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

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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!