How Do I Get My Kid to Speak Chinese to Me?

Day 3 of my FB Live every day in November!

Today’s topic is one that I feel the pain of every day. How do I get my kids to speak Chinese to me?

Find out my tips in the video.

I’m still waiting for my video to upload to YouTube so you’ll have to bear with me and see the FB version. But I am away from my laptop right now so we’ll just have to make do.

As always, a quick sum up after the video.

Ok. I lied.

You can’t.

It sucks but it’s true. Your kids are people and separate from your wants and desires.


However. There are some good reasons your kids probably won’t speak Chinese to you. Here are a few:

1) They lack the vocabulary.

It’s hard to talk about something if you don’t have the words or vocabulary you need in order to express yourself. I consider myself fluent enough in Chinese – but there’s no way I could talk about business, medicine, shoot – anything, now that I think about it – in Chinese. It’s not for lack of desire; I just don’t have the words.

Same for your children. If they don’t have the words to tell you about school or crushes or activities or anything other than some basic stuff, how can you possibly expect them to speak to you in Chinese about it?

The precursor to speaking is listening and comprehension. If you want your kid to speak Chinese, you need to equip them with the words. Up their comprehension as much as you can.

2) Your child may be a perfectionist.

Some kids, even if they know how to say 99% of a sentence, if they don’t know one word, they will refuse to speak Chinese at all. I personally solve for this by using Chinglish and telling my kids to do so. I also ask them to tell me in English and I will translate for them to say in Chinese.

Sometimes, I have no idea how to say something in Chinese. Then, I either look it up in a dictionary or I just use English.

3) They don’t see the use for Chinese.

My daughter, Gamera (6), has lately balked at speaking Chinese because she says we live in America and no one speaks Chinese. It’s true. But too bad. I am the Mommy.

I have had friends who have taken their kids back to Taiwan for seven months just so their kids are forced to speak and absorb Chinese as much as possible. She was sick of her kid losing their Chinese and made the drastic choice to make a huge change in her family’s life.

I am not saying you have to do that. But know that the older your kids are, the more dramatic your course correction may need to be.

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

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

Can I Send My Kid to My Neighbor to Learn Chinese?

Hey Friends! It’s Day 2 of November and my attempt to post/FB Live every day this month.

Anyhow, today, I’m answering a question I hear a lot. The gist is, “Hey, my neighbor/friend/coworker speaks Chinese. Can’t I just send my kids over to their house and then my kids can learn to speak Chinese?”

Oh, friends.

No. No. No.

Find out more about what I have to say in the video below. If you’d rather read my quick summary, it’s after the video.


Oh, right. I already said that.

1) That’s racist. 

Really, it’s racist. Are you sure they even speak Chinese? Don’t use people.

Also? Not all people of Chinese descent speak Chinese.

2) That’s super entitled.

People pay money to learn Chinese from tutors, schools, and courses. It’s incredibly entitled to think that your neighbor should just teach your kid for free.

If your neighbor works, they’re likely too tired to teach their kids Chinese – which they don’t really need to because they probably just speak to their kids in Chinese. If your neighbor doesn’t work, they’re STILL tired.

If you want to have your neighbor teach your kid Chinese, you need to pay them.

3) Their Chinese-speaking kids are not going to speak to your non-Chinese speaking kid. 

Seriously. What kid is going to spend an entire playdate speaking in a language the other kid doesn’t understand? Especially if everyone speaks English?

No one. That’s who.

4) Your Chinese speaking neighbor is not going to speak to your non-Chinese speaking kid in Chinese.

Why not?

Because your kid doesn’t understand Chinese. Your neighbor would just have to say everything in English so your kid understands what they’re saying.

Also, that’s not how people learn languages. Your kid isn’t going to hear what your neighbor says in Chinese and then hear it in English and then magically know how to say (or understand) it in Chinese.

That’s not how it works.

So, what can you do to have your kid learn Chinese instead of sending them to the neighbor’s house?

1) Take a class. 

Whether in person, online, on YouTube, via Skype, there are plenty of beginning Chinese classes for kids. This is probably the easiest and quickest way for your child to learn Chinese.

2) That’s it. 

I mean, you could have your kid also learn how to read and write Chinese, but I don’t think that’s really practical until your kid can actually speak some. I see no point in being literate in a language you cannot speak. (Also, it’s super hard.)

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

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

And yes, it has more advice than, “Take a class.” I promise.


The Real Point of Learning Chinese

**You can find an updated version of this piece, along with exclusive new chapters, in the ebook, (affiliate link) So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese.

No matter how hard I try, every now and then, I have to remind myself that learning Chinese is not a competition.

This seems so obvious when it’s written out in black and white. (And also, I feel very foolish because it’s now one more piece of evidence that I am a petty, petty person. But I suppose that is no surprise to anyone who has ever read anything I have ever written. Or met me. I digress.)

One of the toughest things about parenting is resisting the urge to compare my children with other people’s children. And of course, when I add Chinese fluency/literacy to the mix, it is just one more thing in the parental jockeying portfolio to prove that I am a better parent than other parents (at least in Chinese acquisition).

After all, if my children understand/speak/read/write Chinese better than other people’s children, then that must validate whatever I’m doing to have my children be fluent/literate in Chinese. (Who cares that my kids are illiterate in English? That’s on purpose. And besides, English is easy.)

And if my kids are “better,” then I am validated as a parent and therefore, as a person. Which makes me better than other people. WHICH CLEARLY IS OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE.

Here’s the thing though: Other children’s Chinese fluency/literacy has absolutely no relevance to my children’s Chinese fluency/literacy.

It doesn’t matter if my kids know more or fewer characters than other kids. How much or little other kids can read has absolutely ZERO effect or influence on how much my kids can read.

It’s not as if Chinese is a pie wherein if your kid is more fluent, they have a bigger piece of pie and therefore my kid now has a smaller piece of pie.

There is no finite amount of Chinese in the world and if someone happens to be more literate, there are now fewer Chinese characters for you to learn to read.

That’s not how learning works.

That’s not how language works.


(Yes, I suppose even your children.)

And here’s the other rub. The even pettier part of my dark, dark soul.

I don’t want other people to have pie.

Which is dumb because what does other people’s pie have to do with MY pie? (Or in this case, our children’s pies.)

Also, if other people’s kids don’t have “pie,” with whom will my children practice their Chinese?

Seems counterproductive.

Look. I get that many of us want to know how other people’s children are faring in Chinese because then we get a quick gauge on how well our kids are doing. After all, it can be useful to see if my kid is “at level” (whatever your metrics are) or not. That way, I can determine whether or not I need to do more work or just coast on my awesomeness.

(Coasting on good looks alone is difficult when it comes to fluency. Our kids’ stunning faces can only blind people’s eyes, not stop their ears.)

However, most of us fall victim to the trap of comparing our children and then making it a value judgment of our parenting or Chinese language brainwashing. That somehow, if our kids are “better” than other kids in Chinese, then they are better kids in general. And that if our kids are “worse” than other kids in Chinese, then they are worse kids in general.

Here’s the thing though: even when your kids are “better” than other kids in Chinese, that is completely meaningless.


Because just because your kids are “better” doesn’t mean that they are actually fluent (or literate).

After all, my children are BETTER than Hapa Papa in Chinese, but that is meaningless because Hapa Papa cannot speak ANY Chinese.

And sure, my children are BETTER than some of my friends’ children at reading Chinese, but they STILL ARE NOT LITERATE. They are just slightly LESS illiterate.

Better is a relative term. Useful for making ourselves feel superior to other people, but meaningless in terms of actual fluency or literacy.

So, before we get too uppity or bummed out about our children and their Chinese fluency and literacy, let’s remember what the REAL point of learning Chinese is.

The REAL point of learning Chinese is to be able to:

1) Understand when someone is speaking Chinese to you

2) Speak and be understood by others when speaking Chinese

3) Read and comprehend Chinese characters

4) Write Chinese in comprehensible Chinese sentences

In other words: to communicate.

I realize this might be a super Captain Obvious type of post, but I think it’s something that we as parents occasionally lose sight of.

All this effort we pour into our kids learning Chinese (and really, anything at all), is not to be better than other people at it, but to be able to use it in a way that is useful. And in the case of Chinese, it is so that our children can communicate effectively with people who speak Chinese.

Alright, perhaps this post was more for myself than for any of you, dear readers. Have a great weekend!