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.

Parenting Myself

Sometimes, I think the lessons I teach my children are really for myself. I don’t know why I am always surprised at having to teach my children these lessons – even though I barely learned them through my own life experiences. Of course I would have to teach them to my children. How else would they learn them? I suppose I could be a dick and make them figure it out on their own – but that’s not always guaranteed. Shoot, even explicitly pointing out the obvious is not guaranteed to stick. Might as well increase my chances by being clear and direct.

Here then, are a few of the “lessons” I’ve been teaching my children (especially Cookie Monster since a lot of these lessons come up while we are homeschooling). I only wish I were half as good as following my own lessons as I am at “teaching” them.

1) By the time you’re done arguing or making excuses, you would have likely finished what you were supposed to be doing anyway. So, let’s save everyone the trouble and crazy-making and just do what you need to do already.

The other day, Cookie Monster was being a bit rebellious while homeschooling (a very rare occurrence). He kept refusing to listen and do what I asked of him. Instead of just playing a song on the piano again (10 seconds), or re-reading a sentence (2 seconds), he would argue and cry and get upset (5-10 minutes) and still be forced to play or read.

Sometimes, it wasn’t really that important and I would let it go. But other times, I would insist he do something (because practicing is important – I’ll get to this one in a second). I would remind him that the longer he took to do things and complain, the less time he would have to play Halo or watch iPad. (Hey, we’re pretty busy some days so there is limited time to rot his brain.)

Of course, that reasoning didn’t work until I told him it takes 10 seconds to play his song and then he’d be done. But instead, it’s taken him 10 minutes just because he won’t stop crying about it. He stopped in his tracks and asked me how long the song would take to play again. I repeated that it would take him less than 10 seconds and wouldn’t you know it? He played it and that was that. He could co off and do something else now.

Hopefully, that lesson sticks. (Although I doubt it. It certainly hasn’t stuck to me!)

2) It’s okay not to know how to do something. After all, if you knew how to do something already, we wouldn’t be taking a class for it!

Cookie Monster has the tendency not to try things if he doesn’t think he will be good at. It took him at least a month’s worth of private kungfu lessons before he and Gamera were willing to try the group class. Now, he loves kungfu and even got his white belt recently.

We always try to remind him that when he first started playing Halo, he couldn’t even shoot and maneuver the game at the same time. Hapa Papa had to hold and maneuver the controller while Cookie Monster hit the “shoot” buttons. Now, he’s better than Hapa Papa, knows all these neat tricks, can out shoot and react faster than Hapa Papa, talk a ton of smack, and knows everything there is to know about Halo.

3) Practicing isn’t fun but it is the only way to get better. 

I try to tell Cookie Monster and Gamera all the time that I used to be really good at piano and Chinese but because I never practiced, I forgot a lot of my Chinese and wasted a lot of my piano potential. (The perils of being a great sight reader but incredibly lazy person.)

When the kids get older, I will likely start quoting my mother who always emphasized practicing correctly because practice makes permanent. It does you no good to practice doing something incorrectly.

Side note: I’m noticing that most of these lessons for Cookie Monster come up when we are practicing piano. Who knew?

4) Use it or lose it. 

As another corollary to #3, if you don’t use something, you will forget it. That’s why we practice Chinese and piano over and over again.

I tell my kids that I used to be much better at Chinese and piano but since I didn’t use it, I forgot a lot of it. I also give examples of language all the time using either Hapa Papa or people we know. I try to hammer this lesson as much as possible (particularly in the area of losing language skills) because I want to brainwash my children early. (They need to FEAR losing Chinese, dammit!)

5) Even if you didn’t make the mess, you can still help clean up. 

After all, this is my entire life: cleaning up messes I didn’t make. Yes, I want them to not be enablers but within reason, we’re a family unit (and in life, they will be in multiple team situations) and they will not always be left to their own responsibilities. Sometimes, you have to clean up shit that ain’t yours.

6) You don’t have to like it but you still have to do it.

Again, I’m just preparing my kids for real life. I mean, this is pretty much my entire life. (This sounds unnecessarily bleak, but you know it’s true. I can’t imagine liking doing laundry or cleaning the house. But I do like the results. Clean clothes and a clean house are good things!)

It’s a hard lesson (and seems unfair) but hey, that’s being a grown up. And isn’t that who I’m ultimately raising? Future grown ups?

7) Read the instructions. Follow them. 

I cannot tell you how many times I have told Cookie Monster to stop and listen to me read the instructions first before he starts working on a page. I don’t know if it’s just because he can’t read yet or because he is almost six but it drives me insane. 

There’s something to be said for trying something your own way, but it works better after you’ve mastered some basics first. Plus, life is full of tests where you fail because he answered the wrong question or didn’t read the instructions right. No need to fail due to carelessness. 

8) Slow down. 

This goes hand in hand with #7. Often, Cookie Monster gets stuff he knows incorrect because he went too fast and either wasn’t reading carefully or completely made something up. 

I know he zooms ahead because he is impatient and smart and thinks he knows everything. And sometimes he is right. But more often than not, he is wrong. 

Usually, I give him a not so gentle reminder (because I am fully exasperated by this time), and when he finally does slow down, he fares much better. 

Honestly, I thought I had a few more than eight but I’m okay with it. I’m sure I’ll remember more right after this post hits all my friends. But then again, even if I only remember these eight lessons (and only taught my children these eight), that wouldn’t be a bad thing, right? They are all worth knowing and knowing well.

What lessons are you teaching your kids that you find are timely reminders for yourself as well? Let me know in the comments.

Create Space

Lately, I’ve begun to realize that I need to create space in my life for the things I want to do.

If I want to blog, I need to create time to think and write. If I want to feel at peace in my home, I need to create literal space in my home by clearing out the natural daily accumulations of five busy lives. If I want to do anything at all, I need to create space for it.

It’s such a simple concept except that I manage to forget it time and time again.

I particularly feel it with my thoughts. I have all these half-formed ideas and observations I want to chase down and explore thoroughly, but except for when I’m shuttling the kids, I rarely have time to truly think. And of course, now that Hapa Papa gave me a few hours to write and think, what do I do?

Of course. I check Facebook and text.

Welp, I’m gonna try something new. I’m going to write short posts – I know. WEIRD. But hear me out.

I often don’t post because all I have is a snippet of a thought that I want to explore more fully. Except I don’t have time (or haven’t made the time) and then I shunt it to the side until I do have time, but having time doesn’t mean it’s the right time. It’s kinda like making a baby. Just ‘cuz you’ve made the time to make the baby doesn’t mean you want to be making the baby. But you do because, hey. FERTILITY.

Whoa. Tangent.

Also, perhaps TMI. But we’re all friends here, right? And my brother doesn’t always read my posts so it’s okay. Not gross at all.

Anyhow, maybe if I try to trick my perfectionistic tendencies into getting over needing to have a bullet-proof post that hunts down every possible nuance and objection, I can actually write with abandon and perhaps post a little more consistently and with fewer breaks. (Although, now that I think of it, I have been pretty consistent over the years. I just am my own worst critic.)

The other thing I forget is that creating space is a continuous process. It isn’t a “one and done” type of scenario. I often think that if I just clear out my house one time, it should magically remain clean and tidy. But life isn’t static – and neither is my brain. Life is kinetic and entropic and constantly barreling downhill with the occasional brake.

All too often, I beat myself up for just being human and succumbing to life. I constantly forget that life is Sisyphean, a constant repeat of meeting our frail, human needs.

How do you remind yourself of your humanness? How do you create space in ways that harness your natural tendencies? Let me know in the comments. I would love to hear your thoughts.

 

Paralyzed By Being The Best

I don’t know if it’s just me, but all throughout my childhood, my parents drilled into me that I was supposed to be “The Best.” Whatever that meant – I was supposed to be it.

Examples of things at which I was supposed to be the best:

– Being Chinese (of course, by default, being Chinese is already the best!)
– Playing piano (includes having the best piano teacher)
– Singing (and voice teacher, naturally)
– Academics
– Chinese school
– Christian (the best church)

Anything that was anything could be turned into the quest for the best. Of course, friendly rivalry with cross town high schools and sister churches were de rigeur and all in good fun, but it really highlighted the general attitude and feeling I got in everything I did.

Unfortunately, this obsession with being the best did not do me any favors. If I wasn’t able to quickly capitalize on innate talent, I gave up. What was the point in attempting anything that I wasn’t going to be immediately amazing at? This penchant for only doing things that I was naturally good at severely limited my activities (despite my being good at lots of things). Of course, hard work and a little sweat equity never crossed my mind as valid options.

Being the best also transferred into needing to own or acquire the best things. As a result, any time I have to buy books on a topic, or learn something, or buy a car, or a computer, or a TV, or anything, I can’t do anything unless I have the best. Which of course, requires a lot of research. (Something I despise doing.) Then, I procrastinate. Or, if I actually do do the research, I am fraught with anxiety about choosing and making sure that my choice is actually the best.

I do this a lot with my kids’ activities. Currently, I’m looking into martial arts classes for Cookie Monster. I’m obsessed with finding the “best” martial arts type. Is it MMA? Krav Maga? Shaolin Wushu? I mean, if we’re going to go Kung Fu, we should go with Shaolin, right? They’re the most badass! But if we’re not going to stay in the Chinese/Asian family, then we should go with Krav Maga, right? Because Mossad kicks ass. But they don’t let little kids learn it. So, I guess that rules itself out.

Just replace “martial arts” with art, piano, voice, whatever thing I may suddenly decide the kids should do or need to learn – and the same craziness applies.

This is why usually, I put off buying things or starting classes.

I am paralyzed by the thought of not being the best – and yet, what does it matter? I mean, who cares if it’s not the “best” martial art? And what does being the best mean, anyway? Best for the child? For defense? For offense? For coolness factor? It’s an arbitrary designation that is ultimately meaningless. For truthfully, it’s just good for the kids to have an activity that is both good physical exercise as well as a good skill to have. Why does it matter if it is the best?

Or who cares if it’s the best piano technique? I would say that most piano teachers have technique down, and then the rest would be up to style and talent and likability. There is time to change teachers. My kids aren’t going to be professional piano players or singers, so who cares? (Well, I suppose you never know. But thus far, unlikely.)

I care, apparently. I care a lot!

I care so much that I obsess for hours, days, weeks, even months before I either pull the trigger in a fit of exasperation or shelve the topic entirely and do nothing. I rarely tell myself to chill out and relax and remember that it’s all fun and games anyway so why am I driving myself crazy?

One day, I will come around to the “Good Enough” variety of thinking. (Gracious, just the thought of having things “good enough” makes me want to break out in hives.) “Good enough” is what mediocre people choose! Which, maybe true. But there I go again, thinking that what we do and what we know equates to our value as people. And that is all a big, steaming pile of poop.

Look. Sometimes, just to get things done, we have to settle for “Good Enough.” My cleaning products don’t have to be the most organic and the most non-toxic. They can just be organic and non-toxic. My posts don’t have to be perfectly nuanced and paced and parsed. They can just blather on and on and have some meandering point if even that. (And apparently, lots of run-on sentences.) My children don’t have to be in the best dance/art/voice/piano classes. They can just learn things and have fun and if they show any aptitude, then we can go searching for the “best” teachers. But until then, it will be fine.

This goes against my very grain because all I can think about is, “All that wasted time/effort/money on something that wasn’t the best! Practice makes permanent! All that time will be wasted on doing something that could be forming bad habits and will take even more time/effort/money to fix and do right! GAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

Sorry. My kids have been utter terrors at night lately because Hapa Papa is out of town and ever since we changed Glow Worm into a toddler bed because the little stinker has shown a remarkable ability to climb out of his crib, he has been impossible to put down at night (and at nap time – oh, who am I kidding? What nap time?) and this, of course, affects Cookie Monster and Gamera’s bed times and OMG I’m exhausted and frazzled and by the time they go to bed it’s close to 11pm and I’m an utter failure as a mother and I want to stick a fork in an electrical socket.

Wow. I would delete that last paragraph but then I would have to come up with new transitional material and you all know how much I hate writing endings to posts.

At any rate, be kind to yourself this fine Wednesday. May it be a “Good Enough” type of day (and may that be good enough!).

 

 

Who Made Me Gatekeeper?

It has occurred to me that based on my previous posts, it can seem that I have some sort of chip on my shoulder when it comes to Mandarin Immersion. (Perhaps “chip” seems inadequate. “Boulder,” maybe?) And perhaps, at times, I do. But like I mentioned in my previous post, just because my delivery isn’t to your liking doesn’t mean what I’m saying is not also accurate.

At any rate, I’d like to clear some things up and answer some (self-selected) questions folks may have. To change things up a bit, I’ve decided to do the post Q&A style today. If only because that requires less transitional writing. (Hey, what can I say? I want to be informative, but also, I’m really lazy.)

So, without further ado, a highly curated and self-induced Q&A.

Q: Why are you so mad all the time anyway? Just what is your problem with Mandarin Immersion and people who are not Chinese/Asian (non-heritage speakers) who want to do Mandarin Immersion?

Since I’ve already written several posts on this topic, I’ll refer you to those:

1) How An Article Confirmed My Worst Fears About Mandarin Immersion

tl;dr: Even on the topic of Mandarin Immersion wherein the majority of students are of Asian or Chinese descent, the focus is on the white experience. STOP OBLITERATING ASIANS FROM THEIR OWN STORY!

2) Hating On Mark Zuckerberg’s Chinese

tl;dr: Why is a rich white guy learning and having mediocre Chinese so impressive when millions of immigrants are FLUENT in English (albeit with an accent) but insulted and maligned and told, “You’re in America, speak American!” (And usually with laughably bad English.)

3) Will All This Mandarin Immersion Be For Naught?

tl;dr: My internal conflict re: the Mandarin Immersion bandwagon. On the one hand, I’m pleased at the increase in resources and classes. On the other, I’m still really annoyed by my language being relegated to a trend.

Q: Why can’t you be happier for more Mandarin Immersion opportunities?

As I have repeatedly mentioned, I am happy there are more opportunities for Mandarin Immersion. Anytime more people can be introduced to another language (in this case, Chinese) is a good thing. The more folks there are who express interest, the more resources and opportunities there are for me to take advantage of for my children. So, in purely Machiavellian terms, it is in my own self-interest to promote Mandarin Immersion.

However, it is possible to be both happy about more Mandarin Immersion opportunities and point out shit that makes me angry about the current situation.

Truly, even though there are parts of me that scoff at all the unrealistic expectations folks have for Mandarin Immersion, what’s it to me? Who cares if people are doing it for the “wrong” reason? Or don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell for their kids to actually become and retain fluency? How does it harm me? And how is it any of my business?

The only time it does matter to me is when there is actual harm to me and my kids. (And by harm, I consider racism, entitlement, etc. all forms of harm.)

Again, my main concerns relate to the following:

1) When non-heritage parents and students think that just because they know some (or are learning) Chinese that they are now somehow Chinese and can understand and speak for the Chinese/Asian American experience.

2) When non-heritage parents and students dismiss the legitimate concerns and experiences of Chinese/Asian American parents and students.

3) When heritage parents and students dismiss the legitimate concerns and experiences of non-heritage parents and students.

4) When the white experience and viewpoint is of primary importance and spotlighted to the exclusion or tokenism of other experiences. (Ie: business as usual.)

5) The entitlement and utter cluelessness non-heritage (okokok, I mean white) parents exhibit when they complain about their kids being excluded or not popular or otherwise experiencing what every single minority person in America experiences to some degree on a daily basis. Then they cry “reverse racism!”

Q: Why are you so divisive? 

As for division, I am not advocating for exclusivity or some sort of litmus test. But rather, truthfulness in a community. There is no peace when the offenses and hurts of part of the community are papered over and over again for the sake of “unity.”

That isn’t real unity, opportunity, or peace. That is a lie.

ETA: Just had a thought. Why is it when I, as a Chinese American person, don’t like the idea of white people jumping on the Mandarin Immersion bandwagon, I am considered an elitist? But when white people do it about their golf courses, or financial institutions, or neighborhoods, they’re just “keeping tradition”?

Q: It seems like you’re wanting a litmus test or some type of delineation to see who should be allowed to participate in Mandarin Immersion. As if there were a “right” way to do it.

As appealing as a litmus test initially sounds, ultimately, I find it a dangerous slippery slope.

After all, who is to say who should “qualify” and be a “good” Mandarin Immersion candidate? Should it only be native speakers and their children because the parents want to pass on their cultural heritage and legacy? Should it also include heritage parents who CANNOT speak the language because they feel regret at their lack of fluency and because they also want to pass on their cultural heritage? Should it include only white and non-heritage allies? Should it include only white and non-heritage families who show the appropriate amount of dedication and commitment to learning a whole different language and culture? For that matter, should it include only native families who show the appropriate amount of dedication and commitment?

And even if we could “decide” who the “right” people are to allow in the Mandarin Immersion classes, who should do the deciding? And why them? And the danger of having such a calcified code of rules and qualifications is that all of them are so subjective. A person runs the risk of failing their own litmus test!

You know what that’s called? DOGMA.

I am uninterested in dogma.

I think the only litmus test is that the participants be human and someone in their family signed them up and enrolled them in Mandarin Immersion. Everything else is gravy.

Q: Who made you The Mandarin Immersion Gatekeeper?

No one. Aren’t you paying attention?

I am not The Mandarin Immersion Gatekeeper. Nor do I wish to be. After all, who wants to be the one who’s telling others that the “Seat’s Taken?”

I’ll freely admit. I used to wish there was a gatekeeper of sorts. You know, to keep the rabble out. But over time, I realized that that type of thinking was incredibly arrogant and divisive and ultimately, not helpful to the conversation. Plus, if I loved Mandarin Immersion, then really, I want as many people to take part in it as possible.

Personally, I think all schools should have some type of language immersion – be it Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian – whatever. Having more languages and cultures can only be a good thing. Keys to better understanding our allies and enemies and what have you.

Some instrumental posts that have changed my mind from being super “conservative” as it were about Mandarin Immersion, have actually come from the geek/SFF world. Many long time gamers or purveyors of Geek Culture (yes, capitalized) got all upset by the mass marketization of the things they love. And SF author, John Scalzi, wrote several posts that helped me a lot.

Now, I realize that the analogy is imperfect because I wouldn’t say geeks are or ever were an oppressed minority with major justice issues needing address. But the parallels are there. (Although there IS a need to address injustice and minority representation WITHIN the forms of comics/games/books. But that is an altogether different post.)

Anyhow, the main articles that really resonated with me are:

Who Gets To Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be – John Scalzi

A Creator’s Note to “Gatekeepers” – John Scalzi

When Someone Says They Love A Thing That You Love, Don’t Challenge Them; Embrace Them, And Love That Thing Together – Wil Wheaton

Q: You talk a lot about what you don’t want from fellow participants in Mandarin Immersion. What are things you would want? Or think that people “should” do?

Sigh. Again with the “shoulds.” I know. It’s human nature to want to draw a line in the sand and separate the sheep from the goats.

I don’t want people to live in fear of a bunch of “shoulds.” I don’t want non-heritage families to be kow-towing to heritage families. (But wouldn’t that be a nice reversal? NONONONONONO. Let’s not even go down that path.)

Rather, I consider some of these on my Wish List. A bunch of, “Wouldn’t it be nice if people acted in this manner?”

Here then are some of my “It Would Be Nices”:

– For non-heritage parents to listen, truly listen (without being the Tone Police), to the experiences, pain, and opinions of Chinese and Asian American parents. Language does not exist in a vacuum.

– For non-heritage parents to think before they speak. Especially thoughtless comments like, “What is ‘Asian,’ anyway?” or “Will they make any friends that speak English?”

– For both sets of parents to remember that not all Chinese Americans can already speak or read Chinese.

– For heritage and native speakers to not seem/be so smug.

– For non-heritage speakers to remember that it’s not all about them.

– While we’re at it, it would be nice for heritage speakers to remember that, too.

– For each group to remember that there are unique challenges each type of parent faces and to be a safe space.

Ultimately, the community of Mandarin Immersion families needs a healthy mix of heritage and non-heritage families. If the community is limited only to heritage families, there is no way Mandarin Immersion will reach the critical mass it needs in order to get more resources and money. If the community is limited only to non-heritage families, there is a great loss of cultural context.

Truly, it is possible to recognize that there can be different needs for different families – and to address those different needs. Let’s be respectful to the unique challenges each type of parent faces and be a safe space. Ultimately, we want to raise happy, healthy, and hopefully bilingual children.

Feel free to add more questions in the comments! As per usual, all trolling will be ignored and/or disappeared.

Verboten Music

One of the most regrettable parts of no longer constantly being depressed is the music. There are entire categories of music I love deeply but am afraid to re-listen to other than in passing on the radio due to an intense fear that if I start listening again, I will be dragged down into the awful, desperate dark spaces in which I used to be mired.

Like an addict returning to old haunts or old friends, that’s how I view certain artists and albums. Little triggers. Hidden minefields.

I used to lock myself in my room and listen to Radiohead, Erasure, The Cure, or Tori Amos on repeat for days – even weeks. All in the attempt to wallow. (And quite frankly, what an enjoyable wallow it was.) There was something beautifully broken about being gloriously depressed. Reveling in pathos. Tragically melancholy.

Seductive lies about art and sadness. I mean, seriously. Why can’t our culture glorify art and joy? As if only true art stems from a dark, broken place.

What is my fear, exactly? That I’ll be drawn back to the lures of tragedy. To want to go back to the siren song of drama, insecurity, and unbearable sadness. There is something still so dangerously enticing to that old life. The lie that angst and brokenness and irreparable damage are more beautiful than wholeness and healing and vibrant living.

I turned in my Manic Pixie Dream Girl Card ™ a decade or so ago. I don’t want to lose my fourteen year sobriety chip just because I miss some tunes. (Plus, who’s going to take care of my three wee ones?)

However, I’m slowly coming around to the idea that I can listen to this music again without triggering a depression spiral. That enough decades and healing have intervened and the music is no longer a minefield and back to just beautiful music.

Sadly, I can’t say the same for movies or fan fiction. Entire broad categories of Spuffy BTVS fan fiction (especially those by the incomparable Herself) and certain angsty Alias Sarkney fanfics (but especially the Complicity fic by Behind the Red Door) are now either unavailable except through the Wayback Machine or by personal choice. Now by all means, these are not my favorite fan fics, just ones that particularly trigger my angsty self. There’s a reason why I tend to read Regency Romances nowadays.

And as for movies, no matter how much I loved it on first viewing, I will never again be able to watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I think fiction and movies get me too invested in characters and I just can’t divest myself from the feelings. THE FEELINGS!!

Actually, I feel somewhat embarrassed at just how much I have geek-checked myself in this post but WHATEVER.

Anyhow, since I’m the one with the trigger problems, there’s no need for YOU to deprive yourself of some awesome (albeit, somewhat older) music. Here then, a sampling of songs with which I would put on repeat for days:

– Radiohead: Fake Plastic Trees, High and Dry

– Erasure: Rock Me Gently, Piano Song

– Tori Amos: Winter (ok, pretty much everything)

– Delirium: Innocente (ft. Leigh Nash)

– Sarah Mclachlan: Fear

By no means is this list all-inclusive. It’s only what I can easily recall late on a Sunday night.

So tell me, am I crazy? Am I the only one?

 

My Love Affair With Romance Novels

As many of you may have surmised, I am an avid reader. I often go through periods where I tear through a book a day (sometimes more). Then I crash and burn because I have ignored my children for too many days in a row or my DVR is near to bursting or Hapa Papa can no longer stand my disappearing from the family anymore and last (and certainly least), I’m exhausted from lack of sleep.

People are often incredulous when they hear how much and how quickly I read. They ask, “How do you find the time?”

Well, the truth is, I’m a very fast reader (~80 pages/hr). However, the main reason I can read so much is because I make time. Any spare moment or second, I have my nose in a book or on my phone’s Kindle app. Of course, it is at the expense of other activities, (confer above) so every now and then, I have to resurface and take care of all the stuff I’ve pushed to the back burner in order to finish a particularly gripping series.

Now, long-time readers know from books I’ve recommended that I am a big fan of Sci-Fi/Fantasty and the YA genres (particularly SFF and the current dystopian craze). I’ve always loved fairy tales, myths and legends of King Arthur, and stories from 1,001 Arabian Nights so SFF was not really that big of a leap for me. I blame the gateway books of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, and Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series. I mean, fairy tales have magic, good vs. evil, some type of quest, and lots of fantastical elements. I also loved the Chinese epic, Journey to the West and Chinese myths that my mother read to me.

Anyhow, I digress. What I meant to say is that though I often expound on my love for these genres, I rarely mention that I love Regency Romances. LOVE. They are my guilty pleasure. (Pun intended.) My Goodreads friends know I love romances because my updates are often flooded with them after I go through heavier series. When I’ve chewed through door-stopper books that are each part of a trilogy or heptalogy, I need a dose of fluff. (Heh.) Also, you can read out of order and most books are standalone and you always know how the book will end. Sometimes, all you want is a happy ending. (Heh.)

As a kid, especially in junior high, I was obsessed with romance novels. I was obsessed with sex and these novels were a gateway into understanding my body – that it was built with a capacity for physical pleasure and the romance sure didn’t hurt. When I look back on the novels I read, I wasn’t particularly discerning. In fact, the writing was quite bad. But I didn’t care. I was definitely ashamed, though. I would sneak the books out of the library versus check them out. I was afraid the librarians wouldn’t let me borrow the racy books. (For you young people, this was pre-self checkout stations.) One of the minor benefits to being an adult now, I guess.

Here’s the thing: I only like Regency romances. (I’ll allow for the occasional Georgian or Victorian period since they bookend the Regency period, but that’s just minor quibbling.) I abhor Medievals and can barely tolerate modern romances. Westerns are ok, but I really don’t find them enjoyable due to the spectre of slavery and genocide and sadly, I don’t like real history harshing my mellow. (Most often, the books don’t even allude to slavery – which is what annoys me. Or they have the hero or heroine be the one family with no slaves. In the South. You know, like Mel Gibson’s family in The Patriot. Like seriously? Please do NOT insult me or conveniently paper over an entire people’s suffering.)

Mostly, I just like Regencies because the time period is just close enough to ours such that the rumblings of women’s suffrage, industry, and class revolt are just beginning. But not so recent that sex on a first date (or dating at all) is possible. I particularly like marriages of convenience or “scandal” or spies. OKOK. I like spy stories in any time period.

Of course, the stories are 99% focused on the wealthy and peerage (ie: dukes and duchesses – you’d think they were a dime a dozen) but heck, it is a fantasy. I do find I enjoy glimpses into the lower classes as well, but as you can imagine, far fewer books on romances between the lower classes and if they’re mentioned at all, it’s a wealthy earl marrying the governess or something.

The irony is, now that I’m old enough to read these books with impunity, I don’t care about the sex scenes anymore. Incidentally, the love scenes have gotten steamier than I recall from when I was a kid. And now that I’m old enough to have sex, the sex scenes do not appeal nearly as much. In fact, I often skim the scenes or skip them entirely.

Don’t get me wrong. I still quite enjoy the love scenes. (They were quite helpful for the begetting of three children, after all.) But on the whole, I actually read the romances for the story. You know. Like you do with Playboy. 

Hey, I still enjoy PWP types (Plot, what Plot?) of books, but again, now that I can have sex, written porn has limited appeal. (Oh, come on. We all know that’s what romance novels are!)

Anyhow, this is just a long preamble to what I actually wanted to write about today: My Favorite Regency Romance Authors. So, in no particular order, here are a few of my favorites and some recommendations. (All links are affiliate links.)

My Favorite Regency Romance Authors

1) Mary Balogh – It is evident that Balogh is head and shoulders above all other romance writers. Balogh consistently writes romances that are deeply moving and I love her writing and her vividly portrayed characters. But most importantly, I love the truth that is present in her stories. Of course, all good writers tell truth via lies, (after all, isn’t that what fiction is?), but Balogh is vastly superior. Her stories are imbued with warmth, love, and sincerity. Dare I even say, even sweetness?

Bonus: Balogh has an extensive backlist. As a reader, there is nothing worse than finding a good author and then realizing they only have two books written. That makes readers have a sad.

Start With: Huxtable Quintet or Mistress TrilogyChoose anyone in any of these two series to start. No need to go in order. After all, we all know how the books end.

2) Julia Quinn – Most noted for her Bridgerton family series, Quinn is definitely the Nora Ephron of Regencies. Her books are hilarious, goofy, and a joy to read.

Bonus: Quinn quit Harvard Medical School to write romances. I heartily approve.

Start With: The Duke and I (the first of the Bridgerton series), When He Was Wicked (personal favorite of the series)

3) Eloisa James – Most known for her Desperate Duchesses series set in the Georgian period, James often has long, over-arching B-plots that span a series.

Bonus: James is a Shakespearian professor in her day job and it shows in her liberal use of Shakespeare and her excellent writing.

Start With: Once Upon A Tower (part of her fairy tale series)

4) Joanna Bourne – Bourne is the least prolific of my favorite writers and it is a crying shame. In particular, because she writes fantastic banter, sexy spies, and makes me love the French. She has a total of five books out (so consider yourself forewarned). Choose a random one and it will be excellent and funny and sly. I just finished her most recent one and I am already sad it’s over. As far as I know, Bourne was never a spy, but man, she makes you believe!

Start With: Oh, just pick a book of hers and it will be excellent. But if you must, why don’t we go in order of publication and start with The Spymaster’s Lady.

5) Courtney Milan – Milan is an author that only recently came (heh) to my attention via Bookbub (a great site for free or cheaply priced ebooks). It was a free ebook download and I’m all about free! I immediately exhausted my library and LinkPlus’s selection and broke down and spent actual money to buy her ebook novellas and the books I haven’t read. She does have a few clunkers, but for the  most part, her books are highly intelligent with a lot of detailed science that doesn’t sound dumbed down or fake.

Bonus: That’s because Milan has a graduate degree from UC Berkeley and went to law school at University of Michigan (summa cum laude). She also clerked for some SCOTUS judges and was a law professor. She quit to write romances full time. I also heartily approve of this decision.

I appreciate how Milan includes people we often don’t see included in Regencies. She also tends to have excellent stories without resorting to ridiculous tropes.

Start With: The Duchess War

Skip: Proof by Seduction (utterly abysmal)

Also, she has novellas in packs so you don’t have to buy them individually. Hey. You can save one whole dollar!

Ok. This was a super long (heh) post. I realize this may only attract a certain subset of my readers but whatever. I enjoy these authors. I hope you do, too.

What are some of your favorite romance authors?