Parent Spotlight - Bobo
The Parent Spotlight Series is a set of blog posts featuring different parents in their journeys to raise bilingual children.
I am pretty excited to share Bobo and Archie's story today, for many reasons.
One of which is that we're hearing from a dad for the first time! A lot of parenting work (including minority language learning) often fall on mothers, so it's refreshing to hear from a father 💕
Secondly, an interesting part about Bobo's situation is that their family started teaching Chinese "late"— after Archie is already regularly speaking in English.
But thanks to Bobo's ingenuity, tenacity and commitment... in just half a year of speaking Cantonese exclusively at home, Archie now spontaneously speaks Cantonese!
So in case you're wondering... no, it's never "too late" to start ☺️
And last but not the least, this family were themselves inspired to commit to their bilingual journey after reading a Parent Spotlight here. It gives me all the feels knowing these Parent Spotlights are making a difference somewhere.
I hope that by continuing to highlight different family's bilingual journeys—across different backgrounds and situations—you will realize that this is all possible for you too!
With that, I'll let Bobo take it away...
Bobo, tell us about your family and kids
I’m Bobo — Archie’s dad. Archie is 4 years old.
Mom and Dad are both Canadian born Chinese (CBC). We speak Cantonese with good-enough pronunciations, but have small vocabularies.
Dad was lucky enough to survive Mandarin school as a child, so I have good-enough pronunciation but a super limited vocabulary.
Archie having fun after Mom crafted a lion head during Lunar New Year
How did you start teaching Chinese?
In May 2020, somewhere between working from home and starting a hydroponic garden, we introduced our 3.5 year old son Archie to Peppa Pig. Oh, and I should mention that this particular Peppa only speaks Cantonese... 🙄🤥
It worked like a charm.
Archie was able to follow the show relying just on the visuals alone, and us parents were happy to have the Cantonese exposure. It didn’t take long for Archie to run around imitating the way George Pig constantly repeated “dinosaur 恐龍,” or how George Pig pinched others like a crab “鉗-鉗-鉗,” and quickly learning the term for chocolate cake.
I ran with the success of Peppa Pig, expanding the YouTube playlist with Raa Raa the Noisy Lion, and Donut & Ah Meow. Archie would watch as much as an hour on weekdays as I prepared dinner. I won’t mention Archie’s nuclear meltdowns when it was time to cut off the TV ⏳💣😡😭
The Guides Who Kept Us Going
By September, I heard in a group chat about a publicly funded circle time delivered in Cantonese called Rhythm 'N' Rhyme. Archie loved learning the hand actions, the tunes, and eventually reciting the words.
How do I know for certain that Archie loved Rhythm 'N' Rhyme?
Because he’d be bouncing up and down the sofa, rocking out to the songs 🤘
With their channels we would sing, pretend, and learn; over and over again — on repeat.
By now Archie was able to say single words and short phrases — not bad!
Having fun on the piano with Locy Lee's song about driving a train
Diving In: Will We Sink or Swim?
In mid-January a fellow parent, Agnes, happened to share her story behind her son’s unbelievable journey in speaking, reading, and even writing Chinese.
I related to many similarities in the interview — our kids are similar in age, we both live in neighbourhoods with little Cantonese speakers, and yet Agnes achieved success.
Inspired by the “one parent, one language” technique she used, I decided to give it a go, to speak with Archie exclusively in Cantonese. It’d be my homemade DIY Cantonese immersion 😅🤞
“...I decided to give it a go, to speak with Archie exclusively in Cantonese.” —Bobo
What are your language goals?
My goal was for Archie to be able to hold a conversation in Chinese.
Because from there, he can choose to do more on his own if he’s interested — make friends, watch videos, jam out to music, etc. Those options will be open to him, and it'll be his choice whether or not to pursue them.
I’m so happy that we’ve achieved that goal. I didn’t think it was possible to achieve conversational fluency while living in a neighbourhood with so few Cantonese speakers.
“I’m so happy that we’ve achieved that goal. I didn’t think it was possible to achieve conversational fluency while living in a neighbourhood with so few Cantonese speakers.” —Bobo
What is your approach to teaching Chinese?
One Parent, One Language (OPOL)
OPOL was what helped Archie crack the code to speak Cantonese.
When I started OPOL, Archie was not happy about his dad’s sudden transformation in speaking this weird tonal language: “I don’t understand what you’re saying; Why do I have to learn Cantonese?” It sounded like the learning curve was too steep for Archie.
Luckily I managed to bridge the gap. I learned from a parent group to repeat what Archie says in English, back to him in Cantonese before continuing our conversation.
I love this repeat-back technique because it naturally creates a relevant opportunity to translate without making it feel like he’s forced to interact with a boring textbook or lecture.
“Archie was not happy about his dad’s sudden transformation in speaking this weird tonal language... Luckily I managed to bridge the gap.” —Bobo
Making a Supportive Learning Environment
I also suspected Archie didn’t have a convincing reason to use Cantonese. So I hatched a plan to introduce all the fun stuff that came into our house in Cantonese: all the new video games, board games, cartoons, and new foods.
Thankfully it worked out!
Archie was so interested in exploring his new pieces of entertainment that I don’t think he minded the friction of learning a few new terms.
Turns out this was kind of like creating a supportive learning environment. With each new video game that entered our household, I’d introduce it in Cantonese.
During Zelda he asked, “What’s that?”
A fire type arrow 火箭.
They’re for defeating ice type monsters.
We don’t want Link to lose all his hearts and faint.
Archie was already used to playing Animal Crossing in English, so it’d be suspicious and awkward to switch languages on him with an existing game.
But Zelda was new, mysterious, exciting, and his dad just happened to narrate it in Cantonese.
Archie enjoying the moment as he solves a puzzle game
And I did it again for new board games.
And then for new foods.
We enjoyed delicious fruit snacks, shrimp crackers, mango, honey dew, dim sum, pineapple buns, and even popping popcorn kernels all in Cantonese.
I was hoping each bit of progress gave Archie more reasons to associate the language with fun that's relevant to his interests.
Archie developing a taste for treats with a moon cake during mid-autumn festival
What is the most difficult thing about raising bilingual kids?
There's no shortage of challenges, I can think of 3 big ones.
1) I was intimidated and self-conscious when I initially began pushing myself to talk the whole day in Cantonese.
But you know what? Those negative feelings disappeared quickly after a few hours.
2) The pervading challenge is competing with English language media to make Cantonese alluring. Anyone remember Power Rangers, Lion King, or Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? Our kids have equally attractive choices presented to them.
I’m really glad to have joined a few online Cantonese language groups. They’ve been a deeply rich resource for sharing successful techniques that work with today’s modern families.
3) And let’s not forget that Cantonese has specific tones, no alphabet, and the written language differs from the spoken version. A lot of us probably had to explain that to our English speaking classmates when we were kids!
“I was intimidated and self-conscious when I initially began pushing myself to talk the whole day in Cantonese. But you know what? Those negative feelings disappeared quickly after a few hours.” —Bobo
What is the most rewarding thing about raising bilingual kids?
By mid-June, Archie spontaneously talked an entire phone call with his grandmother entirely in Cantonese.
And to his teachers’ delight, he started speaking in glorious run-on sentences to them during their online classes ❤️
He even plays and mutters to himself in Cantonese!
These proud moments happen so often lately. Even a few months ago, I could not have envisioned any of this language development could happen!
Archie goes camping, where he shares a few thoughts about s'mores!
Any advice for parents who are waffling about whether to start?
To parents who were like me, who didn’t think it was possible to teach their children Cantonese: it’s very possible!
Since Archie was used to speaking in English when we started Cantonese, I made sure to create compelling reasons for him to use Cantonese.
To my disbelief, it all paid off: the cartoons that sparked an early interest, meeting talented guides who showed Archie that Cantonese can be relevant outside of our home, and daily language immersion that includes games. None of these tasks are impossible!
“Since Archie was used to speaking in English when we started Cantonese, I made sure to create compelling reasons for him to use Cantonese. To my disbelief, it all paid off...” —Bobo
What is on your wishlist?
Comics, books, TV, songs, dances, games, and other fun stuff that are designed for Canadian born Chinese kids. I think there’s a wide difference between an Asian and a Western audience’s preferences.
Any funny stories you can share?
When we were starting Cantonese, Archie happened to ask me for my smartphone’s PIN to watch YouTube. Committed to the mission, I gave it to him in Cantonese.
After repeating the PIN a few more times slowly, he unlocked the phone. But not before asking me why I was speaking in Cantonese.
I managed to come up with the response that Cantonese is our secret language — that if anybody happened to hear us from the apartment hallway, they probably wouldn’t be able to steal our passwords!
What are your favourite books?
Sagebooks Basic Chinese 500. It’s a game changer for learning to read Chinese.
Thank you, Bobo!
If you're interested in other multilingual parenting journeys, check out our previous parent spotlights: