Tag Archives: Chinese american

We are going to Taiwan!

After  MM complaining Chinese is useless,  I also noticed another change — it has become harder for them to form complete sentences.  Their  listening comprehension is still good.  I continue to speak mandarin to them.  However, they have stopped wanting to speak on the phone with grand parents.    I think we are long overdue for a visit to Taiwan and see the grand parents.

I just bought the tickets and announce our pending travel plans to the children.  They are so excited!  I reminded them that we are going to speak Mandarin to Yeh Yeh (grand pa) and Nai Nai (grand ma) the whole time, and we’d better start practicing.   They all agreed.  MM even asked if they gets to go to schools in Taiwan.  mmm, that is not a bad idea. Unfortunately, we are only staying for two weeks.  Maybe next time we will stay longer and send them to summer camp.

I hope with the immersion environment, it will renew my children’s interest with Chinese.  I plan to take MM and AA to train stations and visit night markets.    This way, hopefully, MM will see how useful Chinese characters are.

I purchased the tickets and announced our travel plan to the children.

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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.

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.

Children are the best translators

There is no better way to help reinforce the second (or third) languages than having monolingual relatives that don’t speak English visiting.   My mom, our kids call her “Nine-Nine” visits us once a year, and her english is very limited.  So when she is around, our kids are more inclined to speak Mandarin.  However, my German and English-speaking husband can’t really say much to my mom.   Things get interesting when I am out-of-town.  My husband came up with the idea that he can get the kids to translate for him.

One Saturday afternoon, he wanted to take the kids to the park so he asked MM to translate, “please tell Nine-Nine that we are going to the park.  Ask her if she’d like to go with us.  We will be home in an hour.”  MM then looked at Nine Nine and said in Mandarin ” we are going to the park, bye!”

I think that is the best.  Bilingual kids don’t translate word-by-word.  They comprehend, and paraphrase in the most efficient way possible.  Do your kids practice “economy of words “?

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.

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.