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!

My Love is an Act of Will

LoveIn case you missed my performance back in May, here is a video of my reading for Listen to Your Mother SFI’ve included the transcript of my piece after. Also, please do check out the entire line up for Listen to Your Mother SF 2016. They are hilarious and moving and fantastic women with wonderful stories. You will not regret!

“Mama,” said Gamera. “I love Daddy more-er. He’s the funnest.”

Twice a day, my 4 year old daughter, will inform me without fail that she loves my husband more than she loves me.

She has her reasons.

He was her first word. He’s way more fun. He plays with her (especially that awful Cooties game that I would rather stab my eyes out than play). He takes her to McDonald’s and indoor play spaces and to the park.

He calls her “Sweetness” and “Baby Girl” and cuddles with her at night and throws her onto his shoulders and plays Tickle Monster until she collapses into giggles on our bed.

He is the funnest.

And most of all – he rarely yells at her.

For the first eighteen months of my oldest son’s life, I never yelled or raised my voice in anger. I used to be so proud of myself.

Gamera never got to meet that person. She was six months in my belly and had another three months to go. By the time she showed up, I was tired and overwhelmed and had made yelling a way of life.

It was slow at first. A slow ramping up of fury until it broke over my small children in a consistent wave of screaming and yelling.

And later, at two and a half, she would defend herself and her older brother, holding her ground. “You don’t know what you talking about it!” she would stomp, face red with scowling, arms crossed in indignation. “Mama, you’re NOT kind!”

So I totally get why she loves my husband more-er. Who wouldn’t?

Before I had children, I thought love would be effortless, flowing through me as water from snow melt.

Who would have ever predicted it would be like squeezing blood from a stone?

Who knew love could be so hard – especially when it sent the dark corners of my heart into stark relief?

Of course, I knew that love was not always easy. I had plenty of experience of that in my romantic relationships. And I knew from growing up with an abusive father that love for our children could look much different than what I wanted for my own kids.

But I had thought – I had hoped – that I would be better. I would be different. I wouldn’t let my father win.

But I was broken still and my inner beast, the echo of my father – his script, his cadence, his very words – spilled hot and rushed through my trembling lips and clenched fists.

Of course, she loves her Baba more-er.

I accept that she may never know or understand that my loving her is an act of will.

Not because she is not lovable. She is. All my children are.

But I hope and pray that they will never understand firsthand how I clawed my way up from my despair, buried under decades of lies, denial, and self-protection.

That I love her when I ensure that the cycle of abuse will end with me and not be passed onto them.

I love her when in November 2014, I decided enough was enough and asked for help.

I love her when I choose to do the hard mental and emotional work when I go see my therapist every Friday and plonk down $150.

I love her when after a year and a half of weekly counseling, I have finally turned a corner and now rarely yell.

I love her when I get enough sleep.

I love her when I pay attention to what my body is telling me – and when I listen to my body.

I love her when I drop my armor of anger and apathy and allow myself to feel and process pain, fear, and anger.

I love her when I look at the hard truths of my growing up, my coping mechanisms, and their consequences.

I love her when I choose to walk away from her instead of scream.

I love her when I humble myself to apologize and ask her for forgiveness.

I love her when I let her feel what she feels and say what she thinks – even if it’s messy and dramatic and overblown and infuriates me to no end.

I love her when I model how to pursue healing.

I love her when I tell her that even if she loves Baba more-er than me, or is angry at me, or even hates me, that I will love her. That she can never lose my love.

I love her even though she loves her Baba more-er than me.

It doesn’t matter.

Because every day, my love for her is a hard won act of will. And that is enough.