Raising my Baby in Chinese

Some of you may not know this but I’m raising my son in Mandarin Chinese. While I have native-like speaking abilities, I’m a heritage learner; I’m not native. I realize I’m missing a lot of vocabulary, even in those words found in concept/first word books they have in English. I’m also semi-illiterate (okay, pretty much illiterate) in Chinese, forcing me to rely on pinyin and zhuyin to read books to my son. Believe me, it ain’t easy.
Luckily, my husband SimpleGuy (SG) is very supportive of my efforts as he speaks too and is also a heritage learner (half-Chinese) but non-native as well.

You’re all wondering: why? Why go around speaking in Mandarin to a 2-year old when you live in America and speak perfect English?

  • for my parents and relatives – so they can communicate. this is less of a reason now than it was for me and my siblings to learn Chinese, because actually all of Baby’s immediate family and extended family (grandparents, aunts and uncles) are all super-proficient or native English speakers. It’s only my grandparents who are Chinese-only speakers. But it’s still a comfort for my parents who are native speakers.
  • for my church – one day we hope China will be open to the teaching of beliefs as well as other freedoms. Right now they are not, but perhaps one day, we could help to establish our church in China and one day Baby can help be a part of it.
  • for my child – so he will have access to another world, advantages/opportunities to interact with the Chinese people, and have business opportunities there if he chooses, and also because he looks Asian and it’s a good idea to attempt to speak Chinese if you can, if you look it.

Here are some of the resources I’ve been using:

  • First Words and First Animals(board book) (Soundprints)

These are a great introduction for smaller babies, with 3-4 images per page, includes pinyin and simplified characters; it’s very durable as a board book.

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This has been a great resource for me and my son. It’s cartoony but cute; Baby loves it. His language really blossomed when we were able to give him a wider range of vocabulary. This book is padded like the First Words but its pages are not cardboard, so be careful. Includes zhuyin (Taiwan) and traditional characters.

index3 index4These are actually made for Chinese kids to learn English, but but why but why not use them the other way around? They are definitely created with the Taiwan culture in mind; fruits are tropical; there’s an open market, but it’s a really cute introduction to a culture near to my heart.

If you are interested in this title, buy a basic English version for $4 or less and message me for images of the Chinese text as a reference. The actual bilingual book is $9+ and the Chinese is simplified with no pinyin, so those of us illiterates need to do a little homework; it was a price I was willing to pay.

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This is a great search-and-find and word book style book. It’s busier than my other books, so I’m waiting until preschool age for Baby to use this particular text. Some of the vocabulary is a little weird, maybe geared for mainland China, so ask a native speaker to help.

There are tons of other books I have in English and cannot get in Chinese, I’ve simply “translated” the text for my child. This is easiest with basic text and I anticipate this becoming more and more difficult as texts get more complex.

So there are challenges ahead that I need help with:

  • I still want my child to learn English to do well in his studies.
  • Everything, including his nursery class at church, library story time and basically everyone around him, is in English. What I mean is, it’s an uphill battle.
  • I love the English language and literature (English Education major here) and there are tons of books that I’d love to read in English because of the history and culture in within the books.
  • I feel more comfortable talking about feelings, concepts, desires and hopes in English and I know one day I’ll probably have to switch to English for these particular language tasks.
  • How will I maintain his fluency and vocabulary when he starts school?
  • How will I maintain a support system, when it’s really only my parents, me and SG who speak to him in Chinese?

I have a language teaching background but I’ve never done this with a child so young as my child and I’ve never taught to the level of being native because I myself still have to reach that native proficiency.To be honest, I don’t know what I am doing. Does anyone out there have advice or words of wisdom for yours truly?

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4 thoughts on “Raising my Baby in Chinese

  1. I love this post! We are doing bilingual parenting in our home, so this really resonates with me. Tony speaks Chinese, and I speak English. These books are great ideas! Tony has trouble translating Dr. Suess right now because they don’t rhyme, but our little girl loves it. Do you find it hard for your boy to socialize, though? Our daughter has trouble in nursery and making friends in general because she is shy and because no one really understands her. But I figure the benefits will ultimately outweigh the struggles in the end.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Margaret! Dr. Seuss is hard one; there is a simplified Chinese version that I’ve seen on Amazon (but a collection for $50, yikes) but I think a lot of the lyrical/rhyme scheme is totally lost in translation so may not be worth it anyway. Damon speaks English (some Chinese) to our son, so I’ve had him read all the English books until recently. Yes, socialization is hard! Our child is also shy and had a hard time at first in nursery, but he’s improved a lot when he gained more understanding in English (which I thought was such a setback for me and my efforts in Chinese). Our English-speaking ward has a Chinese-speaking group connected to it, that we attend, so there are a few young kids that understand some (limited) Chinese; I think the nursery people are more sensitive to their needs as a whole. One thing that has helped him a lot is having playdates, even with just a couple of “friends”. One of them is a five year old who speaks Mandarin (she’s half Chinese but her mom is from Taiwan and has really emphasized the language with her). Even though she is three years old than our son, the few times they’ve “hung out” at the park or at our house have helped him to realize he’s not the only kid to speak Chinese and has encouraged him to speak more. The community factor in language development is HUGE. (Time to move to Plano, TX, my friend! haha, can’t resist the plug!)
      Another thought that I’ve recently had from discussing this topic with my mom, is that I don’t have to teach “perfect Chinese” and I should not sacrifice teaching moments with my son for the sake of preserving the Chinese language. A lot of blogs about bilingual kids will tell you that each parent should stick to one language or the other and that is probably best for optimal language development. But I think in my case, because I’m not native and will not be able to teach my son to be native (I’ll have to rely on classes and interaction with family members to help) I should be more realistic about my goals. Also, English is still an important skill to have, after all, we live in America. My mom told me she and my dad spoke to us in Chinese but sometimes still read books in English (of all types: storybooks, scriptures, etc) that were not available to us in Chinese. Though our Chinese language did suffer a little, we gained it all right back when we were older and more diligent about studying it.
      Whatever way you choose, there will definitely be a period of “delayed” development because the kid is trying to learning both languages; our son is not quite 2 1/2 and has a lot of garbled language (I think more than monolingual kids) but he will get over it. I totally agree with you: the benefits will ultimately outweigh the struggles in the end.
      Sorry, LONG reply, but as you can see I’ve been battling this on my mind for some time. Thanks for visiting the blog!

  2. This is great! Thank you! Our daughter is around the same age, so it’s great to read someone going through a similar experience. Maybe Plano is the place to be. It is hard to find like-minded people in Utah.

    Thanks again for responding so thoroughly. It is good to read what you’re doing to better understand what we can do in our home. 🙂

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