The Ebbs and Flows of Chinese Learning

It’s been awhile since I last wrote about Chinese or Chinese language acquisition. Mostly because though I have some new thoughts, my brain has been mush due to incubating Baby4 and I haven’t been able to rub two thoughts together let alone write a post.

However.

lot has also been because I’ve been feeling a bit like a hypocrite.

Not because I have changed my mind about my opinions (although, I suppose people are allowed to change their minds). But because I am so adamant about creating a Chinese Language Ecosystem (CLE) and always yammering about how a lot of times, people just aren’t committed or gung-ho enough and their kids start losing their Chinese and that’s why I’m homeschooling and forcing my kids to read and write so early and so often and buying so many books and creating Reading groups and Mandarin playdates and etc.

I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

And I think I somehow created this illusion that some of my readers may think I live some impossible ideal and that my children are somehow angels and that every spare moment is cramming Mandarin and Chinese culture down their impressionable throats.

When really, that is nothing close to the truth.

So, here are some updates on our Chinese language journey lately.

1) My kids speak a lot of English. Like, A LOT.

Other than when they are in Chinese classes and the extracurricular classes that happen to be taught in Chinese, they are always speaking English. To each other. To me. To their friends. (Unless they happen to be with kids who predominantly speak Chinese. Then, they’ll speak Chinese.)

I mean, my youngest, Glow Worm (2.75), pretty much speaks only English. He understands Chinese, but due to excessive YouTube (and my incredible laziness), knows all his colors, shapes, numbers, and alphabet in English. I mean, I’m not kidding when I tell you that I have never taught Glow Worm a single thing. He only knows these things because YouTube is the real parent in our household. (And I love it.)

He can speak Chinese, of course. He finally is talking (it only took him almost three years to start) and will repeat all the Chinese words for things when he says the English words for things. And again, he totally understands everything we say in Chinese. But the first words in his mind are English unless he never learned them in the first place.

I have to constantly yell at Cookie Monster (6.5) and Gamera (4.5) to speak to each other and to me in Chinese. I threaten to make them watch more Chinese videos (which always elicits moans of protest) or take away YouTube time, but quite frankly, I’m weak and tired and I have not made much of an effort.

They’ll switch to Chinese for a bit but inevitably revert to English. Most of the time, I’m just glad that they’re playing with each other so I don’t bother them.

2) I have completely ceased any and all reading with Cookie Monster. We finished Sagebooks at the end of 2015 and since then, I’ve done very little. I meant to start up Greenfield and reinforce his zhuyin reading but I haven’t had the desire nor energy to do so. I’m sure he’s forgotten many characters as well as a lot of his zhuyin blending. I haven’t really been concerned because I know he is still learning a lot of characters with his Chinese tutor so I haven’t made an effort to re-start anything whatsoever.

3) I have occasionally gone through and reviewed Sagebooks with Gamera, and she is in the fourth set and remembers a decent number of characters, but I have totally slacked because I know she gets a lot of zhuyin instruction and reinforcement at one of her preschools, and she is also learning a lot of characters with her Chinese tutor. So again, my laziness relies on my paid supporters to pick up my slack.

4) Other than occasionally listening to Chinese kid songs and stories in the car (which they love but eventually, drives me insane), and watching at least one or two Chinese videos before they are allowed to surf YouTube Minecraft videos at abandon, they have very little exposure to Chinese media.

5) I am still speaking to the kids predominantly in Chinese, but even I am slipping up.

6) I am watching a LOT of English TV programming, so they are hearing English all the time in the background. I’m sorry. I am not giving up my TV just so they can hear Chinese.

7) Thank goodness I have outsourced so much of their Chinese learning so that even when I totally fail, others can fill in the gaps. (It also helps that I have so many options.)

Now, I firmly believe we are at a Crossroads.

We can either continue down the path we are going and eventually, Chinese will trickle into an after thought and we will be in more of a maintenance vs. acquisition mode. Or, I can make some changes to our habits and stick to them.

After all, there is no great secret to upping their Chinese. I need to take a more proactive role and stop letting inertia take over. All I have to do is choose to cut their English media consumption and up their Chinese media consumption. It would take a few weeks but eventually, they will start skewing more to Chinese since they will be hearing and watching more of it.

Of course, I should also spend more time reading with the kids and hearing them read Chinese books to me. I’ve spent hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on these books. WHY DON’T I TRY USING THEM?

And that’s the thing, right? We all know what to do. It’s not “hard’ in terms of figuring it out.

What is hard is follow through and commitment. (Isn’t that most of what parenting is? Sob.)

And truthfully, there is a third option: I can decide that I’m no longer as interested in Chinese as I thought I was and stop altogether. And that’s ok.

I’m not. But I want to make clear that it is a perfectly legitimate option.

Life happens. (Like getting pregnant and having all the life energy sucked out of you so that the mere fact that your children are still alive at the end of the day is a miracle.)

But whatever happens, own it.

Own your choices. Do not blame external circumstances. Like all hard and worthy endeavors, excuses are lies we tell ourselves to shift responsibility.

So, if you choose to let Chinese go, OWN IT. And stop feeling guilty or bad about it.

If you choose to stay in maintenance mode, OWN IT. And stop feeling guilty or bad about it.

If you choose to re-up your commitment for your kids to learn Chinese, OWN IT. And stop feeling guilty or bad about how it got to the point that you even have to “re-up” your commitment in the first place.

For myself, I’m most likely not going to do anything drastic until after mid-August. Mostly because we will be heading to Taiwan for six weeks in about a month and my kids will be surrounded by Chinese every waking moment (unless they’re talking to each other or watching YouTube at home). They will be in 4-6 weeks of camps and preschools and seeing family and friends and strangers fully immersed in Chinese and Mandarin in all their glory.

I will be ditching the iPads and letting them watch as much Chinese children’s programming on TV as possible and forcing them to sleep early so hopefully, we won’t have much screen time at all.

When we get back, they should be in primarily Chinese mode again and I will capitalize on that momentum and since it will be the beginning of a new school year, I’m sure I will have a fresh wave of optimism and have lots of plans.

(Then, I’ll pop out a baby and it will all go to shit and we may coast for a bit on Chinese videos nonstop because I may just have to delete the YouTube app. They will weep but oh well.)

Anyhow, that’s the plan for now. We’ll see what happens. Just know that whatever you choose, you are likely not alone.

Have a great weekend!

 

 

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