what the phase!?!? observations in phases

Birth to 4 Years Old: Taking Advantage of the Inevitable Screen Time for Chinese Language Learning Purposes

When we became parents, we ditched our TV set in an effort to delay screen time as much as possible. Yet, by age 2 our firstborn was able to get a hold of our laptops and cell phones, and we knew she'd get suckered in.

So, in order to use screen time to our advantage, she (and now her little brother) was allowed to watch the following:

  1. Chinese-language content (Peppa Pig in Cantonese, Llama Llama in Mandarin, Waffles + Mochi, Magic School Bus, bilingual/trilingual content that we put together, etc..)
  2. Educational English content (Coco Melon, exercise apps, Mommy & Me yoga, etc.)
  3. Trolls , Moana, Frozen and other movies they enjoy - usually with a female heroine or diverse cast of characters - only as a reward after naps, helping out, etc...and if we can help it, also in Chinese.

Then, when our Chinese-speaking Au Pair could not make it here due to pandemic restrictions, we needed to be more proactive about our Chinese language initiatives and create our own opportunities for Chinese of any sort to be heard around the house. We looked high and low for something more private, free, and didn't have restrictions on file size, duration, etc...but alas... That red "play" button of an icon definitely gets our kids' attention, so thank goodness for parental controls / YouTube Kids.

That said, creating this channel was definitely an act of desperation. You'd think it'd be easy to find Chinese speakers in California, but alas we landed in a predominantly Caucasian and Hispanic area, with very little Asian representation. So YuTube became our solution, experiment, and another way to document our progress, and learn/discover more Chinese language learning materials. And for those who don't know, our Chinese surname is 余 or Yu...pronounced "you" in English...hence YuTube:

The AWKWARD Beginnings of a One-Way Conversation

We kind of knew it, but becoming a parent also meant becoming a soapbox to our kids. If they are eventually going to ignore us anyway, might as well set the tone on our terms while we can.

When I first started talking to my kids in Cantonese, I was pretty much doing a monologue while holding them. Who knew if they heard any of it, or if they could differentiate the difference between talking and singing, but it was easily achievable while nursing. Usually, the setting was private and nonjudgemental, so it was a comfortable way to ease into practicing the dialect "on my own." But then when not nursing, I'd switch back to English for the day-to-day, and that became counterproductive. I had to force myself to make it a habit to speak to my kids only in Cantonese.

In theory, that's a great goal to achieve. In practice, I speak to them in Cantonese maybe 75% of the time...and that's being generous. When any English speakers are around, I still switch back to English. So I've had to distinguish whether I'm actually speaking English to effectively communicate / be on the same page with my husband, or if I'm just speaking English because it's easy. If it's the latter, I will make a mindful effort to switch back to Cantonese/Mandarin. Obviously, that relies heavily on my ability to check myself. At first, it was hard, but it does eventually become a natural, mechanical, response.

The hardest part was ignoring the instinct to speak what everybody else is speaking around us. Most of the time, people - other parents - totally understand. Very rarely do I have to explain that I'm not trying to be rude by ignoring or translating what they are saying while teaching my kids to speak Chinese. So, when I realized it was just a self-imposed mental roadblock, it was easier to overcome.

So far, at the age of 3 years and 3 months, our toddler's natural inclination is still to predominantly speak English, which I've developed a habit of translating for her back into Cantonese. As a result, she has started to respond to me in Cantonese...and even informed me of Tommy's poopy diaper in Cantonese the other day! “妈妈!弟弟屙臭臭!"(māamāa! daidai ō câucâu!) She also shouted 唔好掂! (m hôu dīm!) and konked him over the head for interrupting her precious screen time, which forced me to admonish her bout of violence...even though I was secretly proud of her instinctive choice of language used.

There are times when I'd have to pretend not to understand what she wants until it was communicated in Cantonese. And sometimes she'd choose not to respond at all, forcing me to be all kinds of redundant. Fortunately, I've had plenty of one-way conversations with them already, so persistence has become easier....however uncomfortable and awkward it has been to get into the habit of creating Chinese speaking opportunities for my hapas.

Updated: 2021-08-05

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