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.
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.