This post was sponsored by Sagebooks. All opinions are mine and mine alone.
What’s that famous infomercial line? “Set it and forget it!“
The reason that rotisserie chicken cooker thingy infomercial sold SO MANY (including to my dad) is because of that memorable tagline and the promise it is selling. (Although, when Costco sells a whole rotisserie chicken for $4.99, why bother?)
Well, I’m not saying that you can do that entirely with teaching kids Chinese (after all, even the rotisserie chicken thingy didn’t provide you with an actual prepped chicken – and hence, why my dad used it ONCE and ONLY once). However, if you do the appropriate prep work, (see what I did there?) you can do its language equivalent.
So, what is the prep work for this automatic Chinese-ing business?
Oh, you know. The usual.
Speak to your kid in Chinese as much as possible. Surround them with Chinese media, etc. as much as possible. Do things in Chinese as much as possible. Provide as much stuff in Chinese as possible.
Oh, you’re surely thinking to yourself. This is the worst advice article ever! How is this automatic? How is this a system? How is this even remotely helpful?
Look, I don’t make the rules, here.
You can only set it and forget it AFTER you do the prep work. And the prep work takes time. In my case, it took about 3-5 years of RELENTLESS prep work for my older two children to get to the set it and forget it point. Mind you, ONLY the older two – we have yet to get there with the younger pair.
This is a swindle! A bamboozle of the worst click-bait kind!
I mean, wouldn’t it be more of a lie if I told you what you wanted to hear?
Why, yes! With no effort at all or change in your lifestyle and behavior or location, you, too, can have a child speak and read Chinese fluently!
No, friends. That is the REAL scam.
Almost every thing in life takes effort to master. Chinese is no different. Especially when there are so many factors stacked against you.
But since I’m not a complete jerk, I will provide you with a few ways you can automate the prep work of Chinese-ing your kids. And by automate, I mean create habits so it will seem automatic when really, it’s just consistent effort towards the goals of fluency and literacy.
What you want to do is to set up programs that trigger “Oh, this should be in Chinese” in your brain (and your children’s).
1) Designate the car as a Chinese only zone.
If you can speak Chinese, only speak Chinese. If you cannot, turn on Chinese songs, CDs, stories, podcasts, DVDs, or whatever else in Chinese so that your children have no choice but to be surrounded by Chinese if they are in the car. The beauty is that they’re stuck in the car. They are literally a captive audience.
If your children speak Chinese fluently enough, have them speak to each other in Chinese. (And if you figure out how to do this, please tell me. My children would rather speak a made up language to their baby brother than to speak Chinese. My kids are jerks.)
2) Convert all media to Chinese only.
Change all screen time, apps, music, books (if possible), and whatever other means of amusement to be Chinese only. For older children, this may not be entirely possible due to the strictures of school work so be reasonable.
But in general, have the expectation that screen time is Chinese time. Soon, your children will now consume only Chinese screen time, or they will voluntarily quit the screen. Either way, you win. (Unless they refuse the screen and then look to you for amusement. In that case, I’m very sorry for your loss.)
3) Start using Chinese in limited circumstances.
If you are fluent (or even semi-fluent), start designating certain times as Chinese only. When that becomes your new normal, expand the times to more and more of your day.
Again, be reasonable.
If you rely on dinner time to debrief your days with the kids and bond with them, but your or their Chinese would seriously hinder effective communication, don’t do that. Or start subbing in words you don’t know with English or subbing words you DO know in Chinese.
If you can’t think at bedtime and it always sucks and Chinese would break you, don’t do it then. If mornings are worse and you can’t effectively scream at your kids to get in the car already because you’re all late and why can’t they find their shoes, don’t do it then, either.
But eventually, when you all get better, start subbing in more and more Chinese.
Over the years, I went from not being able to yell at or scold my children in a satisfactory manner in Chinese (and by that I mean I satisfied my need to make my children feel adequate remorse which, let’s face it, is never enough) to being extremely proficient. YAY! We ALL improved our Chinese! #goals
If this is all suspiciously looking like the prep work I previously alluded to and not actually automagic, you are a very astute person and absolutely right.
Also? STOP IT.
You’re ruining my illusion. I bet you like to tell people how magic tricks are done and point out contouring make up and shape wear. No one likes you.
You’ve found me out, though.
I lie to myself until it’s no longer a lie. And now, after years of lying, it’s actually true. If I were a more woo woo person, I’d say it’s a lot like faith. (Don’t @ me.)
However, this should comfort you.
Why? Because it’s doable. It’s NOT magic. You do stuff. You repeat it. You mess up. You try again. And before you know it, BAM!
Just like magic.