have thought he’d be in ESL for all of grade 1??
While I’m proud it means we are keeping up Chinese, are we repressing and keeping his ideas on the simple? I am trying to grow with him and NPY will do his thing and still, Kiddo hasn’t been defiant and switched altogether. I make an exception for science words, that those are in English!
Lil SIs is going strong with her LO in Chinese and it’s great – it would be so weird if she actually spoke in English, knowing how we grew up, and it surprised our parents she’s speaking in Chinese – they practically think she doesn’t speak it. I’m surprised by her “lisp”, with a fairly heavy “sh” sound. For example, instead of 書 / syu1 / “book”, hers sounds like shyu1 and instead of than 水 / seoi2 / “water”, she pronounces it sheoi2.
2 Feb Kiddo is still dreaming in Chinese.
We had fun riffing on “hawk” and “Hulk” and Chinese 學 / hok6 / “learn” , 殼 / hok3 / “ladle” and he was able to add 殼 / hok3 / shell.
4 Feb The pediatric dentist the kids have been seeing for 5.5 years congratulate me on still speaking in Chinese. I know. Thank you. We both speak Cantonese. When she speaks in Chinese to them, I think it’s a touch more soothing. But to discuss her observations, she tells me in English.
7 Feb Like the dentist, the clerk taking photos of Kiddo’s eyes at the ophthalmologist spoke to him in Chinese, kind of rapid fire telling him to blink then open then blink. We could barely follow that he had to do different thing so fast so she switched to English. Had a little more success then.
13 Feb NPY’s getting lax on Chinese and shouting, “What are you doing!?” This has Baby asking things like, “Where are you?” “Where!” “What are you doing?” It’s so odd to think because Kiddo isn’t saying that yet. Yet.
17 Feb I’m pretty sure Baby is more musical (in the matter of singing) than Kiddo – was singing / ad-libbing in Chinese about Mama and Baba having plates, and that she has none – it’s been endearing to hear her singing about having none, revelling in losing “suu” while she currently has no stigma against it.
26 Feb Baby has this speech pattern that I don’t know if Kiddo had, that the she likes to tell you two ideas, and what came first, like she wants to understand the process: 跟住 / gan1 zyu6 / “and then…” and 先 / sin1 / “first”.
5 Mar I marvelled at the crescent moon and called she called it a it a banana moon!
6 Mar The kids had a sweet conversation in Chinese in the morning in bed that I don’t get to record. Baby is naming our hair colour. She says 白 / baak6 / “white” is our hair colour and I think it’s because she thinks baak6 is the same as “black”, it sure sounds similar. We set her straight. And then Kiddo adds that NPY has very little hair. Then they rehash what happened yesterday and it’s not in sequence, it’s just what they remember and she likes to say, 跟住 / gan1 zyu6 / “and then…” anyhow and she remembers the small incident she tore her hair out.
It’s a sweet habit that we greet each other in the morning. Baby is reluctant but she’s getting with the program. She first greets me and less willingly, Kiddo. Today, Kiddo was being grumpy and didn’t greet her after greeting me and Baby called him out on it!
8 Mar I’m not 100% sure what Baby thinks 魔術 / mo1 soet6 / “magic” is, but she saw small white polka dots on gray on NPY’s boxer briefs and said it was mo1 soet6 . She also pointed at my hair and said that Mama’s mo1 soet6 is up there. My dandruff! (Early on, it seemed only apply to moles, like the mole on the bottom of her foot.)
16 Mar Kiddo telling me about the craft he made at camp and he threw in all these English words “antennae”, “ring” and he’s heard and used before the words in Chinese and I keep recasting and he listens (doesn’t reject it) – to think I was worried about his first week of full-day camp back two years ago making him switch! Now is the time to worry!
31 Mar Kiddo is home for a few days and one full day with Baby and we ignored them because of work and she leads him into English and the change is he’s not bothering to speak to her in Chinese in response, unless she switches back.
12 April As with things, he enjoys it if I join him, like doing Chinese homework. His favourite words to write are 一 / “one” and 人 / “person”, go figure. But his new favourite is 弟 / “little brother” and 星 / “star” and for that I am proud of him. He makes extra squares and writes his favourite (easy) words but I like it. He said he likes 爸 / “father” more than 媽 / “mother”. Then he learned 姐 / “elder sister” and that overtook both!
Not new: the way he calls Cantonese 我哋嘅中文 / ngo5 dei6 ge3 zung1 man4 / “our Chinese”. Meanwhile, we refer to Mandarin by its Pinyin: 國語 / guo2 yu3, or by who speaks it 嫲嫲嘅中文 / maa4maa4 ge3 zung man4 / “grandmother’s Chinese”.
24 April He’s saying, “What?” which is terribly rude and I’m trying to re-train him to say 乜嘢話 / mi1 je5 waa 6 / “what was said?”
1 May Baby started full time daycare in the age 3-5 room. Those are the biggest kids in daycare speaking fluent English and she’s there everyday which isn’t something Kiddo experience (only got to 3 days per week and he was home exclusively for about five months in 2020 due to Covid daycare closure, the spring and summer before he left for elementary school. She might be better at languages – NPY marveled how she’s articulate/conversational/wants to communicate – ECE Grace remarked she has a good vocabulary. You hear Kiddo and Baby playing in English – his English almost seems rudimentary (definitely ESL) as he talks to her. But there are times they play in Chinese too, where she follows his lead, sometimes!
He doesn’t understand that the Chinese writing system is the same and so why is he learning 國語 / guo2 yu3 when we are not 國語人 / guo2 yu3 jan4. The writing system is the same and Mandarin speaking people outnumber us (Cantonese speakers) so much. But since he learns the writing from class and not before starting class, he doesn’t appreciate it’s a shared writing system.
8 May “Brother, can you get my blanket?” Ack, she said it in English and I’m letting it slide a bit because it’s darned cute, because she’s in 9-hours a day full-time daycare with 3-5 years olds. But it also reminds me that she’s translating from Chinese, calling him 哥哥 / go1go1 / “elder brother” and it reminds me of Bridgerton where they will greet each other like that. They will in time realize that we don’t do that in modern English but hope the Chinese version sticks around for far longer.
13 May I have somewhat come to terms: Kiddo is impressively speaking in Chinese still and it’s the older kid effect and she’s willful and the younger one and going to daycare more days a week and attentive to what she hears in both languages. One small hedge: she will start at Mandarin school earlier than he did!
Kiddo is learning fractions at school and it’s reinforcing what I’ve been teaching him (like quarters) and I can tell he’s learning it because he brings it up, shows off his knowledge and what I like seeing is that he’s learning it at school and he’s explaining to me what he knows in Chinese.
23 May Kiddo will say 最好嘅媽媽 / zeoi3 hou2 ge3 maa1maa1 / “best mama” when he’s happy and I ask why and he might just answer 我覺得 / ngo5 gok3 dak1 / “I feel it” and that’s acceptable to me. I’ve also heard him say that I’m the opposite, and he will say he is 最唔唔好運 / zeoi3 m4 hou2 wan6 / “most bad fated”. Being a kid can be hard!
29 May During play, they are speaking in English more than Chinese but in conversation, it’s Chinese. What is the magical scenario where he decides to throw in some Chinese? Or her?
31 May Mandarin class update: Kiddo understands the routine but is angry for having to do it. His formerly tidy, sharp but kid writing is now large, loopy, exercising less control. He detests recitation practice and for the sake of getting work done, I’ll have him do the writing practice first and then he’s tired from homework and recitation practice doesn’t happen. I only make him recite the ones he’s less familiar with three times, not even five time! He is shy to recite on prompting but when he knows it, he can sing and is happy 門前一塊清草地 / men2 qian2 yi1 kuai4 qing1 cao3 di4 / “in front of the door is a patch of green grass”. I especially like the more traditional sounding rhymes they learn.
11 June Kiddo is registered for Chinese camp! The camp runs out of the Vancouver Chinese Cultural Centre’s Chinese school and I hoping that the seedy neighbourhood doesn’t turnout be something we regret or something they dig their heels against. He’s attending with his cousin, with MIL fully championing it. It’s what I would have wanted for myself!
15 June We have those travel shampoo containers and they are shaped like lightbulbs. Baby likes squeezing them and she calls them dang1 POP. It turns out the correct name is 燈泡 / dang1 paau1 / “light bulb”. I must have learned wrong and I taught Kiddo and Baby dang1 pok, hence her confusion. It’s adorable though.
30 June NPY is equal opportunity frustratingly chastising/yelling/shouting at Kiddo and Baby in English.
2 July We are playing this phone game called Dots and that recurring motif song is one that Kiddo describes as being 國語 / guo2 yu3 / “Mandarin”. In his hierarchy, being which is more disparaging than something being 中文 / zung1 man4 / “Chinese”. He is okay being a 中文-person and insists he’s not a 國語 one. He’s not.
6 July At camp, Kiddo makes Rainbow Loom elastic bracelets and it’s awesome hearing him naming the colours in Mandarin.
7 July Because I saw it on Instagram and to teach him the awesomeness of the language, I told Kiddo about 嗰個哥哥高過嗰個哥哥 / go2 go3 go1go1 gou1 gwo3 go2 go3 go1go1 / “that brother/boy is taller than that brother/boy”!
7 July I told Kiddo that Chinese camp has Cantonese speaking 我哋嘅中文 / ngo5 dei6 ge3 zung1 man4 / “our Chinese” and he was happy – happier than English, and definitely happier than for Mandarin!
11 July Kiddo woke up and knew it’s Chinese camp and asked me 喺唔喺 “你好老師”? / hai6 m4 hai6 “ni3 hao3 lao3 shi1”? / “is it pronounced ni4 hao3 lao3 shi1“? Yes! He doesn’t bother saying it during his Zoom Mandarin class because of the general cacophony. I doubt he wants to say it to the camp counselors, but it was sweet.
12 July In her raspy, mock deep voice Baby will claim things are so 搞笑 / gaau2 siu3 / “funny”. She sounds so mature saying that!
15 July Not a bilingual thing, but when Kiddo warned Baby and got worried that she would “write her name” using a red marker, I was so proud! He probably doesn’t remember why, but he knows it’s bad to do it!
17 July Having two young kids means they are happy to greet me and each other in the morning, 早晨媽媽 , 早晨哥哥 , 早晨檬檬 / zou2 san4 maa1maa1 go1go1 mung1mung1 / “good morning mama older brother Mung1Mung1“. It also means Baby will just spontaneously say, 我好惜你寶寶 / ngo5 hou2 sek3 nei5 bou2bou2 / “I really love you Bou2Bou2”!