This post was sponsored by Sagebooks. All opinions are mine and mine alone.
A year and a half ago, I did a super brief post on how to get your kids to speak Chinese. It was based on a Facebook Live I did and back in November of 2017, I was full of myself and how awesome it was that my children were still speaking Chinese to me.
I mean, I wasn’t wrong.
My tips aren’t really incorrect, per se. It’s just incomplete.
Yes, it’s true.
Your children most likely don’t speak Chinese to you for the following reasons:
- Not enough Chinese vocabulary.
- Outside peer/societal pressure to speak English only.
- Perfectionism and not wanting to feel stupid when speaking Chinese.
- Not enough Chinese input and enforcement of Chinese language at home.
But sometimes, you can try to account for all of these things and still, your children will not speak Chinese because they’re contrary and jerks and want to undo all the hard work you’ve attempted up until this point.
Oh. Just me?
Look. It’s 99.9% inevitable. (I mean, I leave a 0.1% chance of evitability. Is that a word? No. It is not. However, evitable is. You’re welcome.)
Unless you’re super super super non-fluent in English and your children are the primary interpreter for you in this English world, your kid is going to default to English with you. (Also, if you fall into that category, you’re likely not reading my blog because likely it is not-relatable.)
Because it is easier for them. It’s probably easier for you.
It certainly is easier for me. I can’t even begin to tell you how hampered I am by my mediocre Chinese. My children haven’t even seen a glimpse of my vast intelligence. When it is finally unleashed in English, their tiny minds will be blown!
No? Then perhaps, my incredible humor?
No, again? I’m really disliking your backtalk today, dear reader. Cut it out.
Is there anything we can do? Anything at all?
I mean, maybe?
Look. My oldest children are currently nine and seven. Gamera (7) has been arguing back since she was FIVE that I totally understand English so I should have zero problem with their speaking English.
We homeschool in Chinese and I think I do an okay job in limiting their English influence. But let’s be real. Your kid probably goes to school surrounded by English. If it’s hard for me, I can only imagine that it’s super hard for you.
Actually, I totally lied.
I don’t do an okay job at all in limiting their English exposure. My kids’ online, media, and social interactions are 98% English. The only thing I am winning on is their reading is still much better in Chinese than in English and this will go away soon. Not soon soon, but SOON.
Do I have any actual advice in this article?
You know, people keep asking this question lately and honestly, it’s making me feel bad.
Oh? It’s just me asking the question and you’re just innocently reading along? Very well. I accept your apology.
Where was I?
Yes. I do have actual advice. It’s this.
Oh, gracious. That’s shitty advice. But also, true. And freeing!
Your children are going to default to English unless you do something drastic (which usually involves living in a Chinese speaking country for a long period of time, buckling down on the Chinese input, and actually speaking only Chinese to your children and enforcing it for yourself).
I wish it were not so.
Unless you’re willing to do the work, and let’s face it, it’s a lot of work, you need to accept the reality in which you are living.
This doesn’t sound very hopeful.
I can lie to you if you’d like.
Here’s what I’ve done to kind of stem the tide of English in our household:
I only require my children speak Chinese to me and the baby.
Does it work?
Not really. But I keep trying.
I also know that if I actually re-instituted what helped me get to this point thus far, the likelihood of my children speaking Chinese to me would increase only marginally. However, at least the Chinese would be in their brains and they could at least comfortably speak Chinese to people who actually expect them to speak Chinese.
And this is where my other piece of advice comes in: Outsource their Chinese.
My kids still comply with their Chinese teachers’ expectations and requests to speak in Chinese. They also speak Chinese with my mother because she never broke the habit of speaking Chinese to them.
But with me? Unfortunately, they already know I speak English and even prefer it. So they only reluctantly comply and speak to me in Chinese. But more often than not, they clam up and run away and there goes that chance at cross-generational communication.
My current hope is that our six week trip to Taiwan this summer will serve as a re-set button for the entire family and MAYBE I will be more inclined to listen to Chinese stories and CDs in the car when we return. (As if I can ever get tired of BTS CDs in my car. IMPOSSIBLE!!!)
Perhaps my Chinese will also improve. Oh, who am I kidding? I spend the majority of my time in Taiwan hanging out with my friends, chatting away happily in English, and stuffing my face with as much yumminess as possible. I’m allegedly supposed to write and stuff, too.
Oh, sorry. This post has gotten away with me.
In summary, what have we learned?
Making your kids speak to you in Chinese is hard and once they make the switch over from Chinese to English, getting them to switch back will require a lot of work from you. You get to decide if that is worth the effort.