Cool! The other team can’t understand us

Our kids play at a local youth soccer league.  In our team, there are ten kids.  Interestingly, all of them are bilingual.  Most of them, including the coaches, speak Hebrew; two kids speaking Mandarin, and one kid speaks Greek. When we first joined the practice, my son MM noticed that they spoke a different language, and was listening intently.  And later asked my husband,” Are they speaking German?  but how come I don’t understand them?”  It was very interesting that he can compare the sounds of different language and determine if they have similar sounds.  He was right, Hebrew does sound more similar to German than to English.

The coach is clearly bilingual, he comfortably switches back and forth between Hebrew and English when he was giving instructions during the games and practice sessions.  One day after a good game, MM commented, “it was cool that the coach was shouting instructions in Hebrew and English, that way our opponents couldn’t understand what we are going to do next.  It is our teams secret language!”

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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.

Many smart people don’t speak English

One day MM came home and reported that he has two “reading buddies.”  MM’s elementary school has this wonderful system where the 3rd graders read to the kindergarteners, the 4th graders read to the first graders and so on.  According to MM, his original reading buddy doesn’t speak English very well, so he has another 4th grad kid accompany him and they both read to MM.  I asked MM, “If this kid is not good at English, he must be good at other languages. What language is he good at?”  MM went “He is very smart in Spanish and he tought me some words.” MM later said, “Nai Nai (MM’s Taiwanese grandmother) is very smart in Chinese, even she can not speak English. Opa and Oma don’t speak English very well but they are very smart in Deutsche.”  MM continued to list more people he knows.   When he said that, I was very touched.  I am  not sure if this is a direct result of us raising him to be trilingual or the diverse community we live in.  I’d like to believe that when children speak more than one languages, it will help them see the world from different perspectives. Maybe it will also help them to be more tolerant and open-minded.

Chinese is not a party-trick

Another boy we are very fond of is FA.  We met him at our bilingual Montessori pre-school a few years ago. Since  FA’s parents don’t speak Mandarin, they are not sure how much he has learned.  When they asked him to say something in Chinese he would flat-out refuse to do so.  FA’s mom is very cool and understands him well.  Her explanation – “FA doesn’t speak Chinese as party tricks.”

When FA comes over to my house for play dates with MM, I would converse with him in Mandarin and I found that he can understand me perfectly well.  Sometimes, if I catch him off guard, he would even respond in Mandarin.  I told FA’s mom my findings and confirmed her theory.

Almost all the bilingual children I have met are the same as FA, including my own.  children don’t show off their foreign language skills as party tricks.  Children knows clearly that language is a tool, a communication tool.  To them there is nothing to brag about if they speak a different language.  However, getting a second chocolate cookie is a different story.

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!”

Hello world!

Hello, welcome to the first blog entry of Raising Bilingual Children.  I guess it is a tradition to answer a few questions in the inaugural blog: who am I and what this blog is about and why am I doing this, etc.

I am a chinese native from taiwan.  I met my husband who is a German-native from Munich.  We met in San Francisco many years ago.  We have two wonderful children.  We raised our children to speak Mandarine Chinese, German and English simply because both our families are still in Taiwan or Germany.  We want to make sure that our children can communicate with their grand parents and relatives (so we don’t get in trouble from our parents) and understand their culture heritage.

We are very fortunate that we live in an area where there is much diversity and many children speaking more than English.   I am hoping this blog will allow us to connect with other parents that are also trying to raise their children to be bi-lingual.

In this blog, I will cover topics such as:

  • My personal experience raising Bi-lingual/multi-lingual Children
  • Funny stories about our multi-lingual family lives
  • Share some of my search result on language materials, or language schools
  • Recipes – food is such an important part of a culture
  • recruit fellow moms and dads to contribute to this blog