My 3 year old daughter used to yell “Stop Daddy”, whenever I talked to my mom in Chinese. She didn’t like feeling like she was left out of the conversation, and she let us know in no uncertain terms. It was partly my fault she never learned to speak Chinese, as her other parent is a Caucasian, English-only speaker. If she was going to learn it was going to require my talking to her in Chinese, which never happened often enough.
So obviously it touched a nerve when fellow 8asians blogger, Ernie sent me this article titled “Our Child Only Speaks English and It’s Okay”. I have to commend Bonnie Gray (the Chinese American author of the article) for being able to rationalize the decision to not teach her child Chinese in addition to English.
For us it wasn’t so much a decision, but a matter of fate. We had always wanted our daughter to be bilingual, and we thought it would happen because both my parents lived with us. So I told my parents to speak only Chinese to my daughter, and we parents stuck to English, as my Mandarin was only so-so anyway, with Taiwanese being the language I was fluent in (the reasons behind that are another story for another time).
My dad passed away when our daughter was only 9 months old, but that wasn’t a surprise to us, as his failing health was the reason they moved in with us. What we didn’t expect was that my mom would decline in health, and spend less time with our daughter than anticipated.
One sad part of all of this is our daughter is finally at the age where she’s interested in learning Chinese, and my attempts to teach her broken Mandarin aren’t going very far. I have some solace in that I’m not alone in this phenomenon of English-only children, as another fellow 8asians blogger Jeff sent me a link to an article he wrote about his kids growing up but not learning Tagalog.
What bothers me most of all though, is that I feel not knowing Chinese will distance my daughter from many of her wonderful relatives who still live in Taiwan and China. I tell myself, it’s my job to make sure she meets them all when she gets a little older, and I just hope I keep my promise to her.