I’ve been working on an experiment for the last 6 months or so, trying to figure out how to sneak the Chinese language back into my life and the lives of my son and husband. I speak Mandarin, but in a typical week probably spend 10 minutes or less speaking it. My husband speaks no Mandarin (except for maybe a few words from the list below). After six months of part-time persistence, our toddler has picked up a few words in Mandarin. Here’s a list:
Family: 妈妈，爸爸，爷爷，奶奶，公公，婆婆，哥哥，姐姐，弟弟，妹妹 (We have a book with all these words and he picks up words that have repetition better)
Body parts: 头，耳朵，鼻子，眼睛，嘴巴，口，牙齿，手
Random stuff: 牙刷，汽车，花，飞机，谢谢，晚安，睡觉
Somehow, the boy has figured out at his tender age that if he wants me to get him a cracker, he needs to ask me in Chinese. This is the key, argue many experts, to getting a child to be multilingual; require them to make requests and speak in the language you are trying to teach them. A friend of ours noticed that her daughter was saying words in Chinese, but with an American accent… so does my son. Trying not to let that discourage me too much, and man do I get silly happy when he makes an attempt at a tone and gets it half right.