Don’t Believe What You Read on the Internet

Don’t Believe What You Read on the Internet


I have a confession to make.

I know I’m all RAH RAH about making my kids speak Chinese all their applicable waking hours. Shoot, I even wrote a book on the subject (affiliate link). And after the thousands of words I’ve written about my kids and our learning Chinese endeavors, etc. ad nauseammy children still prefer to speak English.

In fact, they would speak English all day if I let them.

The constant refrains at my house are, “說中文!” (shuo zhong wen2/Speak Chinese!) or “聽不懂!” (ting bu2 dong3/I don’t understand!)

And then, sometimes in moments of exasperation, I threaten ridiculous things such as taking away all their toys, forcing them to only watch Chinese YouTube, or taking away all English screen time.

I have even threatened them to not be able to play with each other (since all they speak is English – EVEN TO THE BABY).

It drives me up the wall.

I am exasperated and frustrated and feel like a failure and a hypocrite.

In my moments of angst, I see all the thousands of dollars I’ve spent on Chinese swirling to the bottom of the toilet as it flushes into the sewage system.
And then, if I happen to be on Facebook, I will catch glimpses of other bilingual mothers posting pics or videos or posts about their awesome kids reading super hard/advanced Chinese books and I’m like, CRAP ON A STICK.

Now, keep in mind, I LIVE on Facebook. I understand that what happens on Facebook is heavily curated, capturing only the best (or most comically horrible) moments in a life. After all, I am a Master Facebooker (though a bit more TMI than most).

So I GET IT. Facebook is not Reality.

But sometimes, just sometimes, I see these flashes of other brilliantly bilingual kids and instead of seeing them as inspiration or future possible versions of my children in some ideal world, I instead see judgment, failure, and an impossible obstacle.

After all, I am sooooooo lazy. And my Chinese, though pretty good, is going to be tapping out. Soon. Like, REALLY SOON.

WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH ALL THESE HIGHER LEVEL CHINESE BOOKS IN MY HOUSE???

Here’s the thing.

It doesn’t matter how good the other kids’ Chinese are. 

In fact, short of having actual conversations with these children (assuming your Chinese is good and advanced enough to do this), you really will never know their “true” level – which, incidentally, is meaningless and likely fluctuates on a given day and subject matter.

What you are seeing on the internet is just a slice of time. A teeny, tiny, fractional instant of a REALLY REALLY REALLY long day.

Chinese is not mastered in a day. Or even a week.

So don’t worry. Chill out.

Get off of Facebook. Get off my blog (although, do buy my book) and be happy with what you’ve managed to accomplish.

Whatever you are doing (or not doing) will not doom your child forever to a life of sad monolingualism (is that even a word?). Life is long and unexpected; the time to learn Chinese is both too short and a lifetime’s worth.

You are NOT a failure.

Your children are perfect.

It will be ok.

So… I Made a Thing

So, remember how I’ve been talking about finishing my ebook and how I have been afraid and all sorts of stuff?

Well… I finally finished.

And it’s on Amazon (affiliate link).

Here’s my new book, So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese. I collected and updated my popular series by the same name, added a few exclusive new chapters (23 chapters in total) and included an all new Action Plan cowritten with Guavarama

I crammed it full of practical advice, detailed applications, and heavy amounts of snark (although minus the swears) on how you can help supplement your child’s Chinese language acquisition.

Thanks to all my wonderful friends for already starting to share.  

Spread the word and if you do buy, please review on Amazon. That would help out tremendously! Thanks, everyone!

Hiring an Au Pair for Chinese Fluency


One of the many great suggestions for helping our kids with Chinese fluency is to hire an au pair. Since I have never hired one, our guest poster, Hapalicious, offered up a fantastic write up of her experiences and advice for those of us who have thought about hiring an au pair to help with Chinese fluency.

Please to enjoy!

It was a goal of mine to meet Mandarin Mama during our summer trip to Taiwan last year – I read her blog obsessively, and she (along with fellow ladyboss Guavarama) is my bilingual mom idol.  So after some light cyberstalking, I convinced her that I am not a crazy person—heh heh—and being shameless foodsluts, we met up to chat over some TPE noms.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when we got involved in a somewhat contentious online debate with another parent about Chinese au pairs (and racism, but that’s a story for another time).  After the melee, Mandarin Mama generously offered to share a piece I wrote for some friends who were considering au pairs and wondering what issues to think about.

Some background info about me and my family:  I am ABC and hapa, my dad is a monolingual English speaker from Kansas and my mother is from China by way of Taiwan (she immigrated to the US for grad school in her 20s).  I was born and raised in the midwestern US, and my monolingual Mandarin-speaking maternal grandmother lived with us starting when I was about age 7.

My only formal Chinese language education growing up was Saturday school, which I hated.  However, I came back to my Chinese studies during college, and I spent a semester in Taipei interning at a bank and taking language classes at National Taiwan Normal University (my mom’s alma mater).  As an adult, my spoken Chinese is fairly proficient but lacking in sophisticated vocabulary, and I have the literacy level of maybe a 2nd or 3rd grader in Taiwan – I’ve always wished my language abilities were better.

Ten years ago, I married a non-Chinese, non-Mandarin-speaking American and we have two kids, currently ages 6.5 (DD Peaches) and 3 (DS Blueberry).  We call them our “quapas”, and to look at them one would think that they have no Asian heritage whatsoever.  Their non-Chinese physical appearance has definitely fed into my crazy tiger mom obsession with raising our children bilingually, so that they will feel some meaningful connection to their ancestry.

Luckily, my spouse is onboard with this, so I have been free to create our Chinese Language Ecosystem (h/t Oliver Tu) as I see fit.  A huge part of that ecosystem, of course, is surrounding the kids with Chinese-speaking caregivers.

To that end, we have had two au pairs from mainland China, each of whom was with our family for the maximum 2-year term.  We welcomed our first au pair when Peaches was just under 3 months old, and our second au pair arrived when Blueberry was 3 months old.  There was a gap of about 1.5 years between the two au pairs, when Peaches (then an only child) had started preschool and I needed less help.

CHINESE LANGUAGE ACQUISITION

My strategy toward achieving multilingualism for my kids has been to establish Chinese as the dominant language in the early years (0-4).  When Peaches was an infant, I was usually around the house since I wasn’t working at the time, so I decided to utilize my au pair more like a mother’s helper. I just wanted an extra pair of hands to help out with everything – and, most importantly, a true native Mandarin speaker to help create a richer Chinese language environment in the home.

So my au pair and I would only speak Mandarin to Peaches and to each other, giving Peaches the benefit of both participating in direct language interaction and hearing adult conversation. With the help of my au pair, I bought a bunch of Chinese board books, CDs, and toys, downloaded songs and nursery rhymes from the internet, and generally acquired tons of materials to help surround Peaches with the written and spoken Chinese language.

As she got older, my au pair and I continued to speak to her only in Mandarin, even when she started a Spanish/English bilingual school (I’ll leave the trilingual element for another post).

Once Blueberry was born and our second au pair arrived, we took the same approach. An unexpected bonus of using this strategy was that since both kids started out strongly dominant in Mandarin, Blueberry wasn’t able to play with Peaches in English at all (which she had inevitably picked up from my spouse and our outside community by age 4.5).

So Peaches has very willingly continued to speak primarily Mandarin at home since that was her younger brother’s only real mode of verbal communication. Even now, when they are almost 3.5 and 7, their preferred common language is Mandarin. I attribute that to always having a “jiejie” around playing with them, modeling Mandarin and tipping our at-home language environment heavily toward Chinese.

Along the way, both au pairs continued to help me find age-appropriate books, games, apps, audiobooks, DVDs and other materials (many thanks to Mandarin Mama and Guavarama) –this has been a huge bonus since I am quite illiterate, and many of the Chinese and Taiwanese websites are difficult to navigate.

AU PAIR BASICS

Now, a few quick au pair facts:

  • The au pair program is actually regulated by the State Department as a cultural exchange program (the au pairs enter the country on a specific au pair / cultural exchange J-1 visa, not a work visa).  As a government-regulated program, there are a number of rules, including…
  • The rate you must pay to the au pair is a stipend of just under $200 per week.  Any agency fees are over and above that, and they are mostly around $3000-4000 for a year — for us, it ended up working out to a total of less than $400 / week (including all fees) for each au pair.
  • Au pairs can work up to 45 hours per week, and no more than 10 hours per day.
  • Au pairs must be between the ages of 18-26 when they begin the program.
  • The initial commitment is for 1 year, and the host family and au pair have the mutual option (i.e. both have to agree) to renew for up to another additional year (i.e. two years total).  Au pairs can also transition to a different family after the first year if they prefer.

There are many au pair agencies, and their websites have a ton of other info about the program, including the process of finding, interviewing, and selecting an au pair, transitioning to a new au pair if you find that your first choice is a bad match, etc – so I won’t talk too much about all of that here.  Many of these websites also list the benefits of having an au pair, versus a nanny or other options.

There are pros and cons to everything, of course, which will depend on your specific needs and your family / home situation.  Here is my own personal overview on some things to think about in general – again, every family is different, so I’ve just laid out some pertinent issues and you can relate them to your own personal situation.  YMMV.

OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER

1)  Cost.

Au pairs are generally less expensive than a full-time nanny.

Total monetary cost for an au pair is around $350 / week for 45 hours of childcare.  That number is made up of two things — first, you have to pay an annual agency fee (a lump sum of a few thousand dollars, which usually averages out to about $150/week), and second, you have to provide a stipend to the au pair of about $200/week.

In addition to those two costs, you have to provide room and board (i.e. food), and pay $500 per year toward their educational requirement – they basically have to take one or two classes at a local college during the year, it’s up to them to choose what/where.  They also get 2 weeks per year of paid vacation – that is, you still pay them $200/week, but they can travel or do whatever they like.

Even with all that, it’s still a lot cheaper than a nanny. Full-time nanny costs vary pretty widely, but in urban areas most of them are between $15-20 / hour plus paid sick days and vacation.

2)  Space and privacy.

You have to provide a private bedroom for the au pair, as well as a bathroom (the bathroom can be shared).  You would probably need to provide this for a live-in nanny as well.

There is definitely less privacy with live-in help – with another (non-spouse) adult in the house, you can’t exactly walk around naked, and you have to be more conscious of who might be around if you plan to have a romantic interlude.  You might also feel like you have to keep the house cleaner / in better shape – of course, the au pair can and should pitch in to make this a reality.

Since you’re all under the same roof, if you have an argument or misunderstanding it is more important to resolve it quickly since you can’t just ask her to leave.  On the plus side, I actually like to have another young adult around even if she’s not officially working – it makes me feel less like I’m in a “mommy bubble”.  In any case, there is an initial adjustment period of getting used to having a stranger living in the house, driving the car, etc.

3)  Flexibility.

I happen to love the “live-in” situation, because we have the space and it gives me and my spouse flexibility – for example, if we want to go out to dinner at night, we don’t have to rush home to relieve the babysitter, because she lives with us and doesn’t have to get home to her own family.

Or if I suddenly need to change my schedule one day because I need to go to a last-minute appointment, I can almost always work it out with the au pair (it’s VERY hard to find a babysitter on short notice where we live).

Au pairs have quite flexible hours – you just give them a schedule every week based on your needs, though of course you should take into account their other obligations (like the monthly au pair meetings or their class schedule).  You can have them work a split shift, like a few hours in the morning, then a few hours in the afternoon.  Or not work at all for a couple of days, then work 10 hours per day for a few days (10 hours / day is the maximum they can work, which may or may not be a problem for you).

You could possibly do this with a live-in nanny as well, but probably not with a live-out nanny.  This aspect has been particularly helpful since our kids started school, and we don’t need childcare during the day – I can have the au pair work in the morning to help everyone get ready, and then again in the afternoon / evening after school.

4)  Emergencies.  

This is related to the flexibility issue – if I wake up sick at 6 am, I can just knock on her door and she will help me with the kids even if she’s not yet scheduled to work.  Or if my spouse and/or I have to go to the hospital or have a work emergency, I know that she’ll be there for childcare.  Basically, we can depend on her to be there for us, and we’re happy to make it up to her later (adjust her schedule accordingly).

5)  Driving and transportation. 

You do not have to provide access to a car, but depending on the proximity of your home to mass transit, as well as your kids’ transportation needs, it may be wise to do so.  You are responsible for making sure the au pairs have a way to get to and from their other obligations (monthly au pair meetings and classes).

There is a huge variation in the driving ability of au pairs.  Ours have all been from big cities in China and had licenses but not much driving experience, so we paid for additional lessons.  Our house is not really accessible by public transportation, so it was important for the au pair to be able to drive herself by car (we have an extra car shared with a neighbor).

Depending on where you live, this may not be an issue, especially if there are bus or subway stops nearby.  Also, many au pairs from other countries do have solid driving skills and experience, so that may not be an issue either.

6)  Quality of childcare.

All au pairs have some level of childcare experience and receive a week of additional training upon arriving in the US.  However, as with any caregivers, their levels of experience, childcare philosophies, and personalities vary widely.

It’s really hard to generalize about the overall quality of care, except to say that I have seen the same range of positive and negative experiences among my friends with au pairs as with those who have nannies.  I think you just have to interview them really thoroughly and get to know them (as much as possible via Skype), and talk to their references to get a sense of how well they will meet your needs, take your direction, and vibe with you and your kids.

For me, I love that I have gotten to see our au pairs interact with the kids nearly every day whether they were on or off the clock.  I feel like I really got to know them in a way I wouldn’t if I was dropping my baby off somewhere every day, or leaving the house when a caregiver arrives and coming home as she leaves.

I also like that I’ve been able to shape their ideas about childrearing, “discipline”, communicating with kids, etc.  The definition of childcare is also broad – au pairs generally do laundry for the kids, help keep their rooms & play areas tidy, and prepare meals for them.

7)  Language. 

Au pairs and nannies vary widely in their language ability, and their English fluency may be a higher or lower priority to you depending on other factors.  If they have a different native tongue, it can be a huge bonus for your kids to learn a new language.

Again, for us, I specifically wanted a native Chinese speaker and English ability was less important because I knew I’d be around most of the time to translate for my spouse or other non-Chinese speakers.  For me, it’s been wonderful to help me improve my own language ability and be more disciplined about speaking Chinese with the kids.

It is important to discuss language expectations with potential au pairs, since many of them really want to improve their English (or whatever the majority language is in your country) during their au pair term and may be less willing to speak in their native tongue so they can “practice” English with your kids. We required consistent Mandarin interaction with the kids and myself but offered up my spouse as an English-language model. We also provided plenty of opportunities (classes, activities) outside of the house for the au pairs to learn and practice English.

8)  Cultural differences.

I haven’t experienced any major problems in this area, but I chose au pairs with whom I share a cultural background.  I actually have some Chinese friends who tried to have older Chinese “auntie” or “grandma” nannies, and they found it very difficult to be their boss.  I think because it’s so ingrained in Chinese culture to respect your elders, sometimes it can be a problem for older Chinese women to take directions from younger women (especially about parenting issues).

I think this would be less the case with nannies of other cultural backgrounds.  As for au pairs/nannies from other countries – obviously each culture has its norms, and there can be some bumpiness as you get used to negotiating those differences.

On the other hand, there is also a great deal to be learned about how things might be done differently in other families / parts of the world (holidays, games, food, parenting practices, etc), and the idea of cultural exchange is definitely a core mission of the au pair program.

9)  Age.

I personally love having younger caregivers because they generally have a lot of energy to play with and carry the kids all day!  Our au pairs have actually spent some of their off-time joining us for our kids’ other activities, like special outings or friends’ birthday parties, just because they love being around kids so much.

Unlike most of my friends’ older nannies that I mentioned earlier, they have listened and taken direction really well.  They have also treated me, my husband, and all of our friends and relatives with greater respect than I would have even expected – this may be the Chinese culture at play again.  The flip side of the age factor, of course, is that some younger adults may be more into partying / meeting boys / etc than maybe a middle-aged nanny (but not necessarily!).

This is where your own due diligence, personal judgment and values come into play.  We realized pretty quickly during our first interview that we had found a lovely, slightly dorky au pair who was more interested in visiting museums and libraries than nightclubs – and that was just fine with us.  For our second au pair, we sought out someone with a similar personality because it really suited our family.

10)  Sense of entitlement.

I haven’t experienced this personally, but some au pairs come from wealthy families who have a lot of luxuries, or from a family where it is expected to have a full time, live-in maid (more common in developing countries).  And some au pairs do live with VERY wealthy families while in the US, so it could be hard for a host family of lesser means to feel that they are giving their au pair “enough”, especially when the au pair starts talking about the foreign holidays or expensive gifts other families give their au pairs.  Again, I haven’t really seen this happen in my circles, but I wanted to mention it.

11)  Continuity.

Each of our au pairs stayed with us for the maximum two years.  On one hand, I worried a little bit about the transition at the end of the term, but on the other hand, I have heard many horror stories about nannies or babysitters who just quit with no notice.

Not that this cannot happen with an au pair, but it is much less likely.  In any case, when each of au pairs returned to China, the kids adjusted quickly and without incident, and we continue to communicate regularly with our former au pairs via Skype – bonus language practice!

12)  Meals & food. 

For meals, we pretty much only eat dinner all together on a regular basis since everyone in the family is on different daytime schedules.  Our au pairs have generally eaten breakfast and/or lunch with me and/or the kids, depending on work schedules.

There is an open invitation to join us for family meals if everyone is at home, and if she makes plans to go out with friends she is on her own financially.  She does not expect to be brought along if we are going out for a meal, unless it’s a special occasion or if she is working that day (like if we bring her to help with the kids on an outing) – but we do invite her if we feel it’s appropriate and not super expensive.

She pitches in on all the cooking, food prep and shopping (we reimburse her if she shops for us) as well as helping do the dishes.  It’s definitely nice having someone else help with the shopping, though she sometimes gets a bit of what I consider junk food (e.g. processed snacks or cookies) for herself that I personally wouldn’t eat, and she knows the kids aren’t allowed to have it.

13)  Vacations / travel / inclusion as “part of the family.”

Au pairs are expected to be treated as members of the family – it is closer than most employer/employee relationships. This can be hard for folks to understand.

I remember one host family asking about whether it would be okay to not invite their au pair for Christmas – and someone else asked her, “Well, where is she meant to spend it then, if not with you?” The host mother hadn’t thought about the fact that her au pair would be essentially alone at the holidays if she didn’t bring her along.

On the other hand, the first holiday break we had with our au pair, we asked if she would mind taking her paid vacation during that time (we were just going to be nesting at home with our then 4-month-old) since my husband had time off from work and could help me. She had no problem with that, she joined up with a few other au pairs to organize a really fun group vacation.

On other holiday breaks, we’ve brought our au pair along on trips so we could have some childcare and get proper R&R – in these cases the au pair would technically be working but had a lot of downtime both with and without us. On other occasions, our au pair has taken a “staycation” at our house when we traveled and we had a housesitter we trusted. So you can have some flexibility, I think it just requires solid and ongoing communication.

14)  Other misc thoughts.

There is more initial legwork with au pair than with a caregiver you find locally – for example, going to the social security office, helping her set up a new bank account, teaching her how to use mass transit and/or helping get a drivers’ license, showing her how to use appliances (some come from countries where washers, dryers, dishwashers, etc. are not the norm).

There is also more social/psychological support required, as well as uncertainty/nervousness before they arrive, than with someone who is from the area.

Finally, whether you decide on an au pair or a nanny, I highly recommend creating a “Family Handbook”, a detailed manual of instructions that covers family rules / regulations, all the nitty-gritty on your lifestyle and how you’d like your caregiver to care for your child.  It’s very handy to have something in writing to clarify and reference when there are any questions.  If you can create a bilingual version, even better!

How a Chinese Boy Band Improved My Kids’ Chinese


Friends, it should come as no surprise that I am an unapologetic snob.

Alright, occasionally, I am apologetic – but only because people expect it. Not because I am actually sorry.

And thus, even though I knew that part of creating a Chinese Language Ecosystem (CLE) was having my kids listen to Chinese popular music, I had less than zero desire to do so.

Why? Because I still recall the derivative Taiwanese pop from when I was a kid.

And truthfully, I don’t even know if it was derivative. I didn’t listen to enough of it to judge. But since when has the lack of evidence ever changed my opinions?

That’s right. NEVER.

Anyhow, despite my friends telling me about this Chinese boy band, TF Boys, at least a year or two ago, I did nothing about it. I mean, they sent YouTube links to their kids’ favorite songs. They made it super easy for me to follow up.

Nope.

I didn’t even bother clicking on the links. (Sorry, friends!)

But then, Taiwan camp happened. And because the kids were in local Taiwanese camps, they were exposed to Chinese popular music.

Cookie Monster and Gamera had to do separate dances to 青春修練手冊 and of course, Glow Worm watched them like a hawk.

Truthfully, I had no idea how the kids found TF Boys on YouTube after that. I didn’t even know the kids knew the songs. (Hey, I never said I was an observant parent.)

But maybe Irish Twins showed them the videos on YouTube and they asked me for them. (I blame and thank Irish Twins. I abscond all responsibility.) Or maybe I searched for TF Boys.

Or maybe, because my children are super unsupervised and Master YouTube Navigators, and some combination of Google algorithms and my children’s surfing habits and being in Taiwan triggered something, but SOMEHOW, my children found TF Boys and their music videos.

And the rest, they say, is history.

Now, I’m somewhat embarrassed (but not really, because let’s face it, I’m quite a mediocre parent) to say that my children surf YouTube relatively unsupervised. I mean, I do say something if I hear swearing or objectionable content, but that would require me paying attention.

I don’t.

And so, somehow, TF Boys’ catchy songs, easy lyrics, and pretty music videos spawned months and months of Chinese YouTube viewing.

Via YouTube’s suggestions (the bane of parents everywhere – and yet, LOOK AT HOW WELL IT WORKED OUT HERE), my children (especially Gamera), hunted down every single possible TF Boys video on the internet.

Whether it was a TF Boys music video, a live concert performance, a variety show performance, or random interviews and game shows that featured TF Boys, my children found them ALL.

In fact, for the longest time, my children were absolutely even MORE obsessed with watching (and then playing) this 獵人 (lie4 ren2)/Hunter Episode featuring the TF Boys.

Basically, the TF Boys, along with some friends, are trying to evade a team of “Hunters” and they wander through different time periods in China’s history. It’s like, they’re in some type of amusement park, running through all these people dressed in historical costumes, trying to evade hunters who will shoot them with a yogurt filled gun.

All three of my kids, but especially Glow Worm, LOVED to play 獵人/Hunter. I would find them stalking each other all over the house with makeshift guns. They would even add a narrative/narrator (like in the show) and have running dialog and commentary – all in Chinese.

Who makes up this stuff?

They were also obsessed with some game show the TF Boys were on where the boys have to go through obstacles and answer trivia about their own songs. I would link to it but that would drop me in some TF Boys black hole and I would never finish this post.

My kids were so obsessed with TF Boys that they would argue about which TF Boy they were going to pretend to be. Like, some kids pretend they’re Batman or Superman. My kids pretend they are different TF Boy band members.

But because they watched so much programming in Chinese, and all that programming is subtitled in Chinese, my children’s Chinese vocabulary expanded by leaps and bounds. So did their reading!

We would be reading Chinese books and they would come across a character and Gamera would tell me that the character is in so and so’s name or in the TF Boy lyric.

In fact, they became like religious zealots. Every possible topic could be turned into an opportunity to expound upon TF Boys and their lyrics, their hand motions, their dance moves, their likes and dislikes, their EVERYTHING.

And the best part? They would discuss all of these subjects IN CHINESE because they learned and absorbed all these subjects IN CHINESE.

It came to the point where Cookie Monster asked me if TF Boys were real people. And when he found out they were real (as opposed to actors in a movie or show), and that they lived in China, he asked me if we could go to China to find them.

Then, because of YouTube suggestions, my children found other things related to TF Boys.

Like I mentioned earlier, they found Chinese game shows, variety shows, talk shows, and other popular Chinese YouTube acts like Zony and Yony (左左右右). There is another set of Chinese twins that are popular on YouTube, but they are a boy and a girl.

And because most of the shows are aimed for adults or at least, the general Chinese public, my children’s Chinese improved even more because they were exposed to Chinese spoken by adults.

Really, I should say that it is mostly Gamera who is showing her pre-teen girlish future self when she obsesses over these Chinese YouTube celebrities. But since Cookie Monster and Glow Worm are next to her, they get Chinese exposure, too.

Incidentally, Gamera is also the only one of my children to request and beg to watch Chinese science videos. Bless her.

Anyhow, the point of this article isn’t to spread the TF Boys obsession to your children. (Although, their songs are quite catchy and they seem outwardly wholesome.) But to encourage you to find your kids’ version of TF Boys.

If you find something your kids can obsess over and have it be obsessed over in Chinese, then YouTube (if you let it) will suggest similar videos and your child will thus be sucked down into automatically absorbing Chinese.

Of course, I realize that not everyone is as terrible a parent as I am, so perhaps, you will curate it. But honestly, if you’re lazy and want them to organically find stuff, just leave them alone.

Have your kids obsessed over a band or a movie in Chinese? Did it lead to more Chinese? Let me know in the comments.

 

Chinese Progress: 9 Months After Taiwan


Has it really been nine months since we got back from Taiwan? That’s a PREGNANCY, people!

Anyhow, I meant to do an update earlier and keep better track of when my children made the switch from Chinese default to English default, but that would have required me to pay far greater attention to my children than I am wont to do.

So, I want to say the kids kept up their Chinese for about five or six months before they started to backslide into English a lot. And the only reason it kept up for that long is because we homeschool in Chinese, the majority of their classes are in Chinese, and for awhile, all they did was watch Chinese YouTube.

Just to give you an idea of how quickly they can convert to English only, for our Spring Break, I had the older kids in a basketball camp as well as a cooking camp. Thus, they were surrounded by English speakers and spoke English for six hours a day for five consecutive days.

The effect was almost instantaneous.

It was all English all the time. And not only that – their English improved.

I tried to combat it with listening to Chinese stories in the car, but we really didn’t drive much so they didn’t hear much Chinese at all that week. I can only imagine how much their English would outpace their Chinese if we were not homeschooling in Chinese.

This is all just to say that the after glow of Taiwan was only sustainable for so long because we homeschool in Chinese as well as have the majority of their classes in Chinese. 

I cannot say that the Chinese effect would be as pronounced or sustainable if they went to an English speaking school surrounded by English speakers all day.

Thus, the main thing to remember is that the majority of your work is done with your kids if you just speak Chinese to them already.

Alright, without further ado, here are some of my observations that have definitely been blurred by the effects of time and life.

1) Glow Worm’s (3.5) Chinese has exploded. I mean, so has his English. (He FINALLY speaks!) But in general, his Chinese has 開竅了 (kai qiao4 le5)/for a child to begin to know things.

This is also not because of anything special about Taiwan, but more because he goes to a Chinese preschool twice a week as well as a Mandarin Mommy and Me once a week. Just the addition of two days with a Chinese tutor has upped his vocabulary a lot.

I can’t wait for how it will improve after our Taiwan Trip 2017 as well as when he adds 2-3 additional days of Chinese preschool.

2) Gamera (5), easily the child with the best Chinese, has started to resist speaking Chinese all the time. Even when I try to couch it in terms of helping Glow Worm and Sasquatch (5.5 mos) learn Chinese, she doesn’t really care.

Her default and stronger language is definitely English – and she wants to keep speaking it when playing.

However, her Chinese is still really good. I’m constantly amazed how when admonished to speak Chinese, she can switch from English to Chinese mid-sentence and finish the thought. She is truly bilingual in the sense that she doesn’t have to think about what to say in English first, then translate into Chinese. She just speaks her thoughts in Chinese.

I have noticed that the loss of three days of Chinese preschool and being home with me more has affected her Chinese ability (and not for the better). But because she still watches a lot of Chinese YouTube (especially Chinese game shows and variety shows and Chinese YouTube acts), her Chinese can often be better than mine.

3) Cookie Monster (7) definitely prefers English, but still dutifully switches to Chinese when told. He just needs more vocabulary to express his thoughts – and he would have that vocabulary if I were not so lazy about him reading consistently to me in Chinese.

Just one day of Chinese class is not enough. It’s ok in terms of preventing more attrition, but not enough in terms of gaining in Chinese. Even his teacher has mentioned to me several times that he is regressing and forgetting characters.

This is definitely my fault.

Plus, he doesn’t find the Chinese programming as interesting as Gamera does (although he is also obsessed with TF Boys like his siblings).

It definitely shows.

4) At least Cookie Monster and Gamera are good about speaking Chinese to their peers who only speak Chinese. They know that they can only speak to Guavarama and Fleur’s kids (as well as some of our other Chinese homeschool kids) in Chinese.

This, of course, only works because all the children have similar levels of Chinese fluency (albeit, better than my kids) and can express and play adequately in Chinese. If my kids’ Chinese were not up to snuff (or vice versa), the play language would default to English in a red hot second.

Thus, I am ashamed I did not capitalize more on our trip to Taiwan last year. We’ve had a good run, but we definitely will need the boost when we head to Taiwan again this summer. Unfortunately, this time we will only be back for four weeks. I’m sure the missing two weeks will equate to an even earlier Chinese language cliff.

This is especially important to note because I am not going back to Taiwan in 2018. (Yes, I plan this far ahead. No, YOU take an 18 month old with three other children to Taiwan.)

I need to remember in Summer 2018 to not go overboard with English camps/programming and to find ways they can be “immersed” in Chinese.

Anyhow, I hope this update was helpful in terms of giving you an idea of how long the Chinese boosting effects of an extended trip to Taiwan might last. Of course, YMMV.

Did you find this true for your children? Let me know in the comments.

The Real Point of Learning Chinese


**You can find an updated version of this piece, along with exclusive new chapters, in the ebook, (affiliate link) So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese.

No matter how hard I try, every now and then, I have to remind myself that learning Chinese is not a competition.

This seems so obvious when it’s written out in black and white. (And also, I feel very foolish because it’s now one more piece of evidence that I am a petty, petty person. But I suppose that is no surprise to anyone who has ever read anything I have ever written. Or met me. I digress.)

One of the toughest things about parenting is resisting the urge to compare my children with other people’s children. And of course, when I add Chinese fluency/literacy to the mix, it is just one more thing in the parental jockeying portfolio to prove that I am a better parent than other parents (at least in Chinese acquisition).

After all, if my children understand/speak/read/write Chinese better than other people’s children, then that must validate whatever I’m doing to have my children be fluent/literate in Chinese. (Who cares that my kids are illiterate in English? That’s on purpose. And besides, English is easy.)

And if my kids are “better,” then I am validated as a parent and therefore, as a person. Which makes me better than other people. WHICH CLEARLY IS OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE.

Here’s the thing though: Other children’s Chinese fluency/literacy has absolutely no relevance to my children’s Chinese fluency/literacy.

It doesn’t matter if my kids know more or fewer characters than other kids. How much or little other kids can read has absolutely ZERO effect or influence on how much my kids can read.

It’s not as if Chinese is a pie wherein if your kid is more fluent, they have a bigger piece of pie and therefore my kid now has a smaller piece of pie.

There is no finite amount of Chinese in the world and if someone happens to be more literate, there are now fewer Chinese characters for you to learn to read.

That’s not how learning works.

That’s not how language works.

WE CAN ALL HAVE PIES.

(Yes, I suppose even your children.)

And here’s the other rub. The even pettier part of my dark, dark soul.

I don’t want other people to have pie.

Which is dumb because what does other people’s pie have to do with MY pie? (Or in this case, our children’s pies.)

Also, if other people’s kids don’t have “pie,” with whom will my children practice their Chinese?

Seems counterproductive.

Look. I get that many of us want to know how other people’s children are faring in Chinese because then we get a quick gauge on how well our kids are doing. After all, it can be useful to see if my kid is “at level” (whatever your metrics are) or not. That way, I can determine whether or not I need to do more work or just coast on my awesomeness.

(Coasting on good looks alone is difficult when it comes to fluency. Our kids’ stunning faces can only blind people’s eyes, not stop their ears.)

However, most of us fall victim to the trap of comparing our children and then making it a value judgment of our parenting or Chinese language brainwashing. That somehow, if our kids are “better” than other kids in Chinese, then they are better kids in general. And that if our kids are “worse” than other kids in Chinese, then they are worse kids in general.

Here’s the thing though: even when your kids are “better” than other kids in Chinese, that is completely meaningless.

Why?

Because just because your kids are “better” doesn’t mean that they are actually fluent (or literate).

After all, my children are BETTER than Hapa Papa in Chinese, but that is meaningless because Hapa Papa cannot speak ANY Chinese.

And sure, my children are BETTER than some of my friends’ children at reading Chinese, but they STILL ARE NOT LITERATE. They are just slightly LESS illiterate.

Better is a relative term. Useful for making ourselves feel superior to other people, but meaningless in terms of actual fluency or literacy.

So, before we get too uppity or bummed out about our children and their Chinese fluency and literacy, let’s remember what the REAL point of learning Chinese is.

The REAL point of learning Chinese is to be able to:

1) Understand when someone is speaking Chinese to you

2) Speak and be understood by others when speaking Chinese

3) Read and comprehend Chinese characters

4) Write Chinese in comprehensible Chinese sentences

In other words: to communicate.

I realize this might be a super Captain Obvious type of post, but I think it’s something that we as parents occasionally lose sight of.

All this effort we pour into our kids learning Chinese (and really, anything at all), is not to be better than other people at it, but to be able to use it in a way that is useful. And in the case of Chinese, it is so that our children can communicate effectively with people who speak Chinese.

Alright, perhaps this post was more for myself than for any of you, dear readers. Have a great weekend!

How to Turn Your Car into a Mobile Chinese Learning Center

**You can find an updated version of this piece, along with exclusive new chapters, in the ebook, (affiliate link) So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese.

If you are anything like me, you likely spend 87% of your time in the car shuttling your kids to and from school, activities, and errands. That adds up to a lot of time that could be used to passively (and also actively) cram Chinese into your children’s brains.

So, if you’re not currently using your “dead” time in the car, you are missing out on some great opportunities to support your children’s Chinese language learning.

Here then, are some ideas of how you can turn your car into a Mobile Chinese Learning Center.

1) Listen to Chinese audio resources.

There are so many possibilities here, it’s a veritable goldmine. Think of what you can listen to in a car and there is a Chinese version. For a great resource on where to find and what to find, check out Guavarama’s awesome post.

– children’s songs
– children’s stories (I bought several CD sets full of Chinese stories)
– audio books fiction or non-fiction (either on ximalaya, podcasts, CDs from Chinese books, etc.)

2) Watch Chinese shows/DVDs, etc.

If you have one of those fancy cars with DVD players, you can easily put in a movie or show and have kids watch in Chinese. Or you can preload tablets with Chinese shows.

I don’t have a fancy car nor do I allow screen time in the car (because quite frankly, they get enough screen time at home) so I don’t use this option. But plenty of my friends do!

3) Read.

Have stacks of Chinese books in the car available for your kids to read. This only works if they are literate enough to NOT need you next to them – or YOU have to be literate enough that when they describe the character, you can actually know what character they are talking about. (This ALSO requires your children to know how to describe the character – knowing what the strokes are called, what the radicals are called, and what the parts of the characters look like and how to describe them.)

Also, this requires your children not to get car sick while reading.

My kids are not at this level of expertise yet so I do not use this. Also, I am terrified of my kids losing a book in the great black hole of our vehicle so I am not likely to utilize this option. (Not to mention, my Chinese literacy is NOT at all up to par. My kids can describe a character – I am just not equipped to envision their accurate descriptions.)

Of course, if your children can read zhuyin, the problem of character recognition is remedied and not as big of a deal. (There might still be then occasional hiccup while they’re improving their zhuyin, but by and large, much easier than reading without it.)

4) Talk

This is a little silly and Captain Obviousy, but you could just have a conversation with your kids in Chinese. (Of course, if you can’t speak Chinese, this is a little more difficult.)

5) Word games

There are so many fun word games you can play in the car (or anywhere, really). Here are a few examples:

a) I Spy

Just like how you would play in English, players take turns choosing something they “Spy,” describing it, and everyone else guesses what they have “spied.”

b) 接龍 (jie long2/Build up a sequence – although literally, Connect the dragon)

You can play this in so many ways, but the basic idea is that you connect the last word in an entry to the first word in the next.

So, if I use numbers as an example, let’s say you start with “123.” The next person has to start a number with “3.” And so on, and so on.

Some possible variations:

Chinese Idioms/成語 – This game has an actual name called 成語接龍 (cheng2 yu3 jie long2) and is basically where the last word of an idiom is the first word of the next.

– Chinese sentences/phrases/compound words – Where again, the last word of the sentence/phrase/compound word is the first word of the next sentence/phrase/compound word

Really, if your or your kids knowledge of Chinese is vast, you could play with any topic. (eg: song titles, book titles, movies, shows, etc.)

c) How many can you name?

Choose any category (eg: fruits, vegetables, animals, occupations, colors, flowers, trees, insects, etc.) and take turns naming them. Whoever repeats an item first loses.

My kids usually start off with some variation of: 水果園有什麼? (shui3 guo3 yuan2 you3 shen2 me?/What does a fruit garden have?)

Incidentally, I learned this game from overhearing them play in the back of the van. They learned how to play from watching Taiwanese game shows on YouTube. (Who says YouTube is a barren wasteland?)

d) Guess that word.

Again, this game only works if the participants have the appropriate terminology to describe character components. (see above re: reading in the car).

In short, you describe a character until the other person guesses it based on your descriptions.

This sounds abominably hard to me but my kids have actually played this in the car. They have also gotten it right (although sometimes, just randomly guessing until they hit the right word).

Again, I don’t know where they learned this game. Likely YouTube – but maybe they were just bored one day and started playing. Or maybe their Chinese tutor taught it to them.

I don’t know. Do I look like I keep good tabs on what my kids do?

A variation of this game is when they start to write a character a stroke at a time on a magnetic drawing board (affiliate link) (or use their feet on the back of chairs or fingers in the air) and the other person tries to guess the word before they finish writing.

6) Sing songs or tell stories.

Similar to having a conversation or listening to Chinese audio, this is just your kids singing or telling stories or jokes in Chinese. Of course, this requires that they know at least one song/story/joke. And if you use this in conjunction with listening to Chinese CDs, your kids will eventually start singing the songs they know.

I am amazed at how many songs my children know and can sing or recite from what they’ve learned listening to Chinese CDs alone. (They also know a ton from their Chinese tutors.) This doesn’t even include all the stuff they consume from YouTube.

Anyhow, these ideas aren’t original or even that difficult to think of. I’m sure off the top of your head, you can think of stuff I didn’t mention. (If that is the case, please let me know in the comments! The more ideas the better!)

These are just some examples of how you can maximize your traveling time. And since your kids are stuck in the car anyway, you might as well unleash your inner Tiger Mom and get the kids working on their Chinese already.

Good luck! And let me know how your kids end up liking these games if you try them at home (or on the road, as the case may be).