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Monday, December 29, 2014

"We're not Chinese kids we're English!"

Twelve years of my childhood were invested in weekly Saturday Chinese School lessons. I missed all the Saturday morning cartoons and whatever normal kids do on a Saturday morning - sleep in. At age 17 at the height of my maximum knowledge of written Chinese vocabulary, I could read the newspaper in Chinese (very slowly), read the Bible and write a lengthy note or birthday greeting to my Grandma and maybe even a short story or essay with some clever puns. Two years after that, I think I still retained most of the reading but the writing was fading fast. Gradually after 10 years, I can still sing the hymns at church, read the menu at a Chinese Restuarant and write out the order, as in copy the words by hand, write a christmas card, birthday card and thank you note in Chinese. But today, 20 years later, it shocked me that I had to think really hard about writing my own name in Chinese!! Do I want the same fate for my children?

My son doesn't quite believe that he is a Chinese person (though made in Canada eh?) and would call himself English or French. In fact, when I speak to him in Chinese he usually responds in French.  We have alot of languages in our household given that my husband and I are both fluent at the same level in Cantonese and English, but he is officially bilingual in French and English to federal standards. The kids go to a full time French School and I have to admit that while my daughter reads in both language, I'm sensing that French is the more dominant phonics when it comes to reading and writing.

We inadvertently decided it would be more important for them to be completely bilingual in French and English, that I almost let Chinese completely slip away. But miraculously, it has not. They can watch the Disney, Barbie and Batman movies in Chinese (official editions on DVD or VCD).  As well, then can ask for food and drinks and things related to cooking and transportation, or even how the moon goes around the earth, and the earth around the sun - in Chinese. However when it comes to matters of the heart or more complex scientific explanation or math, we slowly shift to English. I'm ok with that!

Today I had a proud moment though, when little Lincoln saw me writing a Christmas card in Chinese  that he started making some individual squarish spiny fishbone sketches and boasted that he was writing Chinese!!  He even asked me to teach him! I showed him how to write man or person, and he drew... you guessed it, Elsa in a dress. Well it's the same basic shape! Alot of my friends who are just like me, born and raised in Canada, who may or may not have attended Chinese school have sent their kids to Chinese school on Saturdays too! One friend's son the same age as Lincoln can recognize about 70 Chinese characters even though he only knows about 7 alphabets!! That just blows my mind, but it is indeed true that kids are capable of absorbing and retaining so much information if you teach them.

I also believe that they can also choose to learn to read and write Chinese at the university level in a three or four years' time just as easy as the other university students who might choose Chinese for a foreign language course or art credit. I've see this with my own eyes, a Westerner writing an essay or short answers on a Final Exam. I suppose it is the same way I learned Beginners and Intermediant Russian as a non-Science credit during my Engineering studies.

But most importantly I just want my kids to know that they are Chinese. A few years ago, when kids at a McDonald's play place approached Maggie and AJ to point out that they're Chinese, Maggie was furious! All night she kept telling me, "We're not Chinese kids, we're English! Someone should tell them that ok?"

In a way it's good that "race" is not an issue to them. Lincoln (he's four) just pointed out to me the other day that my hair is too black so I'm not like Elsa.... regardless, I just want them to know about being Chinese and be comfortable enough about being Chinese and Canadian at the same time.  I bought him the book published by Usborne Books "100 First Words in Chinese" Can't wait to read that with him.

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