Posts Tagged 'language'

Getting schooled

Every parent must dread the point in their lives when their children start to outpace them in some way. Maybe in an athletic sport, or in an understanding of some new technology. JM remembers setting up the VCR for his parents as a teenager, because he was the only one who understood where all the cables went in and out.

For us, this moment has already arrived with our three year old.

Sometimes we speak Chinese to him at home, just to reinforce the language he spends the rest of the time speaking outside. But at this point, he’s started being the one to reinforce OUR Chinese.

JM in Chinese: "Leo, don’t eat too much candy. Your stomach will pain."

Leo in Chinese right back: "My stomach will hurt."

How does it feel to know that you have to watch what you say to your own three year old, lest you be corrected? We now know how it feels. Ouch.

Seeking New Editwr

The DVD industry is huge in China. Nearly as soon as a new movie is released in theaters, a street copy will show up in a slick plastic sleeve complete with an official looking insert. On closer look, that insert tends to make wild assertions and errors that make it quite comical. (Did you know Julia Roberts starred in "The Sound of Music"?)

But the synopsis descriptions on the back of the sleeve are sometimes hilariously mistyped, as if the person copying them has never used English in their life! Here is the one for the Disney/Pixar movie called "Cars."

Disney/POCAR Cars. The high-cotame adwerture comedy from the croalors of Tey Story, The Cocredioles ["The Incredibles"] and Finding Dietro, new looks and sound beter then ever in the Blu-ray Disc Crested from the original Digitd souce the. Hoeshol race car Ligtring McOueen (Oween Wison) is Fring Life in the Fast lans – line he lits a detour and gels sorarced in Fadictr Springs, ["gets stranded in Radiator Springs"]. A torrxitten town in House EE. There he meets Sally. Liater, Doe Hudson (Paul Newiten) and a heap of Vilrious ["hilarious"] characters who help him discover theres more is mie than bophies and lame.

If anyone has the latest edition of the Chinglish dictionary, let us know if you can decipher any of this- but we suspect this may be a dialect!

Back to my old tricks…

Well, it’s been fun re-cutting our Chinese chops this past week. It’s amazing how quickly we’ve become a bit rusty in the language after a couple of months of straight English. It’s coming back quickly though (thank goodness!), and we’re finding our way just fine.

It wouldn’t be right though, without one nice huge mistake to start the new year off. On the phone with our ayi, I told her that the characters in the note she left us were “ugly” instead of “difficult for me to read” – (characters are already difficult to read, and then try to read someone’s quick cursive handwriting). Luckily, as time goes on here, I am able to catch my own mistakes, and I quickly told her that her handwriting was not ugly, just difficult to read. She’s used to us by now though, and thought nothing of it.

Little whiteskin

Leo attracts the funniest remarks while out and about town. His skin is so pale in comparison with the deep tan of the Chinese. A common remark we hear in passing is “So cute! Such white skin!”

The other day while he was playing he attracted a small crowd of grandmas. One came right up to him and said to the rest in Chinese: “Look! Little whiteskin!”

Thoughts of old cowboy films flashed across my mind: “Me Redman. You take um horses and go.” The similarity to the old theatrical language was just too close to pass up a comparison!

The Neighborhood Watch

In the past two months, our Ayi has begun to take Leo outside to play during her shifts. Before that, we were a little too worried about him being outside without one of us. But now that he’s a big bad 18 month old 🙂 – we figure he can handle it and our nanny has proven herself capable of caring for him mostly according to our liking. She still puts multiple layers of clothing on him (sometimes he’s a little too warm when I get home, and I have to strip a layer or two off), and every once in a while she sneaks in a few contraband crackers/sweets, but for the most part, she honors our standards. We joke that she is like his Chinese grandma, and she feels that way too. After 10 months of caring for him, the two of them are peas in a pod in some ways.

A few days after I agreed to let her take Leo out during her shifts, I was doing some shopping at the vegetable market down our street. As usual, the neighbors were all gathered on the street, chatting and joking around. Two ladies and a security guard began playing with Leo, and soon another little boy about his age was in on the action. As they were all having a good time laughing at the little ones trying to climb onto a few stools they had set out, I began chatting with a couple of neighborhood ladies. They instantly began to tell me how things were going with Leo and our nanny. The ladies gave me a full report on their activities outside – how long they were out, what they did, where they went, and who they talked to and played with. I gladly received this information, because although I knew that it was good for Leo to get out of the house with Ayi, it still makes me nervous, even now. I had reiterated a list of rules for her (don’t let other people kiss him, take him out of your sight, or feed him anything, and watch him like a hawk, because he moves fast and the streets are narrow), but all rules aside, it was new territory for me as a mother to have Leo outside in China without a parent. I apparently had nothing to worry about though, because everyone in our neighborhood knows Leo and they were keeping an eye on him just as our ayi was. The report was mostly positive; the ladies’ only exception was that they felt Leo was out a bit too long for his own good.

One of the ladies then asked me, “Does your ayi have culture?” This took me a few seconds to digest, and I truly wasn’t sure how to respond. I sort of knew the answer was no, but I didn’t have any intention of belittling our ayi. I wasn’t sure if I said yes, was I going to look silly? If I said no, was I going to be speaking unkindly? This is one of the challenges of language, the uncertainty of the nuances and meanings of certain words in certain circumstances. I didn’t have to worry about how to answer for long though, because the other lady piped in, “Certainly she does not have culture; she’s from the countryside.” So I surmised that culture meant being from the city and having some education. They didn’t approve of this either, but I assured them that she was very warm and loved Leo very much, and it didn’t matter to us that she was from the countryside. They seemed to accept this. In some ways, being a foreigner is easier than being a local because we can get away with not conforming to certain social standards because we are outsiders. So if I think it’s okay to have an uncultured nanny for my son, then people are for the most part accepting of that and chalk it up to me being a foreigner, even if they think it’s wrong.

Speaking of the language, Leo is starting to sound more and more Chinese as the days pass. We are starting to be more intentional about speaking English with him, as his Chinese is arguably better than his English at the moment. I come home from work to find Leo saying, “Dui!” (Yes or Correct) and “Diaole!” (It fell!) and “Baobao” (Pick me up!). His language is a bit behind his peers, but his comprehension is not. Which, from all reports we’ve heard of children raised in bilingual settings, this language lag is pretty normal and he should catch up as the Chinese and English sort themselves out in his mind. The funniest part is that recently, I’ve had people begin to ask me (when just the two of us are out together) if his Dad is Chinese. People even debate about which of his facial characteristics come from his father (who must be Chinese). Last time I checked, JM was most certainly European American, and I do explain this to dubious strangers on busses and in stores. I really think that the people of China just want to claim Leo as their own, and who can blame them? He’s a pretty cute kid!

You are just too annoying!

It often happens here that we’d like to thank people for their kindness. Like the wonderful lovely waitress at our favorite Indian restaurant who gave us a free order of nan on our anniversary and who watches Leo for us for a few minutes so we can eat. Or, another example, when JM was in Tibet and I was having trouble one night with a very tired Leo who needed to go to bed, the restaurant at the bottom of our building delivered dinner to my door without asking for anything in return. These are the moments, among many here, for which we are very grateful for people’s help and generosity. Naturally we want to say thank you, and tell people how kind they are.

Now, here’s where things went wrong for a while. It turns out that I’ve been mispronouncing the word “kind” for a good number of months. And, unfortunately, my pronunciation does make another real Chinese word. It’s also an adjective, so it’s pretty close. Except it means “annoying” rather than kind. Oops. So I’ve been telling our sweet waitress how annoying she’s been when she’s watched Leo for us, and thanked our generous downstairs restaurant owners for being so annoying. Nice of me, eh?

Thankfully, actions speak louder than words, so I’ve never offended anyone. It’s clear by my smile and behavior that I’m grateful and not annoyed. But I am grateful that I now know, and can look a little less foolish and a little more polished in the future. No one has ever corrected my pronunciation (it’s a rare thing here anyway; I actually wish people corrected me more often!). I only found out because JM and I were having a debate over it in a taxi one day, and we looked it up at home (I lost that debate!).

Animal intelligence

We are proud to say that Leo is now as smart as a dog!

He has been watching his baby videos a lot lately, one of which explains basic body motions: waving, jumping, spinning, etc. One day we told him to sit down. He looked us straight in the eye, and sat down on the floor.

We have a baby who can follow directions on an animal intelligence level!

But what is even better is that Leo is as smart as a Chinese dog. When Leo climbs on our chair, his nanny tells him in Chinese, “Climb down!” He understands her! In fact, he understands many of her directions, including to give her a kiss, to come over, and even when not to do something.

He must have heard this last one a lot, because now he repeats the words himself, in Chinese! “Bu yao!” – the most important word that children learn in early years – “No!”

Leo has a big head start in a language that has taken us full time study to grasp even a beginner’s command. We’re eager for him to graduate to full rational speech, a bilingual one at that!