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Chinese is useless!?

My kids both go to a afterschool care that offers one hour of chinese class.  Recently, MM is resisting going.  The main reason – Chinese class.  We made the decision to send them to public elementry school, and thus rely on the after school to provide some chinese language education. 

I asked MM why doesn’t he like his Chinese class.  He told me that what they learned in the class was useless.  “All the character I have to memorize are  useless,” MM said.    I have some issues with the material used in  the class.  The text book was essentially a list of chinese characters that they are cramming into the kids head.  These are the basic characters, and theoratically, if they recognize all the characters, they will be able to read.   But that is a big IF.

Ever since MM started second grad, his english reading has improved to a point to read on his own and for his enjoyment.   He can read books like Harry Potter.  However, since Chinese is not a phonatic language like English. the reading comprehanson comes much slower.  I remember as kids, we wasn’t able to read Chinese books that are equivent of Harry potter until we are much older, probably 5th grade, when we have build up more vocabulary. 

Right now, I might just resor to speak Mandarin with MM and not force him to learn to read and write.  As for AA, she is younger and shows more interest.  I might try other tactic.  Will report that in my next blog.

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Harry and Hali

This summer when we visited Germany, AA lost her stuffed whale on the way there.  To cheer her up, Oma gave her a stuffed dog (or wolf, we are still debating, but AA decided he is a dog , so dog it is)  AA was very happy that she got a new friend and prompted named him.

I asked her in Mandarin what his name, she responded in Mandarin “他的名字叫哈利 (His name is Hali)”.  I told her that I was pleasantly surprised that she gave the dog a Chinese name.   She corrected me, “He has two names, one in English, Harry, and one in Mandarin like everybody else.”

It is true that in our family we all have two names, Chinese and Angelo (we choose the names the work in both German and English).   It is interesting to me that she applies that subtle knowledge to her toys.   It is also very practical. This way, we don’t have to switch to English pronunciation mid way through our Mandarin sentences and vise versa.

I was born to speaking English and Chinese

Last time my mother (our kids call her Nai Nai) came and visited us, she decided that she wanted to learn English.  We enrolled her into one of those adult ESL programs.  One day Nai-Nai was practicing English with MM, and Nai-Nai asked him to say a few words that she had trouble  pronouncing.  After several tries, Nai-Nai, obviously frustrated,  complained how hard it is to learn a new language.  MM and AA was puzzled and asked, ” “Why do you have to learn it?”  Nai Nia told them that she want to be able to communicate with their father.

As the conversation went on, I realized that the children weren’t questioning her motivation but they just didn’t understand why Nai Nai didn’t speak English already and had to learn it, “Why do you have to learn it? Aren’t you born to speak both? We are born to speaking English,Chinese and German and we didn’t have to learn them!”

Another interesting development we observed while Nai Nai was here was that my children started to talk amoung themselves more in Mandarin.  AA’s bilingual preschool teacher also told me that she noticed that AA started to talk to herslef in Mandarin when playing alone.  This got me very excited.  Since we live in an English-dominated evnironment, the kids alwasy prefer to speak English than other languages, simply because they hear it so much.  However, by having another adult in the house to speak Mandarin with was enough to tip the scale in favor of Mandarin.

Can you say hoo-Di-eh (butterfly in Chinese)

My children, like many other multilingual children, don’t do party tricks, However, they do find it amusing to teach us the language that we don’t speak.  My husband, a native German speaker, can barely speak ten words in Chinese.  One day, our daughter AA thought of a fun game to play with papa. She started with her favorite animal (well, insect to be precise but she was four so we will let that one slide), ” Can you say butterfly in Deutsch?” “I can, schmetterling.” “can you say butterfly in Mandarin?” “no? it’s ok, I will teach you.” “ok? ready? say Hoo-Di-eh”

Papa was a good sport and repeated it, “hoo deh.”  His pronunciation was a bit off.  And then a funny phenomena happened.   AA obviously had forgotten who has the authority in Mandarin-speaking and probably thought Papa was correcting her, so she copied his sound and say “hoo deh.” I watched this in silence and it went on for about ten times.  Each time papa followed her thinking she is correcting him, and he got it a little bit off, and then AA copied papa thinking he is correcting her. Toward the end the two of them produced some sounds that didn’t resemble anything in any language.

Time for intervention, I stepped in and corrected them both.  We were I forgot I was teaching papa!”

It is funny but also reminded me that what authoritative figures we parents are to our children.  Children automaticaly looked up to us parents thinking we must know all the answers to the world of questions.  From early on, my children understood that their parents have limitations, such as papa doesn’t know anything about Mandarin, and Mama can’t say much German. This makes it so much easier for us to have an honest discussion with our children and tell them that although we have more experience but we don’t kow everything much and we are still learning.

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.

Can I have a Chocolate cookie?

One story I like to tell people about our son MM.  When he was 3, he figured out that he speaks Chinese with Mama  and German with Papa while Mama and Papa talk to each other in English.  He also figured out that Mama and Papa don’t understand each other’s language much.  One day, he asked me for a cookie in Chinese.  I told him “no”  in Chinese.  He then went downstairs to my husband.  One  minute later, my husband asked, “Did you ask MM to get cookies from me?”  Next thing I heard was the rapid footsteps of MM running away from the scene.  We were laughing so hard.  I thought for that little cleaver stunt, he almost deserve a cookie.  Almost.

Ps. I just read the story to MM, and he remembered that well.  and he told me that he was just trying his luck twice.  and if he would try it again, he probably should have tried and asked for a cookie from me in German and hopefully, i might get so confused and say yes.

German, Chinese and American all rolled into one,

Our daughter AA reported one day afterschool that she had made new friend and told us that he is part Korean.  We asked her what parts she has.  She proudly said “Chinese and American.”  Papa gentelly probed, “what else?”  AA thought for a while, then said, “oh, and German.”  Papa asked again, “are they equal parts?” “Oh, no, Chinese and American parts are much bigger, I only have a little bit of German,” said AA.

“Why?  Why is German a small part?  how do you know?”  Papa asked.

“I know how to count to 100 in Chinese, but I can only count to ten in German.  That’s how I know!”