Recently, I asked Auntie if my Chinese accent is improving, if I sound more natural like my children who have been learning Chinese with me.
After some thought, she replied in accented English: “I understand what you say. Just like you understand my English, even though this is the best I can do.”
Staying connected with Auntie
Since Auntie lives far from us, we try to FaceTime with her weekly. Although we’ve always lived in different countries, she’s been like a mom to me.
When I was a kid, my parents would call her in desperation when they didn’t know how to get through to me. I would call her when I was frustrated with my parents’ strict rules and insurmountable expectations.
Between me and my immigrant parents were language and cultural barriers. Yet Auntie was able to see both sides. She was always ready to listen.
Evolution of our language relationship
Our conversations used to be in English only. Over time, they’ve become a mix of my rusty American Mandarin and her seasoned Shanghainese Mandarin with a sprinkle of Cantonese words here and there.
Ironically, as my children and I learn more Chinese, Auntie is gradually forgetting some English with old age. Yet, these days, we can understand each other better than ever. We can use one language to support the other when we can’t think of a word or when something makes more sense in another way.
However, since Chinese is a diverse language with over 200 dialects, I get confused when I hear words pronounced differently than our Mandarin teacher from Beijing, my trusty Chinese dictionary apps, or narrators in Chinese audiobooks.
Some words are similar with a slight shift in tone or tongue position. Others sounds are unfamiliar, but these variations and normal and common everywhere.
Auntie’s advice on accents
Auntie reassures, “‘If you hear the whole sentence, the context, you can figure out what is said. Be patient, and take more time to listen.”
When I think about language learning goals for my children, I think Auntie says it best.
A wish for my children: to listen and accept accents with an open heart
Instead of worrying about having – or expecting – “perfect” accents, I hope to raise my children to have an open heart to all voices, to consider and accept their context no matter where they are from.
The Golden Rule
Do to others as you would have them do to you. – Luke 6:31 NIV
你们愿意人怎样待你们，你们也要怎样待人。– 路 加 福 音 6:31
你們願意人怎樣待你們，你們也要怎樣待人。- 路 加 福 音 6:31
Nǐmen yuànyì rén zěnyàng dài nǐmen, nǐmen yě yào zěnyàng dàirén. – Lù jiā fúyīn 6:31