Thursday, May 5, 2011

Baby steps toward bilingualism

It was the best of days; it was the worst of days. The 'worst' part is me suffering from multiple simultaneous health problems, the most presentable of which is a chest/throat/head cold that is threatening to choke me to death. It's a secondary infection, which makes me think of pneumonia, but it probably isn't real pneumonia. (If it is, you can all admonish me later on for not seeing a doctor.)

The 'best' part involves AwesomeCloud speaking Hanyu (AKA Mandarin Chinese).

I can't explain my reasoning, but it seems that somehow, once speech therapy started, I began to develop an inordinate interest in speaking Hanyu to him. He's had Early Intervention speech therapy, but it ended last March, and nothing like this happened then. But now we have him in preschool-related speech therapy. His first session was Monday; his second session was today.

This morning, I put a Chinese cartoon in the DVD player. It featured Lan Mao (Blue Cat), an obnoxious character played by a man who speaks like himself and doesn't even try to do a cartoony voice. Lan Mao's face is apparently used on a lot of merchandise in China, like baby formula and plastic toys. His voice may make him sound as if he probably has a cigarette in one hand, but apparently he's popular with the kiddies.

There were also lots of CGI dinosaurs.

I don't know what that was all about; don't ask me. It was entirely in Hanyu. (Interestingly, the subtitles were also in Hanyu.)

Anyway, whenever I heard a phrase I recognized, I'd repeat it to Cloud. Sometimes Cloud and I would also imitate unfamiliar phrases. I think we're learning something. For instance, I learned 'lan mao'.

Then we went to the park, because if I can't spend the whole day in bed, I may as well go to the park. I sat on a bench next to the little playground, nursing my tea, while Cloud more-or-less played by himself. He also wandered off a teeny tiny bit. Wandering off by himself is not his strong suit; in fact even leaving me on the bench to play on a slide 6 feet away from me has been a challenge until recently. Today, however, he went on the slide, then to the edge of the woods, then onto the baseball field where he found a stray ball, played with it a tiny bit and then abandoned it, and even threw our empty snack wrapper in the trash all by himself. It was nice - a foretaste of free-range parenting. :)

But he also sat with me on the bench quite a bit. And while we sat, I was moved to tell him, "Zhe shi niao." (That's a bird.) And some other phrases that popped into my head. Cloud didn't repeat any of them - he wanted to call a bird a bird, and that was fine.

Later on, we went to our local Chinese take-out for lunch. The young woman there is the one who gave us the Chinese cartoon DVDs. I haltingly spoke a little Hanyu to her, just for practice, and she helpfully responded in kind. Then we sat down and ate.

As we were leaving, I turned to the woman and said, "Zai jian!"

"Zai jian!" she said. "Can little boy say zai jian?"

"Cloud," I prodded. 'Say zai jian to our friend."

He turned around, looked her square in the eye, and said, "Bu dong."

That means 'I don't understand.' It was very unexpected; he knows zai jian at least as well as he knows bu dong. I've only started saying bu dong to him in the last week. But still, it's the right language, and I'm proud.

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