What Chinese Books Should I Read to My Baby?

As many of you know, I receive a lot of reader mail as well as encounter a lot of questions on multiple Facebook groups/boards on the topic of Chinese for babies/kids.

Recently, someone asked what Chinese books they should read to their four month old baby.

Below is my video response.

For the people who are morally opposed to watching videos, here is the gist:

Stop overthinking it.

Your baby is four months old. They can’t even see color yet. (Or if they can, barely.) They cannot follow plot or understand books.

Chill out.

Remember, Chinese picture books and baby board books are written for adults to read to their children.

That sounds like a super obvious statement – but what that also means is that you need to be literate in Chinese in order to read them. So, if you can’t read Chinese characters fluidly, there is no pinyin or zhuyin to help you out.

If you can read Chinese already then your Chinese is likely good enough to translate baby books and board books on the fly. If that is the case, you do NOT need to buy Chinese baby books. You can buy any book that you can read and then translate into Chinese.

Baby books are not meant to be complex stories. There are no plot twists or gotchas. You should be fine.

If you cannot read Chinese and your spoken Chinese is reasonably fluent, again, you can just translate books as you are reading them to your baby. Again, you do NOT need to buy specific Chinese baby books.

And if you cannot read Chinese and you cannot speak Chinese, then Chinese baby books are completely useless to you.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your four month old is NOT going to become literate staring at a Chinese baby book that you cannot even read to them in Chinese.

That sounds mean, but honestly, I just want to save you the money and the worry.

There are other ways to teach your baby Chinese if you’re not fluent, but that is not my focus today.

If you are fluent or can speak some Chinese, the best thing you can do is speak Chinese to your baby all the time.

Did you know I wrote a book on how to teach your kids Chinese? You can get it on Amazon (affiliate link) and it’s conveniently titled, So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese.

It’s full of practical advice, detailed applications, and heavy amounts of snark. Find most of the answers to your questions about how you can get your babies fluent in Chinese.

 

Why I Homeschool

This year marks the beginning of our third year homeschooling and looking back, it seems inevitable that I ended up choosing this for my children.

However, until 3-4 years ago, I fully looked forward to (and expected to) walk my children to our local elementary school, then have them walk or bike to our local middle school, and then walk to our local high school (which is less than a five minute walk away).

I was a little worried about how I would manage the drop-off/pick-up for so many children (even then, I had visions of four kids), not to mention all their extra-curricular activities, but ultimately, I figured that millions of families do it every year. Surely, I would make it work.

But as the years progressed, I got more and more into my kids learning Chinese and wanting them to surpass my own abilities. That, of course, would take up at least a Friday night or a Saturday morning in Chinese school.

Plus, as I learned more about all the untold stories of America, both in terms of rendering peoples invisible as well as the mythologizing of America, I was already anticipating even more supplementing.

And then, of course, because I’m Taiwanese as well as secretly Tiger Mommyish, I firmly believed in my children taking as many extracurricular activities as possible because that is when their brains are most pliable.

So while none of any one of these things were that problematic on their own, the combination of them all was causing me a lot of stress.

And then I heard from my friend, Hotelier, that she was going to be homeschooling – and doing it in Chinese and BOOM!

A whole world opened up.

I stalked a bunch of homeschool Yahoo! groups and read a bunch of books for at least a year before I ultimately decided to homeschool and withdrew Cookie Monster from our local elementary school.

Of course, I didn’t really have these reasons crystallized in my mind when I pulled Cookie Monster out of school, but over the years, I have thought about it some more and distilled my reasons to the following:

1) I have two mutually exclusive beliefs:

a) Children are over-scheduled.

b) Children should learn as many things as possible.

I have these visions of what a childhood should look like. We all do (though they be different). For me, I see childhood as huge swaths of empty space. Plenty of time to play, read, laze about, watch TV, and daydream.

The idea of a childhood full of being shuttled from school to after school programs to home to homework to sleep to wake only to do it all again – that makes me feel claustrophobic.

How stifling.

And yet.

How else can I prepare my kids for the pending zombie apocalypse? (Or more realistically, their future?)

How else can they be well-rounded humans unless they take music lessons? Play sports? Learn coding? Survive the wilderness? Carve their own Davids? Perform calculus in their heads faster than a computer?

How else can they do these things unless they take classes? And if they are in “regular” school, how can we do these classes unless they are after school? And if every moment is filled with classes, when will we be a family? When will they be children? When will they live?

I have four children. Let’s just assume my kids each take two classes. That’s eight classes a week. Since there is an age spread of seven years between the oldest and the youngest, they cannot all be shoved into the same classes – assuming they even have the same interests.

I WOULD ONLY SEE MY CHILDREN IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR OF MY MINIVAN.

This was not acceptable to me.

2) Chinese language retention.

Everyone knows that once kids who were previously fluent in Chinese (or any language, really) starts full time school, their Chinese immediately takes a nose-dive and their English improves by leaps and bounds.

Of course it does.

It’s not some giant conspiracy (although it often seems to be). It’s just math.

There are only so many waking hours in a day. And if the majority of those hours are in English dominant spaces, how could our children not eventually become English dominant?

From what I recall as a child, though I didn’t exactly resent speaking and understanding Chinese, I certainly did not enjoy giving up every Saturday morning to weekly Chinese schools for my entire pre-college education.

Who is to say my children would be equally un-resentful?

Plus, having been a product of those weekly Saturday schools and finding them to be unequal to the task of what I personally would like for my own children, I knew it would require even more effort on my part (and thereby, my children). That would require even more of the already limited free time my kids would theoretically have.

3) I fundamentally disagree with how and what schools teach – particularly in areas of history and social studies.

This is the one that took the longest for me to eventually realize.

I mean, where to start?

Personally, I find that school teaches our kids information (and not always good information) but don’t actually teach our kids how to learn. Like, how to best read a textbook in order to retain information. Or how to take good notes. Or how to study.

And all those tests! What is the point of tests, really? I mean, even as a hyper-competitive person, I recognize the futility of tests.

When in life are you, as an adult, in a situation where you absolutely have to have everything memorized without access to a calculator or Google or a reference book? I mean, you obviously are required to be competent. But ultimately, if you don’t know something or cannot recall some random fact, you can find out.

Also, just like I have a huge problem with Sunday School, I have a huge problem with regular school.

It turns out, the older I am, the more anti-establishment I have become. (Not entirely, I do enjoy my creature comforts.)

But I was particularly disillusioned with how our children are inculcated with the Myth of America (from when they are very small and first learn of the pilgrims and Squanto and the first Thanksgiving) and how even in college, they may never be shaken out of their myths or confronted with the horrible realization that everything they learned about in school was a lie.

Isn’t that how we ended up with Trump?

Isn’t that how we have people who deny the Holocaust?

I distinctly recall a moment in 7th grade World History class. In a textbook of several THOUSAND pages, there were exactly two pages on the histories of China, Japan, Africa, and South America.

China, in all its 5,000 years of history was reduced to a few paragraphs.

China, a country that invented paper, gunpowder, and the compass, among other things, was explained in half a page. Of World History.

I was enraged. (Mostly because I was Chinese and wanted to learn more about my people.)

Clearly, World History meant the only world that the publishers thought mattered: the Western European World.

Fuck these people.

I realized that a lot of this “corrected” or expanded view of history is what we go to college for – but why? Why waste so much time teaching our children such a fictionalization of our world only to perhaps knock it down in college when they’re older?

Oh, right. Because white supremacy and patriarchy.

Well, I’ll be damned if I’m going to support white supremacy and patriarchy.

My kids are going to be woke, y’all. They’re going to be woke as fuck.

There are other reasons why I am pleased to be homeschooling despite the obvious disadvantage of having to be with my children for so much of the day, but these are the main driving forces.

I’m sure if you ask even one hundred other homeschooling families, you will get an additional one hundred reasons.

But you will find, that like all things, these families all end up looking like what works for the main homeschooling parent and their children. It is the ultimate in a customized education – for better or for worse.

Thanks for reading, friends. I would love to hear why you do or do not homeschool 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!