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!

Why I Sometimes Advise People to Give Up Chinese

**This piece was originally part of a series of posts. You can find the updated version, along with exclusive new chapters, in the ebook, (affiliate link) So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese

A few days ago, I heard through the grapevine that a friend of mine, AAMilano, was considering sending her children to zhuyin classes. And because I love her, I told her not to.

I know. I am a big proponent of Chinese and zhuyin for literacy – what was I doing? Had I gone temporarily insane? (And had I betrayed my other friend who was arranging the class and now needed to find more students in order to make it worth it for the teacher?)

No.

Here’s the thing. I know my friend. And I know her purported goals and desires regarding Chinese fluency. And I knew, without a doubt, pursuing zhuyin classes for her kids was going to be a waste of her time, energy, and resources.

In fact, AAMilano is the primary reason I started my So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese Series. (You all really should thank her. Or blame her. One or the other.)

Anyhow, here’s why I told her to forget about the class.

AAMilano and her husband both work full time. She has three smart, capable little girls who, for the first few years of their lives, were completely fluent in Chinese. But like most children, once they started preschool and grade school, Chinese lost ground.

Her oldest daughter still retains some of her Chinese through going to Chinese school a few years ago and some efforts on my friend’s part to stem the loss, but her youngest two daughters have pretty much lost all of their Chinese.

She has, over the years, worried and stressed about finding Chinese tutors to help her daughters with reading and writing Chinese as well as trying to find ways to stem the loss of their Chinese, but all of the stop gaps she attempted were trying to plug a hole she didn’t even particularly want to fill.

How do I know this? Because I have talked to AAMilano numerous times over the years about what she actually wants.

And here’s what she actually wants for her kids: She wants them to eat well, get enough sleep, and to play outside after school. Incidentally, she already feels as if they aren’t doing that well. And after those basic needs are met, she would like them to learn to swim and to have one physical activity and then, perhaps one more activity.

Nowhere is Chinese fluency, let alone reading and writing, on that list.

Nowhere.

So, if AAMilano doesn’t care if her kids can read or write in Chinese, nor do her kids have the comprehension to make use of the zhuyin, what’s the point?

She would be detracting from the things she actually wants while focusing on things she doesn’t.

And why? Out of some misplaced guilt about what she should be doing? (To be fair, she is surrounded by many of us crazy, gung-ho Mandarin immersion moms.)

So I told AAMilano to not sign up for the zhuyin class. And in fact, to consider dropping the whole Chinese fluency thing in general. And then, to STOP FEELING GUILTY.

It’s not a bad example to her kids or a failure as a Chinese/Taiwanese mother. In fact, it’s a good example for her kids because if they ever ask, she can say that she had them quit Chinese because she realized that she has limited time, energy, and resources (like we all do in life) and that to be consistent with what she truly wants for her family, it was better for her to focus on the things that did matter to her.

Being authentic and learning to discern what we truly want and desire out of a sea of good options and opportunities and learning how to get rid of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is an integral life lesson. Better to learn it sooner rather than later.

And that if she really still felt bad about the Chinese speaking and understanding part, then to use her money to either find a tutor or a mother’s helper who would come twice a week for about two hours and play, tell stories, and do life with her kids in Chinese. And then maybe, she can find a Chinese swimming/art/activity teacher to round out the rest.

That way, they are doing what she values (playing, swimming, and physical activities) while she has freed up time for herself to either cook (meets the eating healthy part of her goals) or run errands or heck – NAP (sleeping well achievement unlocked!).

Of course, increasing her own Chinese speaking to the kids as well as increasing their Chinese media consumption would help her, but again, if she really doesn’t want to do that and expend the effort, to just let Chinese fluency go.

There are more important things in life (especially in her personal belief system), so why go through so much effort for something she doesn’t really want?

For regular readers of Mandarin Mama, this might come as a surprise to you that I would ever tell people to stop or give up Chinese (or even aspects of their Chinese journey like reading/writing).

After all, aren’t I the crazy one who homeschools her children in Chinese and makes sure 90% of their schools and extracurriculars are done in Chinese?

Aren’t I kinda being a hypocrite or worse – a saboteur?

Here’s the thing: telling people to give up Chinese (or parts of it) is my version of mercy and kindness. And not for the reason you might be thinking.

It has nothing to do with whether or not I think their children are talented or gifted or intellectual or smart enough. In fact, Chinese fluency has very little to do with talents/gifts/intellect/smarts.

The only qualities that matter in terms of successfully having your children learn Chinese are intention and follow through

I mean, I know it’s tempting to attribute success to some unique and special quality of our children or circumstances, but it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the individual qualities and temperments of your kids definitely help or detract, but by and large, it really doesn’t matter.

Like all goals you want to achieve, whether weight loss, running a marathon, writing a book, getting out of debt, saving for college, getting a promotion – WHATEVER – it really just comes down to doing the work.

Of course, innate talent, ability, intelligence (in whatever chosen field), luck, and external circumstances can make the work easier or harder, but ultimately, you do the work.

You identify your goal, identify the steps to achieve your goal, and then, DO THE STEPS.

Nothing is simpler (or harder).

The REAL reason I sometimes tell friends to give up either all or just aspects of Chinese for their kids, is because I’m in favor of living a life you actually want instead of the life you think you should want.

Let me repeat that.

Live the life you actually want instead of the life you think you should want.

I wasted over three decades (that’s like 80% of my LIFE, people) doing things I thought I should such as having a certain type of major, a type of career, a type of parenting – and I was MISERABLE.

I am not going to waste any more years of my life.

And I certainly don’t want my friends to waste even a single second on things that they truly don’t care about but feel guilted into doing because that’s what you should do as a Chinese/Taiwanese parent.

Because guess what?

Just because you or your kids are entirely or partially ethnically Chinese/Taiwanese doesn’t mean they have to speak Chinese. And anyone who insists otherwise and says your kids are then no longer authentically Chinese/Taiwanese or challenges your or your children’s identities can go suck on an exhaust pipe.

Anyone who expects your children to be fluent in Chinese because of their racial makeup is racist as fuck.

Especially folks who are not ethnically Chinese bragging about how their children are so much better at the language than heritage children and isn’t that such a shame and how awesome they are for being so open-minded and determined or whatever.

Congratulations, your kid can speak Chinese. Good job. Here’s a cookie.

Now go be smug somewhere else.

Anyway…

My entire point is that, whether you are Chinese/Taiwanese or not, that unless you REALLY REALLY REALLY want your kids to be fluent/literate and are willing to put in the work (and OMG, it’s a LOT of work), why?

Why are you doing this to yourself and your children? Why are you arguing and fighting over Chinese school/homework/characters/speaking? Why are you spending all this time and energy and money on tutoring or classes or activities? What’s the point?

So, take the time to think about what you REALLY want for your children given your limited time, money, desire, and ability.

And then be ruthless in cutting out the things you don’t want – even if it includes Chinese fluency and/or literacy.

Yeah, I said it.

Including Chinese fluency and/or literacy.

Life is too short, friends.

Life is too short and full of so many awesome and amazing options that Chinese fluency/literacy is a tiny drop in a vast ocean of opportunities that will help your child have a good, beautiful life.

You are not a failure if after taking stock of your life and the life you want, you find that Chinese fluency/literacy/writing do NOT fit. Or if you take a look at what it takes to be truly fluent and literate, you decide, no. You do NOT want to expend the time, energy, and money on this endeavor.

It’s okay to say, “Not now.” Or even an outright “No.”

There is no medal for having your kids suffer and reluctantly become fluent.

There is no long-suffering award for sticking through with something that makes you and your children miserable and harms your relationship with them.

There is no penalty for NOT caring or wanting or having Chinese fluency/literacy.

No one is going to take away your Chinese/Taiwanese American card or your hipster card or your awesome card. (And if someone even attempts to, you can tell them Mandarin Mama told them to go gargle acid.)

All I want is for you to live the life as close to your deepest desires as possible.

If that includes Chinese fluency and literacy, wonderful! I wish you the best of luck, support, and fulfillment on this journey. And if it doesn’t? I am happy for you, too.

May you live the life you want in the manner you so choose – Chinese fluency or no.

Chinese Reading Challenge

Chinese Reading ChallengeIt’s a universally accepted fact that the best way to increase literacy is to have your kids read, read often, and read widely. So, if you want your kids to learn Chinese and also have them literate, that holds equally true for Chinese literacy. It is especially true if the books are non-translated, “indigenous” books.

Reading (in any language, but we are focusing on Chinese here) helps your children internalize Chinese grammar without resorting to dull worksheets or drills, gives them cultural references, and helps them see how idioms apply in every day conversation. If the books are non-translated books (ie: not originally English books translated into Chinese), it has the added benefit of being written specifically for the Chinese/Taiwanese child. Definitely a bonus in terms of language fluidity, rhyming, and playful words being used.

This is even more helpful when your child reads aloud since it also captures the rhythm and musicality of Chinese. Reading aloud helps your kids get used to the flow of speaking Chinese and increase the likelihood of them speaking Chinese with fluidity in every day conversation. Reading the same texts repeatedly will also build confidence and decrease stumbling.

All of these aspects will help your child as they learn Chinese – even if it’s just the speaking part you want to emphasize. (The literacy would just be a bonus.)

Anyhow, even knowing all this stuff about reading and literacy, I still find it hard to read to my children. Mostly because I find it so boring. (I know, I know. I’m a terrible parent. Especially since poor, neglected Glow Worm clearly never gets read to because when someone finally does pay attention to him long enough to read to him, he goes apeshit about books. Like, beyond excited.)

But now that Cookie Monster knows 800-1000 characters and Gamera is probably around 500-600 characters and they are getting better at zhuyin, it’s now easier for me to make them read to me. (I’m totally ballparking their character knowledge here because I am so lazy that the thought of actually quizzing them and having them go through that many character flashcards makes me stabby and want to die.)

However, since I tend to be a little lax lately about their Chinese reading recently, I was so pleased to hear that Cookie Monster finally wants something BIG. He wants to get Minecraft on the PC (thus far, he’s been playing on the xbox) and I guess the PC version has more mods that he sees and covets on YouTube. So, he’s been begging us to get him a computer and the game.

Cookie Monster is six. I know this is just a preview of what is to come. sigh

When I told Cookie Monster I heard he wanted to get a computer to play Minecraft, he was so excited. SO EXCITED. I could tell because he was jumping up and down (and for some reason, shirtless), barely containing his glee, saying, “YEAH YEAH YEAH!”

“Wait a minute, Cookie Monster.” I said. “I haven’t said I would get it for you yet. I need you to do something first before I get it for you.”

“Ok! Ok! I’ll do it! Tell me what it is!”

“Before I buy Minecraft for you, and before you can play it, you will need to earn it,” I explained, totally proud of myself in this awesome, teachable parenting moment.

“What does that mean? What does ‘earn it’ mean? I want to earn it! I don’t understand what you’re saying! Help me!”

There went my proud feelings.

Clearly, we are doing a bang up job as parents.

Also, it was so sad and hilarious I really wish I had the foresight to video the whole thing.

Since I’m never one to waste a chance to weaponize my children’s loves and desires, I am taking advantage of Cookie Monster finally expressing a real BIG desire for something and using it to ramp up him reading Chinese books. He has to read a certain number of Chinese books before I will buy the game for him and then, he will have to read a certain number of chapters/books in order to actually play the game.

And, because I’m loathe to do anything in life without turning it into a blog post for my own benefit, I’m making it a communal thing.

Today’s post officially kicks off the Read 100 Chinese Books Challenge (閱讀100本書).

For the tl;dr crowd, the Read 100 Chinese Books Challenge is a non-competitive way for us parents to support each other and our children on their way to Chinese literacy. Basically, we “pledge” to have our kids read 100 Chinese books of any length or level. We can post updates, check in and encourage each other, recommend books, have bribes prizes, etc.

Oh, and I’m serious about the non-competitive part.

There are no forms, no worksheets, no book reports you have to fill out. (I provide them for you because some folks really like them, but I personally think nothing ruins the joy of reading like pointless busywork.)

There is no verification service.

No grand prize for reading more than 100 books.

In fact, the prize for reading 100 books is, to quote my snarky friend, Not Another DB MBA, “Another 100 books!”

If this is of interest to you, join us on our 閱讀100本書/Read 100 Chinese Books Facebook Group. We’d love to have you. You MUST PM the admin your reason for joining the group. No PM? No admission.

In case a hundred books seems like a lot (and I won’t lie, it is) and you’re not sure you can find one hundred English books, let alone one hundred Chinese books, GuavaRama has a fantastic series of posts all on Chinese books including what kinds of books to buy (categorized at different levels), where to buy them, how to choose books, and where to find them in libraries. Seriously, it’s some quality information. Use it.

Alright, friends and fellow Chinese enthusiasts! For more info, I recommend you head over to our Facebook Group. (FYI: again, please PM the admin your reasons for joining.)

Hope to see you there.

 

Non-negotiables in Parenting

Every parent has a set of non-negotiables for their kids. Some more than others. I have very few because I am ultimately, a really lazy parent. It also helps me not to have an apoplexy every time my kids don’t do something the way I want it.

Here are my main non-negotiables (of course, I may discover more as both I and my children grow older):

1) Breakfast – They MUST eat a good breakfast (99% of the time, it is plain oatmeal with milk). The rest of the day may be shot to hell with snacks and stubborn toddlers refusing lunch and dinner and wanting only cookies, but dammit, they WILL eat a good breakfast.

2) Cleaning Up – Before my kids can pull out another toy, they have to put away what they’re currently playing with. Sometimes, the rules get lax when I’m tired or there is a playdate at my house (because can you honestly enforce that with 10 children running amok in your house?), but ultimately, I make my kids clean up their mess. Otherwise, it’s Time Out! (My Facebook friends can attest to my children’s constant Time Out statuses.) This avoids my house looking like a tornado tore through and prevents foot injuries from Legos and small dinosaurs.

3) Learning and using Mandarin – I try to speak to my children 90% of the time in Mandarin Chinese. It’s easy right now since their vocabulary needs are right in line with my abilities. But I do admit, I never knew I had to look up so many trucks and animals in Chinese (thank goodness for the iPhone app!).

I know it will just get more and more difficult to enforce when the kids get older and their vocabularies and interests expand. This is why I go out of my way to enroll my kids in Mandarin Mommy and Me classes, Mandarin preschool, (all provided by the awesome Po-Wen of Fun Learning Mandarin), Mandarin Language Playdates, buying Mandarin DVDs of shows, etc. I’ll likely also sign up Cookie Monster for Chinese School (12+ years of Saturdays gone – just like that!) next year when he is old enough. I am thinking of signing him up for some more Mandarin classes with other teachers as well.

If I were more hardcore, I would ban the kids from watching any shows not in Mandarin, but since I value expediency and convenience more than watching Chinese DVDs, I totally suck at this. I make the kids listen to Chinese songs and stories on CD and try to speak Mandarin and surround myself with Mandarin speakers as much as possible. But of course, we live in the real world and that will be harder and harder – especially when Cookie Monster goes off to Kindergarten in two years.

Sadly, Gamera speaks a lot more English than Mandarin, but she does understand both very well. She is also starting to speak more Mandarin so that makes me happier. Unfortunately, this is the consequence of being a second child. Cookie Monster pretty much ONLY spoke Mandarin until 18 months or so (and then I ruined it all by letting him watch copious amounts of TV and YouTube). Now, Cookie Monster and Gamera pretty much converse only in English. (Broken, Fobby English, but English nonetheless.)

When I read bedtime stories to them, I usually simultaneously translate the stories into Chinese vs. reading them in English. This does unfortunately ruin the rhythm of many children’s books, but I don’t feel bad because Hapa Papa obviously reads these stories to them in English so they’re not missing out on too much. They get both! I have a feeling this will fall by the wayside once the books advance. I’m not THAT good. hahah. Fortunately, I have a decent amount of Chinese books that my mother either saved for me, or that I have purchased – so I have that going for me.

As you can see by the length of this non-negotiable, it is SUPER important to me. I may have resented being sent to Chinese School for my entire K-12 life and missing out on so many Saturday morning cartoons and perhaps the opportunity costs of sports/arts/etc., but now that I’m in my mid-thirties, I am incredibly grateful to my crazy parents for sticking to it for so long.

And that, my friends, is the end of my non-negotiables. I think I have so few because it takes so much energy to focus really, really well and enforce them. Obviously, I have other rules, etc., but these are the things I MUST do every day. Other things can slide or fall by the wayside occasionally, but these things, I am adamant about promoting. I think that’s the only reason it’s stuck for 3.5+ years so far. After all, I am pretty flighty, and other than my goal of having four kids ~22 months apart (3 down, 1 to go!), this is the only thing I’ve ever consistently accomplished.

Ok, your turn! What are your non-negotiables? (And perhaps, why, if you are so inclined to expand in the comments.)