Tag Archives: mandarin

Learn Latin, not Mandarin??

Here is an article in the Spectator, from the UK entitled: “Forget Mandarin. Latin is the key to success.”. Hmmm. The key to success.

Now I have never thought Mandarin was the key to success either, and frankly we are doing it for issues of keeping Big Boy’s cultural heritage and ability to interact with other Chinese people as he grows up, not so he can rise to the top of the class.

But I understand that many are jumping on the Mandarin bandwagon in hopes of upping their child’s chances in the business world (at least they might be able to be foremen if China invades and takes over the US and Canada!) I think that is silly, since most Chinese learn better English than our children will ever learn Mandarin. But I do think that Mandarin, or more correctly Chinese (since the writing system of characters is not Mandarin, but rather common to all the Chinese languages from Taiwan to Beijing to Jiaozuo and has hardly changed except for “simplification” in thousands of years), does help develop thinking abilities. And especially the written language: which is highly visual and very different from our own romanized languages.

I also think that it is probably true that Latin, with its conjugasions and verb forms (sorry, I don’t know enough about latin to properly praise it) would help with paying attention to language, understanding grammar, verb tenses etc. I am sure that its rigours would help the mind in the same way that math or music help the mind, by giving instruction in something with discipline and structure. Much the same way I expect (and see results of) my son’s karate class to influence his physical and mental self-control. Also we cannot forget that many words in most European languages stem from latin, as well as more technical scientific terms in all these languages.

I do wonder why the writer needs to take a jab at Chinese (which is also great) and Esperanto (which can be very practical and fun)… why “forget” one language or discipline for another? Do we need to say “forget the flute, learn piano”? or “forget biology, learn physics”? I am sure that the more languages you study, the more your mind is going to be exercised, the more people you can communicate with, the better your language skills will become.

So, here’s for latin AND chinese, and farsi and arabic and swedish and yiddish, and engish and finnish, and on and on… Study what GRABS and IMPASSIONS you!

BTW, the comments on that article are as good or better than the article itself! Dig in!

One Person One Language and other theories that bug me

I may not have mentioned before, but Big Boy is behind in his expressive language skills: he has good vocabulary for his age, but has difficulty accessing it while speaking, and has trouble using proper verb tenses, sentence structure etc. So we are on a year long waiting list for speech therapy, and looking for other avenues for help.

Monday night I went to a parents’ information meeting at our local CLSC in orthophonie (speech therapy in French), and it was totally great. They are offering a set of three parental training sessions, a speech evaluation for the child, and a possible block of 5 multi-child therapy sessions to get him up to par. Way more than what I expected from local free interventions.

Everything looked totally great, except they had a two page insert on bilingualism. Now it was written in large block letters: “One Language, One Context”, which is an outshoot of the idea “One parent, one language”. I personally have always wondered however that can work: I mean at family dinner, how do the parents speak to eachother? Do they each need to know the other’s language? Does Parent A speak Language A both to Child and to Parent B? and then does Parent B respond in Language B (so the conversation is half in one language and half in the other)? In that case, how can the child ever see modelled a proper question and response set up in either language? And is the Child supposed to have Parent B responding to ParentA/LanguageA in Language B, but supposed to resond to ParentA/LanguageA in LanguageA? It all seems rather artificial and wonky. And what if both parents speak English for instance, but only one parent speaks fluent Chinese? Does the monolingual parent just sit and nod and smile while the other parent and child have a conversation at the meal, grocery store or amusement park?

Personally, I don’t have this issue, since I am a single parent. According to this “One parent One language” doctrine, I would have to raise a child in only one language, even if I am bilingual or more myself.

Welcome to the “One language, one context” expansion of the theory. We do this somewhat, in that I tend to speak English at home, and speak French with neighbors and out shopping etc… it is just more acceptable to speak French in public in Quebec.

But does that mean I never read French books inside the house? Never put on French music or introduce French words at home? And what if I want to get my son’s attention outside the home, and know he knows the English words but not the French for a given situation? “Watch OUT! A TRUCK is COMING!” he might understand at the start, but not “ATTENTION! Un camion s’en vient!”… and the risk of him not understanding or not obeying in French is great.

It also means that language is restricted to that occasion. For instance if cooking is always done at home in English, and sports always done at daycare in French… how will he have the vocabulary to speak about either in the other part of his day? Will he be forbidden to say “j’ai joué au ballon !” at home? And if he is, how will I give him the english words for that? How will he tell the daycare what he cooked at home, and that he beat the eggs and creamed the butter if he doesn’t get French vocab for me about those things at home, so he can go to daycare and say them? He will only know in English, and if they don’t speak English, he is just stuck explaining.

And then let’s add Mandarin on top of that. We have only an hour or two a week that we are with a native speaker. And that time is NOT 100% immersion. I need to ask questions, explain things etc and get translations. Do YOU know what hawthorne is in Mandarin? I only did after looking up in a bilingual dictionary. Anyways, the rest of the time, I am learning Mandarin along with my son. So we put it into our activities. Naming body parts while tickling or bathing. Naming food while eating, cooking or shopping. Using what little language we know while playing hide and seek in the park or at bedtime.

I personally don’t have the vocabulary or sentence structure to do “a context” with him in Mandarin. We would be stuck with a few basic phrases, and a lot of gesticulating. I can say “Wo zhao ni! Zhao bu dao! Wo kan bu jian ni! Ahh ahh! Wo kan jian ni! Wo zhao dao ni! Wo zhua ni! ahah!!!” (I am looking for you. I look but don’t find! I look but can’t see you! aaaahh, I see you! I found you! I catch you! ahah!) But I can’t say, “We can play for ten more minutes before we have to leave for home. We need to have lunch so we can get to the doctor’s afterwards”.

So does that mean we can’t do the “context” only in Mandarin so we should leave it? Or is context so restricted we can call “hide and seek” a context?

Frankly, I think that any adding to his or my vocabulary or sentence structure in any language is a plus. Speaking what one can speak in that particular language without making too many mistakes, and correcting oneself. Using whatever is needed to be understood, including gestures and multiple languages. If they can put Chinese words in Ni Hao Kailan, and Spanish words into English Dora episodes and it is a good thing, then adding French words into English or Mandarin words into English in all contexts can not be totally wrong.

No, he may not grow up to be a native mandarin or french speaker. But he might be a passable speaker. I consider myself bilingual in English and French, and certainly didn’t get enough French to even have a conversation until I was about 20 years old. Certainly being immersed in a French only environment helped a lot, ONCE I had enough basis so that it didn’t just sound like gobbledy gook that went over my head. The rest of the time I learned in a bilingual environment, whether in the French classroom or the anglophone university cafeteria where most students were francophone.

I say, increase the amount of language and foreign language exposure as much as possible, in as many media and contexts as possible. Language needs to be wellrounded and multifaceted to be useful. Blechhh on restrictive prescriptions. The important thing is to have fun and learn learn learn.

ps, no, the language delay doesn’t come from multilingualism: if a child has a learning disability in one language they will have it in one, two or ten languages…

Liang zhi Laohu: Two Tigers song

One great way to learn Chinese, or any language, is through songs. Usually they rhyme, are short and catchy, repeat limited language, and are pleasant to sing over and over. Many unilingual anglophones can sing Frere Jacques in French.

In Chinese, one of the first I learned was the Little Friends song, Zhao Pengyou. Apparently little kids in China sing this on their first day in preschool or kindergarten… they sing “look for a friend, find a friend, salute them, shake hands, you are my good friend” together with cute hand movements.

I learned this on Chinesepod.com and was delighted when I got to China, and Big Boy, who was 22 months old, obviously knew it. When I would sing, he would put his hand over his eyes as if he were searching and bob up and down, and stick his hand out for shaking on “wo wo shou” (shake hands). So not only is learning songs fun and educational, it is a good cultural bridge as well. I am reminded of my delight at 11 years old, when I went to Sweden with my dad and grandmother, to learn that my Swedish cousins knew “Eensy Weensy Spider” in Swedish!

Lately, Big Boy’s favorite Chinese kids’ song is Liang zhi Laohu (Two Tigers).

It goes like this:

Liang zhi lao hu
Liang zhi lao hu
Pao de kuai
Pao de kuai
Yi zhi mei you wei ba
Yi zhe mei you er duo
Zhen qi guai!
Zhen qi guai!

Sung to the tune of “Frere Jacques” (Are you sleeping, Brother John)

In English:

Two tigers
Two tigers
Run fast
Run fast
One has no tail
One has no ears
How very strange!
How very strange!

Here he is singing it, despite his self-proclaimed aversion to Chinese:

The funny thing is now when he sings it, I say “I don’t like Chinese! Don’t sing that in Chinese! I only like English! No Chinese!” as he tends to do when I want to read something in Chinese. And he gets all stubborn and asks my “Why? Why no Chinese? I like Chinese! I knowing Chinese!” and then sings Liang zhi laohu again! 😀 Nothing like a little reverse psychology!

Here it is at Chinesepod.com: Two Tigers song. It is also included on Mei Mei Hu’s “Speak and Sing Chinese with Mei Mei” cd, or with more explanation on the accompanying dvd “Play and Learn Chinese with Mei Mei”, which Big Boy loves.

I always thought that this song is so fun for kids, and could be taught to a classroom with puppets for instance, and then tonight I found that someone has indeed just recently turned it into a Chinese-teaching guide. Sam Song, who has written other Chinese as a foreign language teaching materials has put out Learn Chinese Through Song! The Popular Chinese Nursery Rhyme TWO TIGERS”

Two Tigers: Sam Song book

Two Tigers: Sam Song book

It’s very interesting, in that he teaches first word by word, in pinyin (how I wrote the lyrics above) and characters, then phrase by phrase (ie mei you means “doesn’t have” and wei ba means “tail”) and then sentence by sentence, so one has a complete comprehension of the whole text.

He also describes clearly tones and shows stroke order for writing characters. And finally has flash cards for all the words! You can see images online at the US Amazon site: Two Tigers

It really looks like a wonderful teaching too. He apparently has audio online as well, that links up with the book, word by word, phrase by phrase and sentence by sentence. It is an affordable $12.42 cdn or $11.49 US.

So, do you have any favorite foreign language songs that you found instrumental in your early learning journey? How about Chinese nursery rhymes to recommend?

Welcome to Big Boy and Xiao Chien!

Hello! I have FINALLY gotten around to starting a blog about raising my son French and Mandarin Chinese as well as English. And throwing in product reviews, doggy thoughts, musings and rants as well.

I am a 40something single mom living in Quebec, Canada. I am self-employed in the arts, work from home, and have always wanted to be a mother. I adopted my son, who is now four years old, two years ago just before his second birthday. He was adopted through the SN (Special Needs) program in China, whereby children with minor correctible medical needs are given forever homes.

I am anglophone, and living in a francophone community, but I wish to maintain my son’s Chinese heritage, and part of that is giving him access to the language. I began learning mandarin during the long pre-adoption wait, and my interest only increased when I met him and learned he could indeed understand and respond to my very bad and limited chinese.

At this point, he speaks English as his first language, goes to daycare (garderie) 2-3 days a week in French as well as it being the dominant language in our neighborhood, and we try to do some Chinese learning daily. It is an uphill battle, now that he has been home from China for so long, and says “No Chinese, mommy! No talk French! Talk English!” but it is a battle I am willing to wage in all sorts of wiley ways.

This blog will be a place to address the issues of bilingualism or trilingualism, language learning, as well as just regular parenting and kid stuff. Throw in our Saint Bernard, and hopefully we’ll have more than enough to talk about.

Please feel free to subscribe, and especially to leave comments and suggestions. We’d love to hear from you.

And yes, Big Boy is my son, who is adamant that is what he is now.

And Xiao Chien is our Saint… a tongue in cheek mix of mandarin (xiao=small) and french (chien=dog)… in mandarin they often say “xiao gou” (shee-ow go) for dog… which is a big ironic considering our dog is about 115 lbs! (so : shee-ow shee-en)

Welcome to Big Boy and Xiao Chien!

Zai jian! Au revoir! See you again soon!