I only speak Chinese at this house

To talk about DD, we have to first talk about how we first met his family.  When we had our children, we had decided that we will try our best to raise them to be trilingual for not other reasons than wanting them to be able to talk to their grand parents.  When my kids were little, we found a wonderful family day care ran by a Chinese couple.  My kids called them Gung Gung and Ah-po (chinese for grandpa and grandma).  Gung Gung and Ah-po spoke Mandarin to my children, thought them to recognize Chinese characters and made wonderful Chinese food for them.

We met DD at Gung-Gung & Ah-po’s place.  His parents don’t speak any Chinese.  It wasn’t their plan to raise DD as bilingual.  They just happened to like the daycare and viewed their son growing up in a Manderin-immersion environment as a wonderful bonus.

DD and MM are 3 months apart and they were babies when they met.  Now they are 7 and still are best friends.   I remember I always talked to DD at Gung-Gung’s  in Chinese whenever I saw him there. He spoke Mandarin as fluent as MM.  One day, we were at DD’s house for DD’s birthday party.  I  started speaking Chinese to DD.  He looked at me and told me “No, no, you speak English here.  This is an English house. ”  He later explained  “We only speak Chinese in Gung Gung’s”

I later did some research and found that bi-lingual children, especially littler ones, need to somehow compartmentalized their lives so they don’t get confused.  They “trained” themselves to speak to certain adults in one language automatically.  My kids see me and would automatically switch to Mandarin.  (well, before they went to school anyway).  In DD’s case, he decided that languages are also location-based.   Now DD is 8 years old and he can easily switch between Chinese and English and is very comfortable speaking to me in Chinese regardless of the location.

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4 responses to “I only speak Chinese at this house

  1. Fascinating. Sounds like that one kid DD’s parents didn’t really work at it but got a bilingual child anyway! Interesting idea… perhaps at home… we only speak Chinese but at YeYe Nai Nai’s house we only speak English. I wonder about discipline…when a child is bad do the parents revert to Chinese??

    • When it comes to discipline, we use all three languages at the same time just to make sure we got our points across and there is no ambiguity. poor AA and MM, one day, said “ok ok, you don’t have to yell at us THREE TIMES!”

  2. I’m so excited to follow this blog! I’m a Caucasian Mama, married to a Chinese man. We’re both fluent in Cantonese and English, and we’re trying to raise our two kids to be bi-lingual. It’s rough going…but we’re working on it.
    (One of our BIGGEST obstacles is that my Chinese husband doesn’t necessarily pay attention to what language he’s speaking – half the time he isn’t even aware he’s speaking English. Our kids favor the Caucasian side…so they get a lot of English.)

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