Guys! I haven’t written in SUCH a bloody long time because – hello, life. Lets just say that as hard as I thought it was to become a new mom and to figure out how to keep Kensi alive and thriving in that first year, it feels equally hard in a completely different way ever since I returned back to work full time.
I won’t get into the specifics (I’ll save that for another time!) but it’s been a huge challenge for me this past year to try to figure out a new rhythm. Note that I am using the word RHYTHM and not balance. Balance is a word that is a total bed of baloney.
I’m going to write about “balance” otherwise known as a gong show of a juggling act we call parenthood for my next post, but for right now – I want my first post back from the dead to be more light hearted.
So I figured I’ll share a current update of what it’s been like trying to raise my daughter in a dual language home.
Spoiler alert: I’m Chinese. My husband is not.
We would like to raise our daughter to be able to speak fluently in both English and Cantonese so that she can communicate and interact with both sets of grandparents.
Also selfishly as an aspiring Tiger Mom, I want Kensi to speak Cantonese (and eventually Mandarin even though I don’t know how the heck I’ll do that since I don’t speak a lick of it) because allegedly speaking another language when you’re young makes your brain bigger or something like that. I’m not entirely sure the scientific explanation about this other than every tiger mom I’ve read about always makes their kid speak another language and play a bunch of instruments.
ANYWAYS, ever since Kensi popped out, I insisted that within our home, we try to only communicate to Kensi in Chinese. My mom had no problem doing this because – DUH! I tried my best to only communicate with her in Cantonese during the time that she was born, and I would say this was accomplished 70% of the time. My Cantonese wasn’t ever great but even my mom noticed how it’s improved greatly ever since I committed to only speaking to Kensi in Chinese.
Ok now Dan is another story. Dan’s Chinese is actually fairly decent. Like when we started out dating, I would ALWAYS make him order all the dim sum for us. Partly because I thought we would get better service if a white man ordered, but also partly because I thought his pronunciation of dim sum items was just better than mine. This last point is sadly true, and is an indicator of how poor my Chinese was to begin with).
When Kensi started to talk – Dan’s level of Chinese far exceeded Kensi. The constant repetition of the same words over and over again made Dan a great Chinese pupil.
Instead of “clap” to her we would all say “PAK SOW! PAK SOW!” All damn day we were yelling PAK SOW! PAK SOW! to her to try to get her to slam her lil palms together.
Or when we taught her how to say the names of her body parts – Dan could say all of them as well.
(just to name a few)
- Nose = bay goh
- head = “tow, tow”
- leg = “geuk, geuk”
Side note: You know how in English we have this funny tendency where we put a y/ie at the end of certain words so that it sounds more kid-friendly? Like “look at that birdie!” or “isn’t this a cute doggy?” I guess the Chinese have an equivalent way of making things kid-friendly by saying certain words in repetition. So instead of head which translates to “tow” in Chinese, in kid language for Kensi we say “tow, tow”.
So ever since Kensi started to talk and we were teaching her more and more Chinese, the rate that Dan was increasing his Chinese vocabulary was becoming pretty impressive. He could name almost all her body parts AND Frankly’s body parts in Chinese. He could give her simple instructions like drink milk, go to bed, sit down, etc and Kensi could listen and understand, and eventually repeat!
And then one day I noticed something.
See – the thing about Chinese is that tone and enunciation of words is SO key. If you’re not saying a word in a very specific way, in a very specific tone, then you could be saying a completely different word all together.
One evening as we were winding down during our nightly routine before Kensi was to be put to bed, she was saying goodnight to Frankly. One of the things she loves to do is name Frankly’s body parts. She was pointing to her legs and saying “geuk, geuk” (her legs) or “tow, tow” for her head.
And then Dan tried to jump in there as well and pointed to Frankly’s tail and said “mei!”
But then something really remarkable happened. Kensi looked at Dan and pointed at Frankly’s tail and said “may, may!” in a different tone, and with a look to him that looked like she was correcting him. And she was! She was totally schooling her dad by showing him he was saying tail incorrectly. I was shocked.
And ever since then, the student has become the teacher. Kensi’s Chinese is SKY ROCKETING while poor dad’s has stalled. To be fair – she is home with my mom all day talking to her so she is 100% immersed in Chinese. OF COURSE her Chinese would grow. But of course – this now presents a gap and growing divide in our house.
We started noticing that whenever Dan gave her instructions in English, she wouldn’t always follow. He would make me tell her in Chinese and she would understand and obey every time. She was saying words to him that he couldn’t figure out whether it was gibberish or Chinese… and more often than not, it was Chinese!
Dan was losing his ability to understand and communicate to Kensi!
This pleased me greatly.
Yes that’s right, I said it.
Listen, I’m not a monster, I want my daughter to obviously speak English and talk to her dad. But the fact that there was a divide going on in the house though (and a growing one at that) meant that Kensi’s Chinese was getting BETTER! WE WANT THIS.
One day Dan was frustrated because he told Kensi to do something and she didn’t until after I told her in Chinese and so he told my mom and I, “We need to teach her more English! We don’t want her to fall behind!”
My mother and I looked at each other and laughed. We laughed and laughed and laughed. My mother gave him the equivalent of what I could only describe as a “bitch, please” look but in a nice elderly way and said, “You don’t have to worry about English! You need to worry about her Chinese!”
The fact of the matter is that we’re trying to cram as much Chinese into Kensi as we can because once she starts school (i.e. daycare next year) – goodbye Chinese! She will be immersed in English for 80% of the day. She will also be going to school conversing in English for the next couple of decades. Like my mother said, you don’t have to worry about English!
What we want to lay down the groundwork for is for Kensi to retain and grow as much Chinese as we can, so that she ultimately doesn’t become her mom who can only speak the equivalent of what I’m told is the vocabularly of a 5th grade Chinese student. And not even like a sophisticated boarding school 5th grader, I’m talking about rural, grew up on a farm 5th grader. Le sigh.
But that means in the interim, we’re dealing with translating things back and forth between English and Chinese, both to Kensi and also to Dan. And so the divide keeps growing and that’s what we want to happen!
PAK SOW! PAK SOW!! 👏🏽