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.

Chinese Progress, Update 2

img_9083

Only ten days left in Taiwan! I can’t believe we have passed the halfway point in our trip here and are closing in on leaving. It makes me sad, but my kids are ecstatic. They keep begging to go back to America because Taiwan is “boring.” (What they don’t realize is that they are complaining to me in Chinese so I don’t care if they think it’s boring. They’re complaining to me IN CHINESE.)

Besides, Cookie Monster only thinks Taiwan is boring because he can’t play Halo or Minecraft all day. And to be fair, all they do most week days is wake up, watch a little iPad as I cram food in their faces, sunblock and bug spray them down, force them on the MRT and the death march to school, go to school, repeat death march home, eat while iPadding, bathe, and go to sleep by 8pm only to start the whole thing all over again the next day.

On weekends, we might do some fun things or visit family, but it is all too short and they are back to forcing their brains full of Chinese again.

I get it.

It is boring.

But I’m having a fantastic time (despite both Gamera and Glow Worm barfing a lot all over me, the Airbnb bed, the hotel bed, the floor, the sink, and themselves – at least they took turns getting sick) so that’s all that really matters.

Hapa Papa joined us for the last week of school (I totally thought he was coming a week later and was pleasantly surprised). That helped a lot (although it was hard to get used to another adult human being again)!

Anyhow, here are a few more of my unscientific observations on the Chinese status and progress of my kids now that school and camps have finished.

1) Cookie Monster really is starting to sound more 台 (tai2/Taiwanese). I made this observation two years ago when he added 啊 (a/ah) and 超級 (chao ji2/super) to everything.

He’s back at it – but instead of just 啊, it’s random phrases like 好險喔 (hao3 xian3 oh/That was close!) or just speaking in more of the lazy Taiwanese drawl. (That doesn’t please me as much, but hey. At least he’s speaking locally.)

2) All the kids are sprinkling more Chinese phrases into their daily speaking – phrases and terms I never realized that they knew. To be fair, they often don’t know what the terms mean. They just hear people using them in context and use it correctly – just without true understanding of the meaning. I suppose that is what kids do in the US with English, too.

Eg: 好帥 (hao3 shuai4/so good looking) or 聊天 (liao2 tian/have a conversation)

3) The kids are speaking more and more Chinese. It seems to be their default language of choice (especially for Gamera) but now that Hapa Papa has returned, I see that is slipping again. (Except for Gamera.)

4) They don’t complain about watching shows or movies in Chinese. It’s just normal. I put on The Force Awakens in Chinese yesterday night and Cookie Monster asked if it was going to be in English or Chinese and even when I said Chinese and he’d seen parts of it in English on the plane, he didn’t complain. Just sat and watched it.

In fact, I think they understood most of what was going on even with the dialog all in Chinese. Not that they would have understood it on a deep level in English, anyway. I just mean, they understood about as much as they would have in English.

Granted, this is an action movie and they just really care about light sabers and good guys and bad guys and fighting and space ships and BB-8 and R2D2. So, it’s not like there was a comprehension quiz at the end.

But you know when your kids understand something enough to continue to watch vs. when they watch the news and are like, FUCK THIS and leave.

Honestly, it is hard for me to watch movies in Chinese – especially when I put up Chinese subtitles. It takes way too much concentration to only half understand what the heck is going on. Thank goodness I had already seen the movie in English so I could explain or reassure the kids as to the finer plot points.

5) Turns out, Gamera hates watching Chinese cartoons but LOVES watching Taiwanese variety shows.

She will complain bitterly about the stupid cartoons (which you’d think she’d like) but be completely engrossed in the singing contests, stupid game shows, interviews, etc. with real people.

I can barely understand what’s going on (again, the active listening to terms I don’t hear as often requires a lot more effort and concentration I am willing to give to something I think should be as passive as TV). I personally far prefer the cartoons because that is more my speed. *weepsquietlyinacorner*

6) I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently sending Glow Worm to learn more Chinese not only increased his speaking in both Chinese and English, I also inadvertently increased his ability to say, “No” in Chinese.

Not only does he say, 不要 (bu2 yao4/no want) and 沒有 (mei2 you3/no have), he has incorporated 不行 (bu4 xing2/no), 不是 (bu2 shi4/no), as well as a few other ways that I can’t recall off the top of my head.

Incidentally, when Glow Worm says 不是 (bu2 shi4/no), it sounds awfully close to, “Bullshit.” It cracks me up inside every time.

7) Another way that Glow Worm is trying to incorporate Chinese into his speaking that I find amusing, he has totally upped his Chinglish! Instead of saying, “幫我 (bang wo3/help me),” he says “幫 (bang/help) me).

It sounds like “banh mi” and for awhile, I kept thinking of the Vietnamese sandwich.

8) Also, Glow Worm says, “救命啊 (jiu4 ming4 ah4/save or rescue me)!” in place of “幫我 (bang wo3/help me).”

It makes sense why, but it’s wrong. Still hilarious.

9) Glow Worm has also started to speak Chinese more often (his English has exploded, too, so I think it is more of a developmental stage than just being in Taiwan) and this pleases me greatly. He can even count to twenty in Chinese (which is more than he can in English)!

10) During the last week of Cookie Monster’s camp, it was back at the place that originally had half the kids from the US. This week, Cookie Monster was the only US kid in the group and I guess he was blending in well with them because all the kids thought he was like them.

Then, when they saw Hapa Papa, they asked the teacher if Cookie Monster was a 外國人 (wai4 guo2 ren2/foreigner). The teacher responded in the affirmative but didn’t know from where.

Hapa Papa outed Cookie Monster! But that’s okay because it means Cookie Monster must have been speaking enough Chinese (and more importantly – good enough Chinese) for the kids not to notice.

Granted, I later found out one of the boys who befriended Cookie Monster was a US expat who kept speaking happily to him in English so I was a bit annoyed about that but pleased Cookie Monster had made a friend. (This sentence is tortured but I am too lazy to fix it.)

11) Cookie Monster and Gamera are playing together more in Chinese. Even though English is still the dominant language, they do switch back and forth between the languages, and if they are speaking Chinese, they stick to it for longer periods.

They even fight in Chinese. That’s progress for sure.

12) I don’t notice Gamera’s Chinese progress as much since she seemed to be the best out of all three kids. However, my cousins and aunties all claim she has improved a lot and that her Chinese is very good. So, hey. That’s something!

The main thing is that her vocabulary has expanded and that’s likely the only thing I noticed.

Alright. I’m sure now that school and camp have ended and Hapa Papa has arrived on the scene, their Chinese will likely start the long, slow backslide that I expect to happen when we return to the States. But for now, I’m pleased that their language skills have gotten a nice boost.

Will keep you posted on their progress after a few weeks home. Have a great day!

Chinese Progress, Update 1

We have now been in Taiwan about 11 days (give or take depending on time change and traveling into the future via plane) and surprisingly, I’ve already seen signs of improvement in the kids’ Chinese.

Here then, are several of my meandering thoughts and observations (backed by zero science or discrete measurements and is merely a collection of my inaccurate and optimistic musings).

1) Cookie Monster now speaks mostly Chinese – even to me. Yes, I realize that he’s supposed to be doing that anyway, but that hasn’t really happened in awhile. I always have to remind him. But now, I rarely have to remind him. He is so used to speaking Chinese that he doesn’t even think twice about speaking it to me.

Plus, his vocabulary and breadth is expanding. He will even explain what he was learning or doing at camp in mostly Chinese.

How I know Chinese immersion is working. Cookie Monster keeps saying, “我的媽啊!” (Wo3 de5 ma ah!/Oh my gosh!)

They also keep saying “太可怕啦!” (Tai4 ke3 pa4 la4!/That’s so scary!)

I find these random statements hilarious. The kids have incorporated these common phrases into their Chinese toolkit (even if they’re not sure exactly what it means, they know when to use it correctly).

2) Glow Worm is hard to gauge because he wasn’t really talking much in the first place but always understood everything I said in Chinese. However, he is starting to repeat more and more words in Chinese as well as use Chinese more often. Again, it is hard to say, but I think his Chinese is improving.

3) Gamera’s Chinese was always the most fluid and fluent so I don’t see much difference except in her consistency. She now speaks to me more often in Chinese and explains long complicated scenarios to me all in Chinese. I can only assume she is also increasing her vocabulary and breadth.

4) Of course, their language of play amongst themselves is still in English, but I hear more and more Chinese non sequiturs and exclamations than before.

They have been playing with my cousin’s son on the weekends, too, so that is definitely mostly all in Chinese.

5) Further evidence that nonstop Chinese TV in the background is still better than nothing. (Even when the kids are barely paying attention and are on their iPads – they still will stop iPadding if they see or hear something interesting on the TV. My kids clearly are going to have focus problems in the future. But their Chinese will be awesome!)

On the kid channels (we’re permanently stuck on either YoYo TV or Momo TV), they will play random songs or have dance numbers with major cartoon characters in them. My kids will now dance along to the ones they’ve seen before (in fact, Gamera tells me one of the dance numbers they learned at school) or sing along or all of a sudden when they’re playing.

Current fave: 捏泥巴,捏泥巴,捏捏捏捏 捏泥巴。(nie ni2 ba, nie ni2 ba. Nie nie nie nie, nie ni2 ba/Squish the mud, Squish the mud. Squish squish squish squish, Squish the mud.)

Here’s a video of Gamera and Glow Worm dancing along to the songs. If you look at the reflection in the glass, you can see what they’re trying to copy.

The other side effect that I did not expect is that apparently, the kids understand more than I give them credit for. There is a toothpaste commercial that comes on a lot that details pores/holes in our teeth and how that is bad and the toothpaste heals the tiny holes or whatever. (See, even I am not quite clear on what they are actually saying.)

Anyhow, when the commercial came on, Cookie Monster proceeded to tell me all about the tiny holes in the teeth and Gamera continued telling me how the toothpaste heals all the holes. They told me this all in Chinese.

Propaganda and commercials clearly work. Whoooo! I don’t even mind the indoctrination!

So really, I should see if I can subscribe to Chinese programming on cable or just have Chinese stories on in the background of their daily lives. The noise might kill me.

According to Nurtureshock by Po Bronson, that would only work because the kids already understand Chinese. If they didn’t, the kids would just tune the sound out because their brains process Chinese as gibberish. So if your kids aren’t already fluent, this option is unlikely to do them much good.

6) I am starting to ask Cookie Monster to read more and more signs and instructions geared to kids that include zhuyin. He is more and more willing to do so out of a desire to do things.

For example, we were at a kids’ science museum and they had computer games with Chinese and zhuyin instructions that he really wanted to play so he read.

He wasn’t happy about it, but he did it.

7) Turns out both Cookie Monster and Gamera can read and recognize more Chinese characters than my cousin’s son who is turning six in a few months. That’s not surprising because my goal is to front load their reading comprehension as much as possible before they succumb to the ease and ubiquity of English.

I obviously don’t expect this “being ahead” to last. Besides, my nephew is in English immersion school so he is learning English and is on somewhat the reverse trajectory.

Sidenote: No one has mentioned or commented or been surprised my kids can speak and/or understand Chinese. I think they think my kids are likely from America, but no one is thinking they are mixed. And before you say they’re too polite to comment, you clearly don’t know how blunt Taiwanese people are – or how overtly racist/colorist.

Anyhow, the main bonus of this is that no one is practicing their shitty English on my kids and ruining the whole point of coming back to Taiwan in the first place.

Trust me, this happens ALL the time to folks who bring their kids back from the US. The very people (aka: family) who give you shit about your kids not being fluent enough in Chinese will be speaking to your kids in super crappy broken English when it’s been made very clear that a) you brought your kids back to improve their Chinese and b) your kids UNDERSTAND and SPEAK Chinese. </rant>

Alright, I think that is it for now. I hope you found this interesting even though it has no real bearing on your own children’s progress. But perhaps it can give you an idea of what to expect or hope for should you bring your kids back to Taiwan for camp and Mandarin immersion.

Did you take (or have you taken) your kids back to Taiwan or China? Is this similar to your experience? (Obviously, a lot depends on starting fluency, but surely some things are transferable.) Let me know in the comments.

Have a great weekend!

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!

 

 

How Teaching My Kids Chinese Completely Derailed My Life

teaching 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

If you told me seven years ago that I would be a Chinese homeschooling mom of three, that all our activities would be evaluated on the basis of whether or not it promoted Chinese fluency (and if it didn’t, whether it was worth it or not), that I would be spending ridiculous amounts of money on Chinese books that I don’t know if I can even read, and that 90% of all my friends and interactions would be with people of similar mind, I wouldn’t have believed you.

I would have thought you were crazy.

I mean, come on. Chinese is important. I get it. But to revolve our lives around it? To become a homeschooling mom? To spend that much of my time, energy, and resources on it?

That seemed a bit excessive.

I don’t know what I thought, exactly, other than I wanted my kids to be at least as bilingual in Chinese as I am. I just assumed I would speak to my kids in Chinese (like my parents did to me), have my kids go to Chinese school (like I had to), and then call it a day. Maybe throw in a few trips to Taiwan if I was feeling fancy.

I wasn’t going to go out of my way too much. I didn’t expect to go to a Chinese speaking church (like I did) or have only Chinese speaking friends (like my parents did). I thought about it, but it wasn’t that interesting to me.

I don’t know that I thought too deeply about the mechanics of learning Chinese or the inherent difficulties therein. All I knew was that I wanted my kids to be able to speak Chinese and I would probably try to find a Chinese preschool or something since all things Chinese were popping up in my area and getting a little more mainstream.

It wasn’t until I started seeing that other people were like me, and were expecting their kids to be literate as well, and that I joined the Raising Bilingual Kids in Chinese/English Facebook Group that I even saw that maybe, my children’s Chinese could surpass mine that I kicked it into high gear.

And now? Now, I find myself somewhat unrecognizable.

Here then, are some ways teaching my kids Chinese has completely derailed my life:

1) I am homeschooling. In Chinese.

2) Any classes and activities the kids can take, I always look for a Chinese option first.

3) Even though I believe fully in using the library and do NOT believe in buying books, I have spent thousands of dollars on Chinese books, DVDs, CDs, and classes. THOUSANDS. (Mostly because I am too lazy to go all over the Bay Area and borrow books from multiple libraries.)

4) My free time is spent hanging out with people who love Chinese and brainstorming and thinking about Chinese language acquisition. And that is all I ever talk about.

5) My social circle has narrowed down to families who have Chinese speaking children because I want my kids to play with other kids in Chinese (although usually, it is at best, half/half).

6) I listen to endless loops of Chinese stories and songs in the car.

7) I have been roped into creating and/or admin-ing several Facebook groups.

8) I hate traveling and dealing with people (especially in different languages and cultures), but now I take my children to Taiwan for weeks at a time, enroll them in local schools, and deal with a foreign language and culture and caring for my children by myself.

I know I seem super intense to some of you who are also wanting your kids to learn Chinese. Perhaps even crazy intense – even to fellow ABC/Ts.

I get it.

I know my path is not for everyone. Nor do I think that it is necessary for everyone. (After all, it depends on your goals and even if our goals are the same, there are many ways to get to where we’re going.)

So I thought that I would start a series on other families that are doing the Chinese thing with their kids. Once a month or so, I will feature a family and delve into why their kids are learning Chinese, to what levels, and what they are doing to achieve their goals.

It is my hope that from these varying families and goals and abilities, we can each glean ideas we can use for ourselves. (Or be forewarned about stuff we should look out for.)

While I do believe that kids who successfully master Chinese have parents who employed common methods, I don’t necessarily think that there is only way to be fluent. Again, success is dependent on each individual family’s goals and what they have in mind.

Also, many of us are at the beginning stages of our journeys. Guavarama mentioned to me how so many blogs about parents teaching their kids Chinese peter out and end. It makes sense because as kids get older, Chinese retention gets harder. Hopefully, I will find more families with older children and farther along this Chinese journey.

Anyhow, short post today. I will likely start the series with myself as a reference point (and because it is easier than interviewing someone). Happy Friday!

How to Get Your Kid to Speak 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

I confess: this is a somewhat misleading title since truthfully, you really can’t force your child to speak Chinese if they really don’t want to – at least not without some major relational and communication costs.

Also: this article may be less useful to folks who are in non-heritage and/or non-speaking families. Mostly because if you don’t speak Chinese, your opportunities for your child to speak Chinese are limited and you have to get creative with your methods since it’s not as if you can verify that they are indeed speaking Chinese, let alone correctly.

Plus, it’s possible your child might be more excited to either “show off” their Chinese since the response to their speaking Chinese (especially if they are white or not ethnically Chinese) will likely be amazement and praise due to the novelty and not actual ability whereas if your child does have Chinese heritage, the expectation (however unfair) will be that they should speak Chinese anyway so unless they are fluent or native level, there really isn’t anything marvelous about it (even though it really is) and quite frankly, why isn’t their Chinese better than it is – don’t they care about their heritage at all?

Furthermore, many ethnically Chinese kids often do not want to speak Chinese because everyone else speaks English and why should they be compelled to speak a language that is not their native tongue? And besides, everything is in English anyway because we’re in America and it’s really hard and seriously, no one speaks Chinese and please just stop making them try and communicate in a language in which they are hamstrung by their lack of vocabulary and comprehension and ability.

Incidentally, this is not a bitter rehash of White Sense of Fluency (WSOF) or if you prefer, American Sense of Fluency (ASOF). Just a statement of fact in how our world works right now. Also, I readily concede that just because your child is not ethnically Chinese and also learning Mandarin does NOT guarantee that they will be excited about speaking Mandarin. In fact, they might experience similar objections their ethnically Chinese counterparts experience. Really, it just depends on your kid.

So, tl;dr: You can’t force your kid to speak Chinese – at least not without major consequences and fractures in your relationship. Personally, I don’t think that is worth causing major damage in the parent/child relationship.

However, with that said, I often think that parents (especially Chinese speaking parents) give in too early and too easily with their kids. This is not to judge you if you are one of the parents who have given up. After all, it’s hard to be constantly waging a never-ending battle to get your kid to speak Chinese. It’s hard to consistently speak Chinese (especially if you’re not all that great at it in the first place – or used to speaking Chinese) and require them to speak it back.

Truthfully, I’m not you or your kid. It might only seem as if it was too early or too easily from my outsider’s perspective. I have no idea. And honestly, I have no idea if any of my suggestions will work for you (or for non-Chinese speaking parents, for that matter).

So really, this is all just a lengthy caveat and YMMV (although if you’re a long time reader, you’ll note that this is also one of my briefer disclaimers). Also also: these suggestions might work better when the kids are younger. Anyhow, here then, are some of my suggestions for how to get your kid to speak Chinese:

1) Decide if you even want your kid to speak Chinese. 

No, seriously.

It seems like such a bullshit answer but really, is this what you really want? Because remember: Chinese fluency requires intention.

So, do you want your kid to speak Chinese? And if so, how fluently? And if fluently, the more fluently you want them to speak, the more work you will have to do. How much effort is too much? And at what point will you say, “This isn’t worth it?”

My two cents? (Alright, with the amount of words I’m outputting, it’s more like two dollars.) If it is to the point where you and your child are fighting all the time, your kid doesn’t even want to speak or communicate with you, or your child doesn’t even want to touch anything Chinese with a ten foot pole, maybe it is time to either pull back on the Chinese speaking thing or reconsider your tactics.

Healthy relationships with your children trumps Chinese fluency any day of the week.

Also, if you decide after reading this post that you don’t particularly want to put in the effort of having your kids speak Chinese, that’s okay. They will still go on to have perfectly good, complete, and happy lives. Plus, their Chinese journey isn’t necessarily over. There is always college or after college. I mean, seriously. As long as they’re alive, there is still a chance.

dumb and dumber

2) Do not respond to your children unless they speak Chinese. 

Obviously, please use common sense. If your child is injured and calling for help in English, that perhaps isn’t the best time to insist on them asking for help in Chinese.

When I was little, I didn’t realize my parents could even speak English (they are Taiwanese immigrants). As a result, I had little choice but to speak to them in Chinese because otherwise, how would they understand me?

As I got older, my parents refused to respond to me unless I spoke to them in Chinese. I quickly got the picture that if I wanted anything at all from my parents, I would have to ask for it in Chinese. When I got into my teens, I have no idea what language we communicated in. It was likely a motley of Chinese and English and sometimes, Chinglish.

There are variations of this method, of course.

Until recently, I told my children in Chinese that I didn’t understand them. A blatant lie since I obviously speak and understand English just fine. However, four year old Gamera now calls me out on this because of course. She tells me that I understand English because I can speak it. I’m just grateful she humored me as long as she did.

Six year old Cookie Monster is much kinder and has never commented on my obvious falsehood. He just switches to Chinese and repeats what he just said (although he does sometimes require a few reminders before he switches).

Now, I have started to either ask them to tell me in Chinese and if I get push back, I say that I want them to practice their Chinese because it’s really easy to forget and lose their Chinese if they don’t. It helps that I have first hand experience with losing Chinese language skills so I use myself as an example. And since Gamera enjoys being superior to me, she likes to remind me how I used the Chinese word for “sticker” when I should have used “tape.” This tact has been successful thus far.

When they get to the point where they don’t care about losing their Chinese, I may go to my parent’s method of ignoring them until they do speak Chinese.

3) Create a Chinese Language Ecosystem (CLE) as much as possible. 

It is difficult to speak Chinese if you do not have the vocabulary to support what you want to say or the comprehension to understand what someone is saying to you. The only way to boost vocabulary and comprehension is to increase Chinese exposure.

To that end, your best bet is to create as comprehensive CLE as possible. Many of the remaining suggestions expand upon things you can use when creating your CLE. (Protip: maximize your car time with the kids. You have a captive audience. I constantly have Chinese songs and stories playing in the car. If you have a DVD player in the car, you can have them watch movies or shows in Chinese.)

How do you create a CLE? In short, as much as possible:

– Speak to your kids in Chinese

– Have them consume Chinese media (either original works or Chinese translations) by watching Chinese YouTube videos/DVDs/movies; listen to Chinese songs/stories; read Chinese books (I often translate simple children’s board books regardless of the book’s written language); use apps in Chinese; etc.

– Tell stories in Chinese

– Attend Chinese playdates/playgroups/classes/extracurricular classes/cultural programs

– If you need childcare, hire a Chinese speaking au pair/nanny/day care

– Travel/Extended stays overseas in Chinese speaking countries

For more in-depth explanation on what a CLE is and entails, I highly recommend Oliver Tu’s excellent post about the CLE and its applications. Shoot, in general, just go to his blog and read everything he has written. His daughters are nine and twelve so he is much further along on this Chinese language journey – not to mention, incredibly successful. I pretty much just copy whatever he does or recommends.

4) Bribery.

In general, I would refrain from punishing your kids when they do NOT speak Chinese since that will cause a negative association with speaking Chinese. (I do, however, break this rule when my children start speaking predominantly English. I tell them if they do not speak in Chinese it is because they are watching too much English YouTube/media and I start pulling back their English media time and amp up their Chinese media time.)

I’m pretty sure bribery is self-explanatory.

Reward the behavior you want. In our house, I do not enforce our screen time limits if they are watching anything Chinese or are using Chinese apps.

5) Hire help.

If your Chinese isn’t up to snuff (or you just want more support), hire tutors/conversation partners/mother’s helpers/nannies/conversation only Chinese classes. Remember, the focus here is in speaking and conversational skills – not necessarily reading and writing skills.

Additionally, your children might respond in Chinese more willingly to people who they ONLY associate with Chinese speaking. Plus, children can often be evil and listen to or speak in Chinese with anyone except you, their parent.

6) Find Chinese speaking peers.

This one is a little more difficult because most kids will resort to speaking in English to each other since that’s the norm. Also, if your kids are really proficient in Chinese, the older your children get, the more difficult it will be to find peers with comparable Chinese levels unless they are recent immigrants. That, of course, brings about a different set of difficulties in terms of relatability, and the recent immigrant’s parents likely wanting their child’s English to improve more so than practicing their Chinese. Perhaps a bargain can be made.

7) Tell older siblings you need their help to teach their younger siblings Chinese. 

In multi-child families, the eldest child usually has the best Chinese skills. (Not always, but usually. Also, sorry to my baby brother for ruining your Chinese.) Mostly, this is due to the fact that once the older child learns English, they will most likely speak to their siblings in English because it is easier for them, and as a result, their siblings will a) have far earlier English exposure and b) have far more English exposure in the household.

Some variations on this include: telling your older children that their younger sibling only understands Chinese or enlisting their help in preventing their younger sibling from losing their Chinese.

Whatever helps you promote speaking Chinese between your children. Personally, I think this is easier when the kids are small versus when they’re older and will require more sophisticated words.

8) Go overseas for camps, classes, or extended trips.

If financially feasible (because tickets, food, lodging, and tuition are not cheap and add up), consider going overseas. The focus at these camps will be to promote Chinese speaking – however you still run into the same problem of kids speaking mostly in English if the camp is catered to overseas Chinese. Another option would be to enroll your children in camps for local kids (but just know that there will likely be a huge communication barrier even if your child is really good at Chinese).

9) Encourage your kids to create performance art in Chinese. 

Does your kid love Minecraft? My Little Pony? Singing? Acting? Writing? Whatever it is, encourage your kid to make videos/songs/music videos/fan vids/short stories/whatever in Chinese. This combines bribery (play all the Minecraft you want as long as it’s in Chinese), relevance (stuff they’re interested in), and narcissism (seeing their work shared on YouTube or amongst friends).

Plus, I’m sure there’s all sorts of educational theory on how this synthesizes language into different parts of their brain or something sciencey.

10) Use the time-honored tradition of Chinglish.

Allow your child to speak as much Chinese as possible and to sub in English if they do not know the words in Chinese.

Now, some folks object to this route entirely because they feel it either dilutes their efforts or gives their children a way to slack off and cheat. However, I am of the opinion that any Chinese is better than no Chinese and that many children (myself included) would rather be silent and not risk looking foolish than to try something in Chinese only to stall, grope around desperately for the right word, and then fail miserably.

Instead, allow your child to say in English the parts they don’t know in Chinese. Then, show them how to say the phrase or word in Chinese and have them repeat it. It now becomes a teachable moment and your child will have a better shot of remembering the new vocabulary because they needed the word versus some random word they have to memorize as part of a lesson.

Chinglish allows your kid to attempt to speak Chinese without losing too much face or the expectation of perfection. It can be freeing.

11) Have realistic expectations.

I wrote a long post about having realistic expectations for learning Chinese in general. This will likely be more along the same lines.

– Be reasonable.

– Learning new skills (especially a language as complicated as Chinese) requires time.

– If your child has limited exposure to Chinese, it isn’t really fair for you to expect that their spoken Chinese will be fluent.

– Even if your child can understand Chinese, if you do not encourage them reply to you in Chinese, they will never learn to speak Chinese with confidence or proficiency.

– If you try to make your child speak to you in Chinese but do not equip them with the appropriate vocabulary, they will still be unable to communicate with you to the level and nuance they would be able to in English.

My friend, Irish Twins, has a great analogy. Imagine that your children have two toolboxes, one Chinese and one English. You want your kids to build a house with only one of the toolboxes and you want them to use the Chinese toolbox. Unfortunately, the Chinese toolbox is tiny and only consists of a hammer, some nails, and a phillips head screwdriver. There is no way your kid can build a house of the same magnitude as they could with the fully equipped English toolbox.

– Unless you can predict the future, do not be too pleased with your child’s Chinese before they start any type of English school full time (be it daycare, preschool, Kindergarten, etc.). This is not to discount your hard work up until that point, but that is totally counting your chickens before they’ve hatched. For sure, the better your child’s Chinese is at this stage, the more set up for success you will be – but by no means is anything guaranteed.

Until your child starts English schooling, their English exposure will be limited and Chinese will have no competition. But once English schooling begins, that’s when the appeal, allure, and relevancy of English will encroach on their Chinese. (Not to mention social pressure to conform and be liked by their peers.)

Trust me. Unless you have an intentional plan of action, your child’s fluent Chinese will disappear faster than a blink of an eye.

Well, now that I’ve thoroughly depressed and overwhelmed us all, hopefully, I have mentioned a few things that can help in our long road to Chinese speaking fluency. I would love to hear your thoughts on what has or hasn’t worked for your family. Let me know in the comments.