Community Spotlight

“This is Us” Series

The “Community Spotlight” is a series of posts for “This is Us” featuring families in our community and their journey to raise multilingual children. 

We are so inspired by all the family stories you’ve shared with us.  We want to share your story with others who are also raising multilingual kids as well.  Through sharing tips and experiences, we hope families will feel that it is possible to add Chinese as part of their home languages. 

Our Parent Spotlight this month will feature Pauline!

A mother of 2 little ones, Pauline takes on the unique task of having not just 2 languages at home, but FOUR languages: English, Cantonese, Mandarin, and French.  Her way of tackling the challenge of raising her children in a multilingual environment is a little different - and also very inspiring and heartwarming.  The founder of Sweet Note Learning, let’s take a look at how it all started for our good friend, Pauline. 

         Meet Pauline!        

Hi Pauline! Can you tell us a bit about you and your family?

I have two little ones, 6 and 7 year olds, who are learning English, Cantonese, French and Mandarin. Our home language is English and Cantonese. They are attending a French immersion school to learn French. We recently introduced Mandarin and will also be learning it at home in a more casual way. I, mom, am only fluent in English but understand simple words or phrases from the other three languages.

What are your main goals for teaching Cantonese?

My Chinese goals are constantly changing. At first, my original goals were only to have my kids understand Cantonese (no speaking, reading or writing and no Mandarin). My goals were really low since I wasn’t fluent. As my kids’ Chinese started to improve, I started to push for goals for speaking, reading and writing. I have reached a point where I’m more at peace with our journey. My only goal now is for my kids to love the language and culture so that they will be intrinsically motivated to continue speaking and learning the language as they get older.

What resources do you use to teach Chinese at home?

At home we probably follow a more non-conventional way of learning languages than other Chinese bloggers. My family is able to communicate freely in any language - English, Cantonese, Mandarin or French. We have no restrictions.

My kids are immersed in Chinese in other ways - story books, songs, shows, apps, games and activities. These are all fun things that my kids enjoy. They are exposed to Chinese on a daily basis whether it be listening to songs together or reading Chinese books together. Chinese has become our special bonding time and my kids enjoy doing these activities together.

How do you choose which language to use with your children?

When I am with the kids, we talk in English or Chinglish since I am not fluent. If we are learning new things, I make sure the kids understand it in our dominant language, English, and then go back to understand it in Cantonese. I look for Cantonese contents in things that interest them or things that they are learning about at school. We watch videos and do activities more than once to really solidify the language and the kids’ understanding. 

Are there any other family members that speak Chinese with your children?

The kids’ paternal grandparents speak Chinese and do not speak or understand English. They get to spend time with their paternal grandma once a week. At first, it was hard for them to communicate since my kids were fluent in English. They used a lot of body language, pointing and movement to communicate. It helped when my kids were little that their grandma was open to playing with them. The kids would bring over toys and would show their grandma how to play while saying a few words here and there. Everything was very visual or physical. Overtime, communication has improved and now the kids are able to communicate with their grandma with ease. 

The kids favourite YouTube channel is Kala EE. She has such a fun and positive energy. Kala EE is a good level of Chinese for my kids. She uses a variety of simple and complex vocab in all her video. The simple vocab like colours are easy to understand and the complex vocab help expands their vocab. We really love her videos. 

My favourite tool for learning has been our Chameleon reader. I have downloaded audio of our favourite stories and have stickered our books so that the kids can read long over and over again independently. This has helped us tremendously improve our Chinese and expand their vocabulary. Our favourite story tellers are Cantonese Mommy and Eveline - Little Readers Club on FB.

What are the biggest obstacles in raising multilingual children?

One of the biggest obstacles I faced early on in our journey was finding age appropriate engaging resources that suited my kids and my Chinese level. It was so hard finding resources since I couldn’t read Chinese. I didn’t speak Chinese either. Even if I found videos on YouTube, I couldn’t really assess if the quality of the contents were good because I didn’t understand them. 

We learned at a very slow pace at the beginning. I had to outsource classes and resources. I wanted my kids to have access to native speakers. When the pandemic hit, the kids started taking online classes. We have tried numerous classes. The ones that engaged my kids the most were classes that had fun songs and stories. We took online classes from Eveline (Rhythm ‘N’ Rhyme), Dorothy (Locy Lee Learning), Cindy, and Janice. I found my kids surpassing my level of Chinese within just a few months.

Were there any times where you met resistance to learning Chinese?

There have been points where my kids have resisted Chinese. I never stop Chinese but I do reduce the exposure or change up our routine during those times because sometimes they need a mental break. Instead of trying to get my kids to read or speak more in Chinese during those times, we would do more passive learning like listening to a fun story or watching fun videos together. I’ve never had the kids resist Chinese for a long period of time. They always get back to it. 

Do you have any rewarding moments to share?

This whole journey has had many rewarding moments.

Moment #1:

For one, reading was never a part of my original plan. Never would I have imagined that my 7 year old would finish Sagebooks and Little Bean Cantonese, and would be actually reading picture books and bridge books! 

Moment #2:

Despite English being our first language, I have found my youngest daughter play and talk to herself in Cantonese on numerous occasions. I am amazed that my kids can switch their default language so effortlessly.

Moment #3:

I especially love seeing my kids connecting with their grandparents. This is why we started our journey! The kids have a lot of fun with their grandparents and it’s really rewarding seeing them have a strong relationship in a common language. They are able to talk, laugh and joke together. 

Is there a favourite celebration that you and your children enjoy together?

Chinese holidays are my kids favourite. We love preparing for the festival by cooking our favourite festive food, decorating our home and doing crafts for the different festivals. My kids have also taken up lion dancing and Chinese martial arts. They love telling their friends about all the different Chinese things they are learning. They are proud to be Chinese.

Cantonese has become more than just a second language that they are learning. It has become a part of who they are. 

Do you have any advice for parents who are undecided about starting Chinese at home?

My advice would be to just start! Don’t wait to become more fluent or to have more resources. Don’t overthink it or be overly ambitious at the beginning. Just start small with small attainable goals. Make it an enjoyable part of your every day routine so that you will be able to sustain it for years to come.

If you could wish for anything, what would you wish for to make this multilingual journey easier?

Regardless of Chinese fluency level, having a support system does make this multilingual journey easier. I have been fortunate to have this support system with friends and also with the online community. I am happy to know that HK pop culture is expanding again. My girls love listening to songs by COLLAR, Keung To and Anson Lo. They also love Kala EE and hope to meet her one day in HK. I hope to see more Canto pop songs and kid friendly content in the future.

What are your favourite books to read together with your child?

My 6 and 7 years old love reading. We have so many favourite books. Our favourite books at the moment are:

Wow!  That's a lot of wonderful resources and information! Thank you so much for taking your time to share your bilingual (quadrilingual) journey with us, Pauline!

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Pauline and Her Kids Book Recommendations

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