Articles Tagged with trilingual

Is My Own Trilingualism Becoming An Obstacle To Nina’s?

200910-04I speak all three languages (Mandarin, English, French) in which we are raising Nina, although we adopt OPOL (one parent one language) method at home – I speak Mandarin with Nina, and Nicolas speaks French with her. Being a native speaker of Mandarin I am certainly the biggest source of regular Mandarin input for Nina. And I am proud of that.

However recently I have been thinking if my own capability of speaking three languages actually has, ironically, become an obstacle in Nina’s capability of learning them, especially Mandarin.

At about 2 months shy from turning three, she understands Mandarin perfectly, but she doesn’t speak as many Mandarin as French (French currently is her strongest language especially when it comes to verbal production). If she spends long enough hours in a day just with me, or if I prompt her to speak in Mandarin for certain things, she would produce more Mandarin. Lately I have also learnt some techniques in having her speak more Mandarin (or in any language really). However left alone, she seems to use French sentence structure as her base of constructing verbal language generally.

That got me thinking: what if I didn’t speak/understand French at all or just at very basic level?

Would then she learn, over time, that ‘mm mama doesn’t understand me, so I have to find a way to let her know that I want to eat that ice-cream’, so that would leave her no choice but to communicate with me only in Mandarin?

Would I then stick to reading just Mandarin books, as I am not capable of reading books in the other two languages? Currently I would pretty much read whichever book that she asks me to or that comes in handy. And I have dilemma on which language to read the books in, which is an ongoing dilemma.

Would it then also change the language dynamics in the whole family, esp that Nicolas and I would speak more Mandarin than anything else, so Nina would get a lot more Mandarin input overall at home? Currently we speak French between two of us.

These are of course just theoretical questions that I will have no way to find out the answer – and I am not even attempted to try by pretending that I don’t speak the other two languages well enough. I enjoy many advantages of being trilingual – including seeing the confused faces of strangers trying to figure out my accent 🙂 But perhaps like almost everything in life, it also comes with a price.

Big Challenge Post-Travel For a Little Person

Post-travel adaptation has proven to be massively challenging for Nina.

We started to send her to a casual day care about 10 days after we came back from our trip, 3 mornings a week to start with (despite our intention to go straight full day). The first 2 weeks turned out to be simply disastrous. She would scream, cry, stomp on her feet for a surprisingly long time after we dropped her off – once for 1.5hours straight. She would refuse to get off the car in the morning. She refused to eat and drink at day care (she still didn’t eat after 4 weeks). She simply just hated the idea of going to the day care.

Just overnight, we found our child turned into a monster child. She became so irritable, so angry at just about everything and anything, and so unpredictable. She was no longer the child that I knew of, during the long travel, who was easy to adapt, easy to please most of time, and easy with changes.

As a parent, it’s both heart-breaking and exhausting to see my own child like this.

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Then I reflected. She indeed had her fair share of reasons for what she had become of. After all, not only did she find herself surrounded at day care by lots of strange faces except her parents’ with whom she had spent the last 10 months day and night, but also she was not able to understand and be understood verbally.

By the time of coming back to Sydney, we had spent our 9+ months travelling mostly in Spanish speaking countries (6 months), plus a bit of French and English speaking environments. As we spoke only French and Mandarin among three of us, she understood French and Mandarin perfectly and started to express herself in mostly French and also some Mandarin. We were no longer sure about her English comprehension after a while although English expression was certainly close to zero.

Suddenly she was thrown in this strange environment where she lost all of points of references – languages, familiar faces, things to do, setting (group vs being the only kid most of time). It’s a whole new different routine for her. It must have been terrifying, coming to think of it. She must have felt utterly unsafe. She must then have decided to defend herself in a dramatic fashion.

The carers had told us that she spent most of her day observing other kids. She wouldn’t normally participate in group activities. She tended to prefer to spend time with younger kids because ‘they were quieter’. She preferred to stay with an adult (carer) than with other kids.

I wondered how much of these was contributed by the fact of her lack of understanding in English.

When she was really upset during the first week, once the carer managed to get another Mandarin-speaking parent to tell Nina that ‘your mummy is coming soon to pick you up’, Nina smiled for the first time that day.

Then as expected a classic scenario played out. One day when I picked Nina up, one carer made a comment that we as parents should try to speak English to her at home.

I know she meant well. And it sounded logic. After all, Nina was suffering, obviously.

And this was the moment of truth. The moment to test how strong we believed in what we were doing. I have been an advocate of ‘speaking the minority language at home as much as possible’, and has always believed that kids would just get on with the school language so much more easily. Home would be the only constant source of her Mandarin and French input, and we needed to do whatever in our control not to take this source away.

It’s not without doubt, we carried on with our OPOL (one parent one language) approach, and decided to have faith in Nina and ourselves. If we didn’t, who would? At least we should give ourselves a bit more time before changing our gears.

Things have been improving fortunately. She is still by no means a fan of the day care but at least she now comes to accept it as part of her life. A few times we got away from daycare without her shedding tears. She still doesn’t eat anything at day care but at least now she sits down at the table with other kids. She still prefers to be on her own most of time, but she now likes the story time with other kids (although she chooses to stand at the back of the room instead of sitting down with other kids). At home, she started to re-collect herself. Tantrum became less, and more reasonably controllable.

One day Nicolas went to a playground with Nina. She pointed to the slide and said ‘yellow’, in English!

Another day, she came back home from daycare and started to say ‘peekaboo’ while playing the game. That must have been the game of the day at the day care, as we never used ‘peekaboo’ as the word to describe the game.

When I was reading a book with her one evening, with many beads on a page, she surprised me with ‘one, two, three, four …’ while pointing at the beads. I was thrilled. And I was jealous. She had never counted beyond three in Mandarin so far… And then of course, she went on saying ‘… six, seven, nine’.

She sounded very proud of herself. And I think she should be proud of herself. It has been a very dramatic month, and she’s learning how to cope. It’s a big challenge that this little person is taking up.

[D59] A Feast of Argentinian Grill

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D59, Feb 13, BA

One week into Argentina, we  were finally psychologically and physically ready to tackle the late dine out. Nina has auto-adjusted somehow into a quite Latino schedule now for the last few days: wake up at 10am, breakfast at 10:30, lunch at 2pm, nap at 4pm, snack at 6pm and dinner at nearly 9pm.

Buenos Aires is certainly a night life city. At 8pm when I sometimes walked back with Nina from the nearby playground, I saw people just having their afternoon tea or coffee in the bars. It’s only logical – you need something to get the stomach to wait for the dinner that won’t start till 9pm the earliest.

After playground and bath, at 9pm tonight, we walked into the lovely ambianced but deserted restaurant La Peña del Colorado just around the corner. The only other table had three ladies obviously just having their pre-diner drinks. Our landlord and Lonely Planet both recommended the restaurant so it seems to be a safe option. And the walking distance to home also gave us peace of mind that we could quickly retreat if it turned out to be too much for Nina at the late hour. It’s restaurant plus show stage (a quite common set up apparently in this city) with live show option. We decided, with much hesitation, on diner only instead of diner+show as the show would start only at 10pm we were told, and we did not know how Nina would react any time from now.

Among a long list of parrilladas with all parts/meats to be ordered separately on the menu, we choose the set menu for two to avoid embarrassment of ordering funny parts, plus an empanadas and salad for Nina to eat as soon as possible. A bottle of Argentinian wine? Yes please. They didn’t have any option to have a glass only anyway. The order, of course, was all done with lots of trying Spanish, hand gesture, and guess from both sides. I took photos of the menu to enrich my Spanish vocabulary, which has been increasing since our arrival in a painfully slow pace.

Parrilladas turned out not to be like the Brazilian grill (which was, innocently, as south American as I got to know in terms of grill), but more like Korean BBQ, at least in terms of the presentation. The waiter brought a tray with all kinds of meat part sizzling in it still, and put on a high stool next to our table. A huge tray that was! Some ribs, some steak, some sausage, some liver, and some tripe as we discovered. It’s a volume way more that we three could handle. Nina loved the ribs the most – a bone sucking child she was. It certainly was a feast of meat.

After the three ladies of the next table left, we were the only customers in the restaurant for a long while. While we waited for our order to arrive, Nina drew (the drawing equipment has been our life saver in the long wait in restaurants), we made sure the bottle descend. The tango lesson (offered from 8:30pm, which again seemed to be a common set up in some restaurants) finished but the much expected show was nowhere to be seen. At 10pm, a few other diners just started to walk in. Now I finally started to appreciate where my Mexican apartment-mates in France got her later-dinner habit from. But I wonder, for the families with young children, how did it work? Did they simply keep the kids up late, or did they actually have to cut themselves from social life once a child was born (well parents all over the world seemed to do this anyway)?

At 10:30pm, Nina was still showing amazing capability to handle late night meat dinner. With the bottle now empty, we decided it’s only reasonable to call it a night and not to test Nina’s limit (she might explode any time). The show would be for next time. Alas, we were after all not yet Latinos.

We were presented with a bill (surprisingly reasonable at $310 – about US$30, esp after the ridiculous expensive and horrible tasting fast food lunch at zoo earlier today), as usual marked ‘10% tip is not included’. Should I feel insulted that they thought we might escape tipping or should I feel grateful that they just wanted to help us avoiding being ridiculous?  This was not the first time, nor would be the last time.

P.S: to follow our RTW experience: Trilingual Family blog, or join Trilingual Family facebook group

D36 – 43, London

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D36, Jan 21, London.

When the day started sunny, it’s time to leave. We flew to London (Gatwick) from Nice airport with British Airways. It’s amazingly cheap flight, about euro180 for all three of us (we took one person with luggage and 2 others with hand luggage only, with saved 20 per person). It’s the same price as easyjet as easyjet charged additional for all check in luggage as well as food. Sometimes it’s worth shopping around although I tended not to do enough of it.

The first 30min was flying over the Alps with snow capped mountains. Very pretty. Nina sat on her own for landing.

London was sunny but chilly, and big. We took one train, one tube and one bus to get to Nicolas’ brother O’s place.  We went to a nearby playground to play, yes, in the cold, and quickly retreated to a tea house for afternoon tea. After all we were in London, the home of English tea.

What strikes me most was the colours of the doors of the semi houses in the neighbourhood. Rather homogeneous house, dashing variety of door colours!

Olivier family house was being renovated with taste and style. Like it.

Then the family all came back home one after another. A typical weekday evening for a household with 2 school kids I guess, dinner, shower, homework, a bit of tv, chat, and bed. Ah home.

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D37, Jan 22, London

Nina woke up before 6am screaming. Was she having a bad dream or just het nappy was overflowing? We wouldn’t know. But we changed her and for the first time took her to our bed to finish off the sleep. It wasn’t too bad. At least we now knew that we could share a bed when it came to it. Well, the priority in such a trip was really all about these mundane things: sleeping, bedding, eating. Plus a bit of other things such as sightseeing and experiencing.

We set off at 10 for our big day. It stopped raining, even sunshine once in a while, but freezing cold. Took bus 94 to Queensway stop, to Princess Diana’s park, aka, Peter Pan themed playground. Big, pirate ship, tepees etc, squirrels, quite cute. Nina couldn’t care less about all these themed things though. For her it’s a giant [playground with squirrels to chase after, and that was good enough. Then we had to walk through the vast royal park and Hyde park to find a lunch place as she started to make the ‘I’m hungry’ noise . We ended up in the cafe of Natural History Museum. A huge salad for £6 was more than reasonable.

The museum itself was gigantic, filled with fascinating stuff: stones, dinosaurs, whales, simulation of wind and current etc. Dinosaurs were one of the highlights – all these casts, reconstruction, models were vividly presented in front of us. I particularly – Nina too – liked the elevated walk to see these giants from their height. The building itself was highly elaborated already – I later learnt that the building was actually purposefully designed and constructed for being a museum. All these for free (well donation recommended). That’s really what showed the glory of a country.

Passed by Victoria and Albert Museum, a glance over the hall, interesting exhibition of design I suppose. An extremely good looking neighborhood I have to say – one of the most expensive ones I suppose as well. Where the French school is.

Harrods. Yes good looking tea and chocolate room, but apart from that, really just another luxury shopping mall. Not my cup of tea.

Then our mission to come back home. 3 metro lines, long flights of stairs with no lift, bus, walk… It took us about 1h30 to get back home. Do I want to live again in a big city like London?

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D38, Jan 23, London

By the time we waited for rain to stop to leave home and got off the London bridge stop, we found ourselves right in front of Bourough market. What a treat!! A beautifully curated upscale market, yet remained authentic market feel: lots of producers, small stands, takeaway, eat while walking, etc. Lots of French products we noticed. Had a confit de canard sandwich, freshly made pasta with ingredients coming from Italy as they proudly claimed, and omelet (the least successful among all).

Then walked down along the Thames. Southward cathedral that Nina loved to run wild. Luckily it’s weekday hence not much people around.

Shakespeare Globe that was rebuilt on the same site as where Shakespeare once played, an open air theatre still. I wish I could visit by taking a tour next time, or even better watch a play. Nina needed to be more tamed for doing all these with us 🙂

New Tate. Indeed a bit disappointing as there was not much that really strike me – I had a much more favorable memory from last time’s visit (10 yrs ago almost!) . But the visitors who were drawing on the tablet board next to the cafe was doing some fascinating work. The view onto London from the cafe was fabulous too.

Walked through the millennium bridge to the other side, past by St Paul’s, took our train home.

Nina started to love bath in the big bath tube, twice a day these days!

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D39, Jan 24, London

For a change I went along with S, my sister in law, to her yoga class. Flow yoga …dynamic to say the least. A real sport. I expected some muscle reactions. The class was organized with some mothers of the French school, so it’s a French speaking yoga class, in London. Life could be funny. I’m glad I got to peek into a bit of local (albeit expat) life here in London.

After lunch, I proposed to bring Nina out while Nicolas stayed home to rest, because he looked exhausted. We went to British museum. Well it’s nowhere near as interesting as Natural History Museum as far as Nina was concerned, because everything was inside a box or a case, there was nothing to touch. So I became her only source of entertainment… hide and seek, chasing … She felt asleep finally to leave me watch the tea ceremony demonstration in Japan area (one has to be patient to get his tea to drink), and the fascinating Mesopotamia area (mental note, have to visit Iran and around one day). Their so-called level access lift was a funny little device that you had to keep pressing the button to move up or down (normally often just one meter high).

The metro system in London is among the oldest (if not THE oldest) in the world. Hence, no lift in most stations. Well, I used my sheer muscle power to carry the pram (which is called buggies or push chair here). Up and down the stairs. Most of time there was someone coming forward to help nicely but not always.

The weather kept surprising me, no rain, even sunny from time to time.

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D40, Jan 25, London. 

It’s Saturday, the B. family were all free today, and we were going to eat Chinese! A quite fusion one called Yauatcha唐茶苑. Some really good dim sum. They also had a quite impressive collection of desserts, such as macaroni, a concept non-Chinese but with Chinese flavor such as red bean, peanut, five spice flavor. They had an enormous red horse at shop front and many tiny red horses in every corner of the restaurant. It’s for the upcoming Chinese New Year. Nina absolutely loved every fish in the fish tank. She is a real Chinese. E started to claim that he’s 12.5% Aussie and 12.5% Chinese because of his cousin.

Passed by several really cool shops, such as B1866 for the accessories of bikes, and a chocolaterie called Said (with really good hot chocolate according to Z a connoisseur of chocolate, and tiny cup/spoon etc made from chocolate).  This was one upside of living in a metropolitan city, with all cool varieties.

China town was fully decorated to the Chinese new year, red lanterns, horses. You name it.

Covent garden: without all these crowds it must be a lovely place. Apple had a prime place and building for displaying their gadgets.

Pub dinner with boys while 2 girls of the family went to ballet at royal opera house. Tonight turned out to be Scottish Burns Night – haggis, whiskey, poetry. Burns was a poet. Bought the very delicious pamelo. It brought back the memory of my childhood – a winter fruit, a treat normally happening around new year.

D41, Jan 26. London

Today was Australian Day. It looked another sunny day in Sydney. It’s my first Australian day as an Aussie.

We were to meet my old friend In. and her hubby E. and son A. at Natural History Museum at 2:30pm. At 1:30 we finished lunch nearby and were horrified by the length of the queue (feels like back in China), hence went to V&A next door which had no queue. It turned out I had already waited for more than 30min in the queue and were still 10 more minutes to go. We finally settled at the cafe in V&A, thanks to Nicolas who found a table among an overcrowded cafe. I have to say the cafe was extremely well decorated with the real art works and sculptures dotted around under a Victorian dome style roof. Last time when l met In it was in Shanghai, more than at least 6yrs ago. We first met in Alliance Francaise in Shanghai over our weekend French class, then a few years later bumped each other in the bathroom of ESC Grenoble in France, and since loosely kept contact through facebook. She stayed in Europe (France then England) while I moved back to Shanghai then to Sydney. Things had changed for both of us, but there was something magic about meeting old friends, as if time flew by in speed and years of life was condensed into a pot of tea.

I found Nina now was a bit more comfortable with strangers. Perhaps it was the constant change during the trip that helped her to get used to the idea of new faces and new things? She even signaled to hold A’s hands (yet been refused :)).

When we returned to the NHM to see the dinosaur, there was still a long line in front of the dinosaur section. Weekend was not a time to visit these popular places.

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D42, Jan 27, London

We woke up to an almost blue sky! Wondered off to St James’ Park as suggested by my friend Z.Y. Indeed an oasis in the middle of the city. Massive, lots of birds and animals including squirrels and pelicans. Views onto London eye. Then we saw the horse polices blocking off the road, and heard the  music. Nina wanted to see 马 /horse. I told her it’s .警察阿姨, then the whole day she was just practicing 马,阿姨. It’s in fact the guardians who were going to the relay/change ceremony (is it how you say it?), that passed right in front of our eyes.  But when we got closer to the Buckingham Palace I was shocked by the amount of people waiting to watch the ceremony. The polices were nice enough though to allow the kids and prams to come forward to see the passing parade a bit more closely.

A few days ago, Nina saw me walk into the room and said 妈妈来了. That was the first sentence she said which that actually made sense. She hasn’t since reproduced it but I’m quite happy with her progress despite the fact that she still didn’t say much to the date. She most certainly understood what she was hearing and trying to reproduce.

After having a quick lunch at pret-a-manger (many French influence in the London culinary scene), we headed out to Science Museum. Through back streets at my request. We passed by a neighborhood full of embassies.

Science museum. Nina slept 1h30 through the visit. I learnt that mini motor was revolutionary in the industry (so powerful yet taking so little space), what astronauts eat (those going to mars for a project of 3 yes will have to learn how to grow  certain things themselves), 3-wheeled cars etc. E. joined us after his school. He had his first pearl tae (called bubble tea here in England) in life and apparently loved it (got his second one then). Came back hoe with a big chocolate cake.

Likely the last dinner cooked by someone else in the months to come.

Ping pong match before dinner on the dinner table.

Nina loved taking bath in this house. I probably had already mentioned it.

D43, Jan 28, london-Paris.

After a short visit to Ravenscourt park, time to leave. Taxi came to took us to st Pancras station to take Eurostar. Immense station. In an old building, renovated. Eat. Passed the custom. Just 2 hrs of train, seeming longer as Nina was nonstop till the last 30min (of course!). Taxi through Paris to arrive chez nous ( j c & Ch’s home which they kindly allowed us to stay as they were away). It’s 1hr ahead here than London. Figured out all the switches, made the beds. I felt asleep in the couch while watching Star War.

P.S: to follow our RTW experience: Trilingual Family blog, or join Trilingual Family facebook group.

More, 还要啊, & Encore

Nina and Laura the cat
Nina and Laura the cat

One of the first words Nina started to speak was ‘more’, to indicate that she wanted more food, or she liked the game, or to identify anything that she liked.

One month later, she started to say ‘还要啊’ when hearing many time from me to ask for more food.

Since we arrived in France almost three weeks ago, she quickly learnt that most people here would react favourably to her demand when she said ‘encore’.

Now she tries her luck often in all three versions of asking for more, so to increase her chance of success. Of course if she got what she wanted at the first try, this little person would just stop trying and got on with what she just got, which very often would be a mandarin!

This is the second word that she knows in all three languages (English, Mandarin, French). The first one was ‘ta (as in thanks)’, ‘merci’, and ‘谢谢’,although I suspect she already forgot ‘ta’ as I haven’t heard it for a while.

But with this said, you never know, because the duration of memory of a child is actually quite amazing as I learnt the other day. I was pointing to an Ostrich when saying 鸵鸟  to her. Just as I thought she perhaps didn’t register anything as it’s quite a difficult word to pronounce, she said ‘走啊走,走啊走’.  I was amazed because indeed there was an ostrich in a Chinese book back at home in Sydney when it demonstrated how different animals walk with the rhyme of the text ‘走啊走,走啊走 that went with it. The last tine when we read the book was at least three weeks ago already, and we didn’t even read that book very often. Yet she remembered the text when seeing an ostrich.

If ever we were able to find a way to get into a child’s brain and see what happens there, it must be really amazing.

P.S: to follow our RTW experience: Trilingual Family blog, or join Trilingual Family facebook group.