We have now been in Taiwan about 11 days (give or take depending on time change and traveling into the future via plane) and surprisingly, I’ve already seen signs of improvement in the kids’ Chinese.
Here then, are several of my meandering thoughts and observations (backed by zero science or discrete measurements and is merely a collection of my inaccurate and optimistic musings).
1) Cookie Monster now speaks mostly Chinese – even to me. Yes, I realize that he’s supposed to be doing that anyway, but that hasn’t really happened in awhile. I always have to remind him. But now, I rarely have to remind him. He is so used to speaking Chinese that he doesn’t even think twice about speaking it to me.
Plus, his vocabulary and breadth is expanding. He will even explain what he was learning or doing at camp in mostly Chinese.
How I know Chinese immersion is working. Cookie Monster keeps saying, “我的媽啊!” (Wo3 de5 ma ah!/Oh my gosh!)
They also keep saying “太可怕啦!” (Tai4 ke3 pa4 la4!/That’s so scary!)
I find these random statements hilarious. The kids have incorporated these common phrases into their Chinese toolkit (even if they’re not sure exactly what it means, they know when to use it correctly).
2) Glow Worm is hard to gauge because he wasn’t really talking much in the first place but always understood everything I said in Chinese. However, he is starting to repeat more and more words in Chinese as well as use Chinese more often. Again, it is hard to say, but I think his Chinese is improving.
3) Gamera’s Chinese was always the most fluid and fluent so I don’t see much difference except in her consistency. She now speaks to me more often in Chinese and explains long complicated scenarios to me all in Chinese. I can only assume she is also increasing her vocabulary and breadth.
4) Of course, their language of play amongst themselves is still in English, but I hear more and more Chinese non sequiturs and exclamations than before.
They have been playing with my cousin’s son on the weekends, too, so that is definitely mostly all in Chinese.
5) Further evidence that nonstop Chinese TV in the background is still better than nothing. (Even when the kids are barely paying attention and are on their iPads – they still will stop iPadding if they see or hear something interesting on the TV. My kids clearly are going to have focus problems in the future. But their Chinese will be awesome!)
On the kid channels (we’re permanently stuck on either YoYo TV or Momo TV), they will play random songs or have dance numbers with major cartoon characters in them. My kids will now dance along to the ones they’ve seen before (in fact, Gamera tells me one of the dance numbers they learned at school) or sing along or all of a sudden when they’re playing.
Current fave: 捏泥巴，捏泥巴，捏捏捏捏 捏泥巴。(nie ni2 ba, nie ni2 ba. Nie nie nie nie, nie ni2 ba/Squish the mud, Squish the mud. Squish squish squish squish, Squish the mud.)
Here’s a video of Gamera and Glow Worm dancing along to the songs. If you look at the reflection in the glass, you can see what they’re trying to copy.
The other side effect that I did not expect is that apparently, the kids understand more than I give them credit for. There is a toothpaste commercial that comes on a lot that details pores/holes in our teeth and how that is bad and the toothpaste heals the tiny holes or whatever. (See, even I am not quite clear on what they are actually saying.)
Anyhow, when the commercial came on, Cookie Monster proceeded to tell me all about the tiny holes in the teeth and Gamera continued telling me how the toothpaste heals all the holes. They told me this all in Chinese.
Propaganda and commercials clearly work. Whoooo! I don’t even mind the indoctrination!
So really, I should see if I can subscribe to Chinese programming on cable or just have Chinese stories on in the background of their daily lives. The noise might kill me.
According to Nurtureshock by Po Bronson, that would only work because the kids already understand Chinese. If they didn’t, the kids would just tune the sound out because their brains process Chinese as gibberish. So if your kids aren’t already fluent, this option is unlikely to do them much good.
6) I am starting to ask Cookie Monster to read more and more signs and instructions geared to kids that include zhuyin. He is more and more willing to do so out of a desire to do things.
For example, we were at a kids’ science museum and they had computer games with Chinese and zhuyin instructions that he really wanted to play so he read.
He wasn’t happy about it, but he did it.
7) Turns out both Cookie Monster and Gamera can read and recognize more Chinese characters than my cousin’s son who is turning six in a few months. That’s not surprising because my goal is to front load their reading comprehension as much as possible before they succumb to the ease and ubiquity of English.
I obviously don’t expect this “being ahead” to last. Besides, my nephew is in English immersion school so he is learning English and is on somewhat the reverse trajectory.
Sidenote: No one has mentioned or commented or been surprised my kids can speak and/or understand Chinese. I think they think my kids are likely from America, but no one is thinking they are mixed. And before you say they’re too polite to comment, you clearly don’t know how blunt Taiwanese people are – or how overtly racist/colorist.
Anyhow, the main bonus of this is that no one is practicing their shitty English on my kids and ruining the whole point of coming back to Taiwan in the first place.
Trust me, this happens ALL the time to folks who bring their kids back from the US. The very people (aka: family) who give you shit about your kids not being fluent enough in Chinese will be speaking to your kids in super crappy broken English when it’s been made very clear that a) you brought your kids back to improve their Chinese and b) your kids UNDERSTAND and SPEAK Chinese. </rant>
Alright, I think that is it for now. I hope you found this interesting even though it has no real bearing on your own children’s progress. But perhaps it can give you an idea of what to expect or hope for should you bring your kids back to Taiwan for camp and Mandarin immersion.
Did you take (or have you taken) your kids back to Taiwan or China? Is this similar to your experience? (Obviously, a lot depends on starting fluency, but surely some things are transferable.) Let me know in the comments.
Have a great weekend!
This is our second summer on Taiwan, and the second time I’ve dumped them in a local preschool for 2 whole months. Growing up in Taiwan, there’s always a nap time where you put your head down throughout high school, so I’m pretty used to it. Even companies in Taiwan have a quiet time after lunch where they turn off the lights and everyone naps for half an hour. My kids are still at napping age so it hasn’t been a problem.
My kids are still mostly monolingual in Chinese despite the older one having been in an all English preschool for an entire school year, so it’s harder for me to gauge improvement. They are definitely picking up a lot of vocabulary that we do not use at home.
The older one adapted really quickly to school as she is probably overjoyed of having a roomful of Chinese speaking kids and teachers. The younger ones still wails every morning at drop off, but she’s a crier so that probably won’t change throughout the summer. I’m just glad that she only cries at drop off and not all day long as she did last summer.
I’m hoping to pull off these trips every summer for as long as work permits. Hopefully as they get older, I will be able to leave them for longer stretches with my parents.
Sounds great! Thanks for sharing!