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“Do you know, Daddy?” She blinks.
“No, sweetheart. I don’t know what that means.”
“Ugh!” She stomps her foot.
“Honey, I don’t speak Chinese.”
This was a snippet of a conversation I had with my 4-year-old today.
Why? Because she was trying to tell me something in Chinese.
I recently took a solo 12-day trip to Cambodia. It was my first time spending time away from my daughter in over three years. During these 12 days, she stayed at her Chinese Grandma’s home.
Before I left for Cambodia, Auburn’s Chinese language skills were relatively basic. Her speaking was minimal, though her listening skills seemed well-developed (she’s been learning for roughly six months). I really want her to learn Cantonese in Hong Kong, but overall it’s been difficult.
However, since I’ve returned to Hong Kong to reunite with my daughter, she’s been speaking and communicating in Chinese in full sentences, constantly.
And I’m not at all surprised.
How I Predicted My Daughter’s Rapid Advancement in the Chinese Language and What That Tells Us About Language Learning
Before I left for Cambodia, her Chinese skills reminded me of myself a few years ago before I traveled solo to Mexico.
I was speaking a little bit of Spanish at the time, I could understand much more than I could speak. I didn’t at all feel fluent or confident in my skills. I could ask for directions to the bathroom, but I couldn’t always understand them.
However, I spent two weeks in Mexico. The majority of my time was in Morelia, but I saw some other, beautiful places as well, such as San Miguel de Allende.
I knew I was immersing myself in the Spanish language–that was my goal. What I didn’t realize while I was there: I was rapidly developing my ability to speak Spanish.
How? I was hearing it in the grocery store. Listening to it on the bus. But most importantly, I was speaking it every day because I had to. I was finally working a muscle that hadn’t been effectively exercised. And it quickly strengthened.
Before my two weeks in Mexico, I understood enough of what people said, so the words were already in my head. Much like my daughter’s comprehension of Chinese before I left for Cambodia.
How to Learn Cantonese in Hong Kong
In her 12 days of staying with her Chinese family, I knew she was going to do what I did with Spanish. She finally made the jump from understanding and knowing, to speaking.
Only she did in
I did it in my late 20’s. My daughter did it before she was 5. Anyone can do it.
Anyone Can Rapidly Speak a New Language
But only if they’re willing to put in the work of learning the words and recognizing the sounds. This I think is the most tedious part of learning a new language. It’s a rough adjustment phase, it takes time, and the process feels slow (and sometimes frustrating).
Once it’s passed, however, speaking skills rapidly improve.
And it’s totally worth it. For Auburn, it was imperative that she learn Cantonese in Hong Kong. it means the chance to communicate with family, and it makes my eyes get a bunch of dust in them. Stupid dust.