Staying ahead of The Kid

Congratulations Amos on your baby girl. My wife and I are also expecting a baby, in February, which has caused me to think about the subject of this post.

Has anyone else seen having a baby with a Taiwanese partner as incentive to learn Chinese? Although I’ve lived here for a few years, I’ve been too busy to study Chinese, but now that we’re having the baby…I’m thinking I’ll make some serious headway on the language. Here’s the plan:

Right now the baby is not even born, but I can give directions to taxi drivers in Chinese, order meals, and even engage in limited small talk. In a year, the baby will only be able say, “waaaa,” and my Chinese will still be superior. In two years, the baby will say, “ma ma, ba ba, nay nay,” and I’ll still have the slight edge. By three years, the baby will have made serious headway, but I should still be in the lead.

My plan is to try to keep my Chinese superior to my child’s for as long as possible. It’s not that I want to be “better” than him or her. It’s that I know the child will easily surpass me in Chinese ability eventually, so I see this as an opportunity for me to study hard to improve my own ability, for myself and so I’ll have the ability to communicate with him/her in Chinese.

I realize that having a baby may not always be the best strategy for learning Chinese, but if the baby is a given it seems like a good opportunity. Has anyone else thought these same thoughts? How did it go?

You’ll never make it.

The kid will just have so much more time to devote to the whole language-acquisition thing that s/he will leave you in the dust very quickly. Of course, this is also true of the physical side of things…I read somewhere that they had a fully-trained US Marine try to mimic every move a 3 year old made and he couldn’t take it for more than a half hour, or something. :unamused:

Maybe you can try to stay ahead in math?? Might be easier and less time-consuming. You also get like a five or six-year head start. :laughing:

I am dealing with this issue as well. I am witnessing how important it is for me to be able to speak Chinese, so that, A. I will not have to rely on my kid to translate for me and, B. My kid will not have a secret language from me. These are more important as they get older, but I have a feeling we’ll need to start learning now in order for our Chinese to get to where we can prevent these two things from happening.

I, too, am motivated when I see my kid learning new words. It’s not that it’s a competition, it’s just nice to be able to share in the joy of being able to communicate in Chinese.

Of course we won’t be able to stay ahead of the kids, but I was glad to see that I am able to understand (so far) some homework assignments, etc. because of the effort I put in to studying. It helps me keep in touch with what’s being taught at school. I need to learn a lot more in order to be able to read notes from the teacher, however.

[quote]…I’ll have the ability to communicate with him/her in Chinese.
On this topic, I’ve heard from everyone ranging from teachers to friends to linguists that once school begins, that I need to insist on speaking English with my kid, even if they resist and answer me in Chinese. I have to agree in the case where you are integrating into Taiwanese society, ie. your kids are in a Chinese-speaking environment like a local school. Otherwise, they’ll lose the motivation to learn English (which is only natural). I’ve seen it happen here, just as many Taiwanese parents who go abroad have witnessed their children losing their abilities in the Chinese language.

But, in social situations where you and your kid are together with other people, it’s a lot easier if you can speak Chinese so you can remind your kid to say “xiexie”, explain that it’s almost dinnertime so your kid can’t have candy, etc.

Having my 6yo start first grade last week is really motivating me now. The English speaking TA has been translating the notes in the “bye bye book” but I know that’s going to get old fast and it’s not fair that we get the special help. I plan to butter her up, for this and other reasons (see Living in Taiwan for that post!) It’s amazing how quickly he left me behind once he started kindergarten 18 months ago.

Yep, forget keeping up, one day you’ll find yourself in a cloud of dust. while you’re trying to remember the difference between the 2nd and 3rd tones your kids will have finished an entire conversation :slight_smile: anyway, imho as long as your chinese is good enough to understand all your family conversations happening, no sweat. who wants to sit on the couch with a beer and not know what the heck their family is talking about around them :slight_smile: i was more worried about their english, and from birth made a point of talking only in English to them and doing it as often as possible. probably you will be their sole link to it. it worked good for me, they could always at least understand english, and on family trips back home they picked it up very quickly.

no one can stay ahead of the kid…


I never did respond to all those who answered a month ago. I know of course the kid will leave me in the dust. . . eventually. But for the first year, or maybe two, I should hold a slight edge.

But I found interesting worldtraveler’s comment that, “I’ve heard from everyone ranging from teachers to friends to linguists that once school begins, that I need to insist on speaking English with my kid, even if they resist and answer me in Chinese. I have to agree in the case where you are integrating into Taiwanese society, ie. your kids are in a Chinese-speaking environment like a local school. Otherwise, they’ll lose the motivation to learn English (which is only natural).”

I found that interesting because Tigerman, whose child was raised by a Taiwanese and an American, just told me the same thing this weekend – to always speak English to my child. And my Chinese is so bad that I guess maybe they’re right. If I speak Chinese with the kid, not only might he lose motivation to practice English but he’ll learn lousy Chinese from me. :frowning: Damn, I thought it was a pretty cool plan.

Mother Theresa wrote [quote]Congratulations Amos on your baby girl.[/quote]Thanks mate and all the best for yours too. My Chinese is better than Tiffani’s :wink:

I learn Taiwanese from my kid.

I forget to speak English sometimes though. At the very least he can understand English, well, a little, but he is picking it up very quickly now.

I still get mixed opinions about how much English to teach him since he is only two. This whole concept of developing the Mother Tongue first, I don’t know… time for a search on the net

Bassman wrote[quote]I still get mixed opinions about how much English to teach him since he is only two. This whole concept of developing the Mother Tongue first, I don’t know… time for a search on the net
[/quote]I’m curious too. Please post any significant opinions.

I think the issue is that, for our fortunate children, there’s a mother tongue and a father tongue. The kid will grow up learning two languages simultaneously, but the Taiwanese parent should speak only Chinese with the kid and if the other parent is a native english speaker that parent should speak only english. Or at least taht’s what I gather people are saying.

I agree wholeheartedly. If you be patient about it your kid has an excellent chance to be bi or even trilingual, a great thing. And when you go home and see your kids talking with your parents you will know you did the right thing.

That’s the idea, else the kid will grow up speaking two garbled languages that no one else can understand. A source of great amusement to you of course, but of no great help to your kid.

Of course, if the kid’s parent is from a Commonwealth country his/her English will also be garbled and unintelligible. :wink: … nt/1202051

This link is for a great site for parents raising bilingual kids. They talk about ever possible thing you can immagine related to this.

Deffinatly, you have to speak English to your child, unless you want to have to send him to bu si ban! He’ll get Chinese/Taiwanese here from his family, friends, strangers, schoolmates…You and HBO are the only English he’s got!

There is a very big debate going on here, and everywhere else, about learning the “mother toung” first. This is because parents are affraid that their children’s language will be delayed if they learn more than one language from the start. Usually, children who are learning more than one language from birth speak later than monolinguals. It is common for them not to speak until age 2 or later. But then when they start speaking they’re able to speak more than one language, all of a “sudden.” But many parents are affraid of this “delay.”

Also, there are those, like someone on this board, who say they don’t want their children to have a secret language from them. Well, personally, I hope my son grows up and has about 5 or 6 secret languages from me! I’d love for him to learn lots of languages, even ones I don’t know, because I believe it is good for him.

This intentional manipulation of your child’s language skills can seem strange to others and it is sometimes hard to keep it up, I promise you’ll get a lot of opinions, but it’s really worth it. When I have my baby out and the locals ask (as they alwaysdo) if he speaks Chinese, I tell them no, of course not, he’s only seven months old! But I’m sure they always ask because I’m alwas speaking English to him. I don’t care. My kid will have great English, Chinese, and Taiwanese, and will be able to spend his free time doing things he likes, not giving his English teacher a hard time.

I wonder if this theory holds true…

A mechanics car is always broken down.
A house painters house looks like it needs a paint.
An accountants finances are a mess.
An English Teachers kid has terrible English.


Actually, my kid is … lazy isn’t the right word… he knows the English but he spits out the Chinese and Taiwanese first.

I have a Ten year old studying in a Taiwan public school.

First to Bassman. If your child is not using English at home, you are in trouble already. (If your goal is native fluency)

Second. The concept that Dad speaks one and Mom speaks the other is errant nonesense. It’s failed every time I’ve seen it applied. The kids either don’t speak English at all, or have a bastardized sound that your bushiban kids make on a bad speaking day. You just can’t provide enough language input from one person to make it feasible.

Third, my daughter’s English is native level (speaking).

I recognized early on that the only way to make English stick was to make it her first language from the start. So, for the first five years and pretty much to this day, we speak English at home. Leave the Chinese alone, it will come of it’s own accord if you are staying here. He or she will do the kindergarten routine, go to the in-laws, get admiring stares and comments from all passers-by, and generally learn Chinese just by being here. With 22 million people providing input, Chinese at home is simply not needed.

However, if anyone is out there who has used the “one parent, one language plan” and succeded, post here and I’ll happily eat crow. I’m for whatever works! (But be honest, ok? I mean native level!)

The results after ten years? Mixed.

Speaking: Native level in both English and Chinese, with no accent of any kind. Also, speaks and understands Hakkanese. (Thanks in-laws)

Reading: Native in Chinese, about 2 years behind in English. (Shame on you, bushiban owning Dad!)

Writing: Native in Chinese, pretty poor in English :blush:

In my own defense, studying in a public school here can be overwhelming. The sheer amount of homework, rote memorization of thousands of characters, means not much time left to catch up in the English department for reading and writing. So I would say I was successful in achieving native level speaking fluency for my daughter but less so for reading and failed in the worst possible fashion for writing. I do read to her every night though, and her reading is catching up.

So, all I can say is SPEAK ENGLISH AT HOME! Get your wife or husband on the bandwagon, do whatever it takes. Make sure your foreign friends visit you often and hang with your kids. And most importantly, moms and dads, take the time out to TALK to your kids! With the in-laws, protective mothers, it’s just too easy to send the child off and enjoy a cold one. (I could use improvement here as well)

Also, they are a perfect measure for your own second language skills. You can do this by being honest and recognizing the day they pass you by. It happened in First Grade for me, which is pretty sobering considering I’ve been here 17 years…Wow, I can speak Chinese like a 7 year old, Yippeee! :blush:

Lastly, I’m saying this for those who plan to remain here. If you are a short-timer, and only plan to stay for a year or two, then everything mentioned above does not apply!

Good luck to all… :smiley:

Great post Michael. That was our plan anyway, but thanks for posting your experiences. Amos.

What if, let’s say, you want to take the kid out of Taiwan after elementary school, then wouldn’t the Chinese become very important to get right?

The thing that bums me out, I guess, is that I don’t have much time to spend with my son speaking English. When I go home it’s bath time and then bed time. Bath time is English and so is play time. But it’s just not enough. There is the weekend I suppose, but then that is only 2 days. Yeash, because I’m the native speaker I get the blame. Hey, the wife should speak English to him too, but she doesn’t, because “everybody” knows that’s “my” job, right?


That’s the main reason I have my daughter in a public school here. Her best friend, an american expat, studied at the Morrison Acadamy extension school here in Yangmei for five years. Not a whit of Chinese was learned for the duration of her stay…Sad really.

I just think it’s possible to have the best of both worlds. Just out of curiosity Bassman, do you speak Chinese with your wife or English? It’s critical to put your spouse on the English speaking program, as she’ll be spending more time with your son. It’s not “just your job”!

I know it’s hard, but I’ve seen too many of my friends kids turn out confused and frustrated with this “mystery” language that only Dad speaks. I was lucky in a sense that I have a tight group of friends. They were a big influence on her in the sense that the “mystery” language was spoken by many.

The neat part is to listen to them negotiate both worlds. Get two native English/Chinese children together, and you are in for one hell of an interesting conversation…I love to sit back and listen to them jump back and forth, no pause or hesitation, feeling both languages to see which is the most appropriate to describe feelings or events.

Cool stuff…wish to hell I could do it.

Sunday; on the way to Costco…“Megan, what’s that freeway sign say?” “Dad, you can’t even read that? You are pathetic” Grrrrr…

Just you wait Bassman… :laughing: