Lost in Translation

Little o is talking alot now, but we are all still taking baby steps in understanding him. My guess is that he could have been confused living in a bilingual environment so it takes a while to catch the phonetics AND the intonation for him to articulate himself.

Just like what we have for Qi and Chi, which mean the same thing – 气 (氣 in Traditional), the pronunciation is different. We have been speaking to Oscar in proper Mandarin and also proper English, whereas Oliver had it easier, we only spoke to him in English but did not bother him on his Mandarin. So there, Oscar will say Qi (the correct Chinese pronunciation), but Oliver will say Chi. Double standards, or more like, learning from our lessons.

I know Oscar is a little confused about English intonation, because he would watch different YouTube videos, and pronounce Killer Whale according to the different intonations on the videos, with a very puzzled look on his face. Whereas for Chinese intonations, they are fixed – very specific on which tone it is. His vocabulary is not broad enough to have to deal with the different intonations of a specific character according to their context yet.

It is hard for us to understand what he is saying, because he could be speaking in Mandarin, or he could be speaking in English, and most likely a mix of both in a sentence *eyerolling*. I feel a little bad for him. He is probably the first in our family to have to deal with both languages at the same time (everyone of us started with a primary focus, and then picked up the secondary a little later).

It is tough for him. Imagine, he was telling us he wants to SHOW SEA ANIMALS. My mom thought he wanted to 收 (shou, which means keep) his sea animals, and asked him why he is taking them out when he wants to keep them. So I just played with him, and he showed me all the sea animal toys with their names! And he pronounced Killer Whale in different intonations! 😀 That was how I figured all the above!

Mom reminded us be respectful and pay attention to him when he’s talking, because just because we cannot understand does not mean we should brush him off. Which makes total sense. I also listen hard to what he says because it is fun, and it makes me happy to see him so happy when I get what he is saying.

I think this is a good principle to apply to every communication with every person young and old. Sometimes conflicts arise because we do not pay enough attention to what people actually mean because we look superficially at the spoken words alone. Not everyone has the ability to communicate clearly, and it makes the world a better place if we can be more patient and forgiving about that.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. SRIKANTH says:

    Think you had a tough time speaking mandarin and English ! 👍🤝

    Liked by 2 people

    1. leapingtoes says:

      Yes, it is worse when it comes to Writing in both languages! 😱🤝

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Really interesting reporting there on a child understanding that tones have semantic meaning (understanding the rule) but not the exception (English), yet!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. leapingtoes says:

      I think that’s where the confusion lies – he does not understand whether the difference in intonation has an impact on the semantic meaning (in Chinese, it does!). It’s quite cute – he would go, “killer whale” “killer whale?” “killer whale!” “killer! whale!”


  3. Carl Setzer says:

    Years ago a dear, multilingual friend had a stroke. Afterwards, he bounced between languages, often mid-sentence and even mid-word. Fascinating how our brains process language, isn’t it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. leapingtoes says:

      That sounds fascinating! There is so much contents stored in our brains, and how they are wired makes a lot magic in our output!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Incredible that he is learning both, what a great thing

    Liked by 1 person

    1. leapingtoes says:

      Yup, I find it incredible too! He is taking longer to speak though, so much to digest..

      Liked by 1 person

  5. お元気ですか。
    Good for the O’s! I think it’s great to learn an intonated language early on. My husband learned Mandarin, and was able to pick up Thai, Lao, and even some so-so Cantonese later in life. For me… paiseh looking for a place to happen.

    English inflection off YouTube… it’s kind of a running joke about the singsong-monotone that’s become stylish on the platform. That said, I might get a, “Wah lao eh, yaya papaya!” for not using Chinese grammar and pronouncing last consonants when ordering cheap street food tabao.

    “気” “Ki” (abrupt ending) in 日本語. Simplified characters really throw me off. “气” … something’s missing… ゾンビ ええ?!!!


    1. leapingtoes says:

      元気です! エネルギーに満ちている。:D

      Yes, I think it’s really great foundation for picking up languages later on! Because once we have the sensitivity to catch the difference, (and I believe learning a language is how accurate we are at mimicking) it is easier to to spot and imitate. Cantonese has many more tones (9 total?) than Chinese (5 tones), so I cannot tell between some Cantonese words as they sound the same to me.

      Singapore has all kinds of “English accents” now. Hard to get people (younger generation) who can “correctly” say Yayapapaya or WahLaoEh nowadays.

      气 looks weird to me too! I’m too used to seeing Reiki in calligraphic characters, even 氣 looks weird. All that comes to mind when I see 气 is Balloon (气球) and Angry (生气). Hah hah!!

      Liked by 1 person

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