Back in the language saddle

On Sunday morning, I sat down to write a blog post. It’s still only half finished. DoubleShot got up earlier than expected both Sunday and Monday so I didn’t have time to finish. So I decided to write something else for now.

With all of the last minute stresses and packing and rush of paperwork gathering before leaving for Taiwan, I studied very little Chinese in July. My flashcards are a very sad reflection of how little I have studied in the past six weeks.


The desktop app does not display exactly how many cards are due, just that there are over 1,000 of them. The phone app, however, tells me exactly how far I am behind – 1,258 cards due in just the vocabulary deck alone. I believe this number was originally over 1,400 but I spent some time yesterday and the day before reviewing cards.

To be honest, I am not sure that studying Chinese helped us in Taiwan or the past several weeks home. Yes, I can use survival phrases to talk to my daughter. I can ask if she’s hungry or needs to use the bathroom or if she’s tired. I can tell her what’s for dinner and where we are going. I cannot however ask if she is sad or if she misses her friends or what she thinks about any number of things. My writing skills are advanced enough for that but my speaking and listening skills are not. Maybe if I had joined a Chinese conversation class and actually practiced dialogue I would be able to do so. But I refuse to look back and regret the time I spent studying and what I should have done differently.

Learning more Chinese now may or may not be beneficial in my relationship with DoubleShot. She is adding new words and phrases to her speaking repertoire every day. Just yesterday she blurted out “all done!” when we finished our Candy Crush level. She knows a fair amount of English from her tutoring at the orphanage but is still gaining confidence to try speaking English with us.

So why bother? I want to be bilingual. I was planning to learn Japanese and had studied it for two years. Then we decided to adopt and I switched languages. I have learned much more Chinese in 1.5 years than I learned while studying Japanese because I learned HOW to study a language. Now that I’ve invested so much time in Chinese, I want to keep going. I want to go back to Taiwan and walk away from a cafe with more than a bagel. We are encouraging DoubleShot to retain her Chinese language skills and I want to be able to have a conversation with her in Chinese someday. We want to adopt again and maybe next time my Chinese will actually help in country and the first few weeks home.

I’ve read a number of blog and Facebook posts about how encouraging a child to retain their first language will slow down their acquisition of a second. That may be true. My husband is left out of a lot of the short exchanges between DoubleShot and I because he does not understand what is being said. But my daughter is already 13 years old and deserves to retain ties to her birth country if she wishes to do so. We are buying her books in Chinese and watch Taiwanese television shows. Just as I want to be bilingual, I want her to be bilingual. When she decides that she wants to be fluent in English, she’ll be more motivated than if I tried to force her.

Plus, DoubleShot so far has enjoyed sitting next to me and watching me study my flashcards. She laughs when I butcher the tones and prompts me when I can’t read a specific hanzi. And hopefully she’ll be able to see what vocabulary I do know and use that vocabulary when trying to tell me something.

I don’t know if there have been any relationship or psychological benefits due to my attempts at speaking Chinese with my daughter. Does it help our relationship in some way? Does it give her confidence to try speaking English? Does she feel loved because I have made an effort to bridge the language barrier? These are questions I won’t know the answer to for months or maybe even ever. There may be as of yet unseen benefits to all of the time and energy I’ve invested in studying Chinese.

Someday I want to be able to say that I can speak English and Chinese. Although I know how to say that sentence in Chinese, it’s not yet factual! Back to the studying I go!

2 Thoughts on “Back in the language saddle

  1. From my experience as an English as a Second Language teacher many years ago, fluency and literacy in the first language can actually assist in the acquisition of the second. The big thing is whether the child is motivated to learn a second language and not rely on the first one all the time. My two cents is that you are doing a good thing learning Chinese, it shows that you value her culture and that’s a huge part of who she is.

  2. She’s making daily improvements in her English skills! We’re teaching her really random vocabulary, things that are useful around the house. Yesterday Jeff taught her the word for scissors. The day before that, she learned the word “s’mores.” šŸ˜‰ It’s been fun to see her knowledge increase.

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