Our Parent Spotlight this month will feature Janice!
Janice started teaching Chinese at home 9 years ago. What motivated her to keep going for so long? What are some things to keep in mind when teaching Chinese in an English-dominant environment? Are there times that she felt like giving up? How should one start this on-going journey?
Janice shares some great tips in her story 👇
Hi Janice! Can you tell us a bit about you and your family?
Hello! My name is Janice. 👋 I am very fortunate to grow up partly in Hong Kong, which allowed me to be fluent in speaking Cantonese and writing Chinese. When I moved to Vancouver, I also picked up Mandarin from many of my Taiwanese friends.
By day, I work for the BC Securities Commission to help prevent fraud and regulate the capital market. I am proud to support the Commission’s outreach to the Chinese community by helping with translation and interviewing investors in Chinese.
My other role which spans day and night, is being a mom to Adrian, who is about to turn 9. My son loves to talk! He is super chatty, which makes it easier to encourage him to learn and speak Chinese.
What languages do you speak at home?
My husband and I speak Cantonese at home. Our immediate families - especially the grandparents, also speak Cantonese. We spoke Cantonese to Adrian from the very beginning.
At age 3, he also started attending weekly Cantonese classes. At 5 and a half, we started working with Sagebook 500 (reading in Cantonese) and have moved to mostly teaching him Chinese at home. When he turned 6, Adrian also asked to start Mandarin class and has been learning pinyin and a bit of simplified Chinese since.
“There were days that we were all just too busy to fit any Chinese in!”
Is it easy to fit all these languages at home?
There have been ups and downs in the journey. He has gone through phases when he wanted to speak a lot of English (the preschool stage)... there were some days he was too tired… and there were days that we were all just too busy to fit any Chinese in!
My husband and I have decided very early on that we want Adrian to learn and be fluent in speaking Cantonese. We chose to focus on Cantonese because this is what our family speaks and it will make learning easier.
During the pandemic, I came across the Little Readers Club 📚 and saw that many parents have had success in teaching reading and writing, and thought we would give Sagebooks Basic 500 a try. Since then, our goals have definitely changed - we are so happy that Adrian picked up reading; and will continue to focus on speaking and reading as priority.
How do you incorporate Chinese into everyday life?
Now at 9 years old, Adrian is very comfortable speaking Cantonese, even picking up some Cantonese slang! He enjoys ordering dim sum at restaurants, buying clothes in Chinese stores, and chatting with Chinese-speaking parents at school. He can read some simple Chinese books but still prefers that mommy reads them 😂 He is not too keen in writing Chinese characters but will do so with some bribing from mom 😀.
“I think exposure to Chinese and Chinese culture is key.”
I think exposure to Chinese and Chinese culture is key. My son is a foodie. It’s critical to him that he can order the right kind of “dumplings” at Chinese restaurants in Chinese (think about Shanghai restaurants where there are lots of different kinds of dumplings). My son also likes cartoons and animation: he started watching Super Wings, Peppa Pig etc. in Cantonese first before watching them in English.
Parents, grandparents, immediate family like uncles and aunts speak Cantonese with Adrian. I find having a lot of Chinese speaking family certainly contributes a big part to raising interest, awareness, and vocabulary in Chinese.
There is no particular method we follow but we encourage having a solid foundation in speaking and comprehension before tackling reading (and writing, hopefully very soon).
Build Your Toolkit
Can you share with us some resources that you have found helpful?
Here are the resources that we use:
- 📚Sagebooks Basic 500
- 🏫Play-base Cantonese classes at preschool/K-2 stage, Mandarin classes
- ▶ ️Youtube - lots of Chinese cartoons, Cantonese read-a-loud books, Cantonese story
- Facebook Groups: Little Reader Club 📚, and Cantonese Parents have been super helpful.
- Blogs: Chalk Academy, Guavarama, Little Bean Cantonese (and many more - just to name a few)
- Apps : Maomi Star
- Readingbot: Luka Reading
- Recording pen - Chameleon reader
I would say our #1 tool - books. Chinese books. Lots and lots of Chinese books. My son is a bookworm. We have a lot of books at home and visit the Vancouver library often to borrow Chinese books.
What is the BIGGEST obstacle to learning Chinese?
The biggest obstacle is to generate interest in learning Chinese, and have Adrian understand why he should even speak or read Chinese (even though communicating in English is faster and easier).
The next obstacle is time. As Adrian gets older, there are more and more activities that he’s doing, which takes time away from each day.
What motivates you to keep going?
“knowing another language will let you appreciate another culture that much more”
I have not thought about giving up but there are days that I feel like we are just not keeping up with learning Chinese. I think what motivates me is that one day, Adrian may realize that knowing another language will let you appreciate another culture that much more - allowing you to get around more places and be able to experience life that much more.
Make a Wish
If you could wish for anything you want to help with your Chinese journey, what would you wish for?
More awareness in the Chinese community as there are many, many wonderful (and free!) resources such as parent groups, and blogs to help out new families who are starting. It would be great to see more Chinese books at the library, more Chinese games and more apps!
What are your proudest moments?
There are many, many rewarding moments. I think it is important to celebrate small successes as this learning journey is a long one.
Recently, I am most proud of Adrian telling me that, during summer camps, he helped some Chinese-speaking newcomers to Canada, who are still learning English, by translating for them. I am glad that he can put his Chinese skills to good use!
Any interesting stories that you’d like to share?
At around 4 years old, Adrian figured out that I’d be so happy whenever he spoke Chinese. He has then decided that whenever he really wanted something, he would ask in Chinese to make sure he got it (like he’ll ask for ice cream or ask for TV in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English to make sure he got them). He’s also scored discounts at restaurants, hair cut, and clothing stores by chatting in Chinese with the owners and staff!
What are some of the books you are reading?
We love these series because the illustrations are so amazing and attractive that you just can’t put them down. They are also very funny and geared towards kids’ interests.
The Butt detective series is currently Adrian’s favorite - the investigation storyline is just really cool!
Final Tips for Parents
Do you have any advice for parents who are wondering where to start?
My tip is to incorporate Chinese in your child’s life starting at home. To generate interest, focus on starting with something your child likes. Whether it’s a short 15-minute Cantonese TV time or reading an English picture book in Chinese, or just pointing out items in your house and telling your child what they are called in Chinese - every bit of exposure counts. You do not need to necessarily start with a formal set of books or classes, there are probably more resources than you think in your household for you to start your Chinese learning journey.
Finally, I think it is important to enjoy the Chinese learning process - it’s a great bonding time and I hope some day when Adrian thinks back to our journey he will remember the fun that we have reading books, playing games, and laughing over cartoons!
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us, Janice!
For families who are just starting on their journey, remember to keep learning fun and enjoyable. Create positive memories and experiences for you and your child over this bonding time.