A Letter to My Parents: Why I’m Teaching Your Grandchildren Chinese

This learning blog is dedicated to the memories and teachings of my late mother and father.

Mom & Dad:

After all those years of giving you grief about learning Chinese (among other things), you’d never guess that I’m trying to teach it now.  It is difficult, but I have the cutest study buddies, and they’re kicking my butt.

Wish you could see us now!  Your granddaughter 老大 (lǎodà / oldest child) is almost 4, and your grandson 老二 (lǎo èr / second child) just turned 1.  Your son-in-law is an amazing father and the best husband I could ever ask for, and we live in a small town in California.

I still love to teach, and I’m now a pediatrician in the e-learning industry.  You know how much I loved to teach piano and tutor organic chemistry!  But for the first time, I am teaching something that I am embarrassingly not good at.

When 老大 was around age 2, I awkwardly began to speak to her in my broken Chinese.  Within a couple of months, she mastered the limits of my vocabulary and wanted to learn more.  She sparked a fire within me, and I have been ablaze with determination to relearn Chinese so that she and her brother have a fighting chance to learn it, too.

I literally spend half of the day looking up words in the dictionary, and I hardly sleep because my mind is busy brainstorming Chinese activities for 老大 and 老二!

Of course, this process would have been much easier if I had just paid attention to everything that you told me growing up.

Instead, since we were the only Chinese family in our school district, I felt ashamed about who we were.  I replied to you in English when you spoke to me in Chinese.

I would wince when you called me 宝宝 (bǎobǎo / darling) and felt relief when you addressed me as Betty.

Well, you were right that I would finally understand when I became a parent.  I never considered that my rebellion may have hurt and disrespected you.  I finally appreciate your bravery and sacrifice of immigrating here, especially at a time when assimilation occurred in the face of racism and at the cost of heritage.  I am sorry for my adolescent ignorance.

Now I know that teaching your grandchildren Chinese is the thread that connects our generations.  And that giving them a chance at even some proficiency is a window to the world beyond our little town.

I tell your grandchildren that 外公 (wàigōng / grandpa) and 外婆 (wàipó / grandma) love them, that you immigrated here for our future.  I tell them even though they won’t get to meet you in this life, someday when we’re all reunited in Heaven, maybe we’ll catch up in Chinese!

In the meantime, here is a video of 老大 reading.

She started reading about half a year ago, and we are gradually learning new characters and building reading stamina.  It takes 老大 a couple of pages to build momentum, but I’m proud of her progress.  Hopefully, she hasn’t picked up too many tonal inaccuracies from me, but we’ll keep practicing.

I’m also excited to share that 老二 already says a bunch of words in English, Chinese, and Korean!  宝宝,喝奶 (hē nǎi / drink milk), and 抱抱 (bàobào / hug) are some of his first Chinese words, and he also says 阿门 (Āmén / Amen) when we pray.

So, I am dedicating this website to you, Mom and Dad!  Your light is shining bright into the next generation!

Love,

Betty

13 Comments

  1. Hi Betty,

    Thank you creating this blog full of great resources! I am a homeschooling mom, I have an 8 year daughter who studies Mandarin and Spanish and we will definitely be following your journey for inspiration. Good luck to you and God Bless!

  2. lovely letter. brought me to tears. I too am a second generation and my parents are also deceased. reading about your journey to teach your kids mandarin inspires me. My husband and I recently decided to make the switch to pull our daughter (kindergarten) out of her mandarin immersion school and place her in a better curriculum school for 1st grade (not an immersion, but mandarin will be taught daily as a separate subject). it was a tough decision, but these last few days I’ve stumbled upon several inspiring websites: motherly love, chalk academy, and guavarama… and realized I can do more as a parent to teach our daughters mandarin, and not rely so much on the immersion school. Thank you for sharing this lovely letter and if I could, i’d forward it in an email to Heaven for my parents to read.

    1. Dear Lynn, Thank you so much for taking the time to read and share your experience. This was a difficult letter for me to write, but it warms my heart to hear that it something you would want to share with your parents, too. I can imagine that it was a very difficult decision for you to switch schools for your daughter! I am sorry to hear that you also lost your parents so young. But I believe that they are still watching over us! It’s daunting to think of ourselves as the Chinese teachers for our kids, but thankfully we have wonderful support through our Facebook groups! I look forward to connecting with you more throughout this language and parenting journey!

  3. Dear Betty, thank you for sharing such a moving and heartfelt letter. It brought tears to my eyes. I so appreciate your journey and it gives me hope and inspiration to reflect upon the possibility that I might also learn Chinese as a journey along with my children.

    1. Dear Heather, Thank you so much for reading and remembering my parents with me. And I really appreciate your sharing, too. Please keep me posted on how the journey goes for your family!

  4. Wow Betty I love all that you’re doing! This post is very moving. Can’t read about your catch up in heaven without wanting to cry a little!

    I’m an English girl, but with a heart for China. I met my HK husband in Shanghai and by then I’d picked up simple mandarin from living there. My husband and I now have a kid & live in the UK so we speak to him in our mother tongues. My chinese isn’t perfect but it’s enough to teach kids so I run a mandarin baby playgroup and do activities with children and speak to them/ teach them chinese. Thanks for sharing your ideas… God bless! Xx

    1. Hi Sarah, thank you for taking the time to write and share about your family! Bless you for starting a playgroup for your community! I hope the website can be a helpful resource!

  5. Hello Betty,
    Thank you for sharing your story and resources. You have done an excellent job to teach both your children. I am very impressed how well your daughter “老大” was able to read the story at such young age. She really did an awesome job.
    Best regards,
    TK

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