Mao, Meow and Cat

Despite being an English teacher, I speak Mandarin to my children. I want them to grow up in a bilingual environment, and if possible, multilingual. Even though I am clearly more at ease speaking English, I am better at Mandarin than my husband, so I am the one who speaks that to my children.

El is more fluent in English, but I still soldier on. Thank goodness my colleague who sits beside me is from China, so we speak to each other in Mandarin, and I slowly become more comfortable. Anyway, more people think I am a Chinese language teacher instead of an English teacher. Yes, and that includes my husband when he saw me for the first time.

El is quite advanced in reading English. His pediatrician said that he has asynchronous development, as he started spelling words instead of saying them. He was saying ‘b-u-s’ and ‘c-a-t’ before he could say the actual words. So I guess I can forget about spelling words to my husband if we want to speak secretly.

One day, my mother-in-law told me he was reading his Chinese notes on the rhymes for Term 3. I was very shocked as he had showed no interest in the Chinese flash cards I had shown him. How did he manage to learn the Chinese characters? Perhaps he might have memorised the poems.

However, I discovered that he was actually reading the hanyu pinyin. I was flipping through a book in Chinese language about animals. He was reading the names of these animals in Mandarin aloud. I thought he had learnt all the animals, but I finally realised that he was reading the hanyu pinyin aloud when he mispronounced ‘goose’ as ‘e’. The ‘e’ sound in Chinese was closer to ‘er’ sound.

I got him a book on hanyu pinyin, and went through bopomofo with him. It was the Chinese hanyu pinyin alphabet. One day later, he read the whole list to me with almost accurate sounds.

Just recently, he came home with an Elmo book he got in a goodie bag from one of his classmates celebrating his birthday. I saw he had written some random letters beside some animals, and asked him what he was writing. Earlier he had written the word ‘banana’ beside a drawing of a banana.

What on earth was he writing, I thought.

“‘Mao’,” he said in a matter of fact tone.

Mao for Cat in hanyu pinyin

Mao for Cat in hanyu pinyin

I suddenly realised that he had written down the hanyu pinyin of the animals. Some appeared weird because he had spelt them wrongly, such as ‘na’ instead of ‘niao’ for bird.

I corrected him and he made the changes swiftly.

I have no idea why he decided to write the hanyu pinyin. It just seemed so natural.

Once we were done with that page, he asked me to draw a bird on the corresponding page.

It was only just recently that he had been calling the cat ‘Xiao Hua Meow’ instead of ‘Mao’.

This boy never ceases to amaze me.

It’s A Jungle Out There

I bought El, my elder son who is turning 3, a book where you can join the dots according to the numbers. It was a cheap book and I got it from a supermarket on my way home one day.

Bumble Bee collecting pollen

Bumble Bee

He was joining some numbers, and asked me what the picture was. I told him that it was a bumblebee. He thought for a while and said, “I think it is a honeybee, not a bumblebee.” Hence I went to google, and golly, he’s right. Honeybees are slender, with uniform black and yellow stripes, and bumblebees are more pudgy and hairier. See this website about honeybee vs bumblebee.

After that, he traced a creature that had spots, and again he asked me what it was. Maybe it’s a snake. No, it should be a salamander, he said. I didn’t even know how salamanders look like, except that they have four legs. His lines were haphazard so it was hard to tell from the picture whether the reptile had legs. However, there were big spots on the animal. Google showed me a salamander with a black body and yellow spots, just like that drawing.

Spotted Salamander on Leaf

Spotted salamader, photo by Tom Tyning.

Looks like I need to read up more on his favourite topics. I guess I better find out what a newt looks like. It took me some time before I discovered how to tell leopard, cheetah, jaguar, cougar, puma, mountain lion, and panther apart. Jaguars are mainly from central and south America, and they are more muscular compared to leopards. Cougar, puma, mountain lion and mountain cat are the same animal, just that they are known differently in different regions. These words come from Spanish, Portuguese, and Quechua among others.

Cheetah is the fastest animal. Its body is quite different. Leopards have rosette shaped markings, a ring with black inside, while cheetahs have solid spots. Leopards can be found in Africa and Asia. Panthers? They are either black jaguars or black leopards.

I’m having a wild guess that Germans really love these animals, to the extent that they name cars, army tanks, and sportswear after these creatures.

Word Play and Limerick

What does a bird have to do with Chinese food? Plenty, it seems, at least to my son.

El enjoys the sounds of various words, and words that sound alike. He is able to speak English pretty fluently, some Mandarin with a sing song English accent, and some Cantonese.

My mother had been driving him to school for the past few months, but that day we had gone out earlier, so I was driving. My mother asked him whether he liked ‘dougan’, or bean curd.She had just cooked it for dinner the day before, and hoped he had eaten it.

He said he liked it, and he suddenly became very amused. After a while he said that there were two types of ‘dougan’. One was an animal, and the other was food. He started giggling.

It took me a few seconds to know what he was talking about. Thank goodness I had been reading up on some animals.

“What type of animal is the ‘dougan’?” I asked, as I turned out of the expressway.

After a few moments, he said it was a bird.

“Are you talking about the toucan?” I replied, while sneaking a glance at him who was in the backseat.

“Yes,” he said.

I spelt the word for him, just to confirm.

He must have thought both words were the same, but he understood the difference in the meanings.

So I had to explained to him how different the two words were.

Alright, here it goes. I’ve decided to come up with my first ever limerick. It could be much better.

There was a bird, a Toucan
which loved to eat some Dougan
It wanted to steal
But had an ordeal
When sadly caught by a Shogun

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