Mission: Join the Mandarin Chinese family fun when September ends

I had a breakthrough moment last night. While the rest of the family is in China for a week, Thea and I were home, at the same desk. I was writing my book, and she was drawing next to me. She started reciting names of animals and numbers in Chinese. To play a game I started repeating. Noticing that, she looked at me and started again, from i (1). Seeing I was “doing great”, she kept going and smiled… That was until “9”.

When we reached “9”, I pronounced it wrong apparently and she repeated… I tried again, apparently not well enough, so she repeated. I tried again… She repeated, louder. I tried again… She said “no, Nǐ de huà yu bù hǎo” For reference, that means your Chinese stinks! She then lost interest and went back to her drawing, and seeing me disgruntled said “I love you papa”, in English 🙂

This is the fallout after now two years in Singapore and many months-long trips to the red dot over the last ten years. During these last two years, I have been frustrated at my inability to not follow the family conversations my wife had with her parents. It became really bad for me when the efforts of my older daughter Tara (6) finally paid off, and she started to have full-blown conversations with the rest of the family about a month ago. And it recently worsened when our little one Thea (3) started to join the apparently really joyous conversations.

As my daughters are growing up and feel more and more comfortable with Mandarin Chinese, I now must be able to join the joyous conversations with my two daughters and wife! It’s okay if they correct me, actually, all the better, because they will enjoy teaching and correcting their papa, and I will learn in the process. This is, I realize, a very favorable context. Indeed, I have here a very strong motivation to succeed, because otherwise I will lose much of the growth of my daughters, who are so dear to me, but also I will become isolated in a soon fully Chinese-speaking family. Talk about back-to-wall. Very lucky. Another very positive element is the fact that, Tara and Thea are very eager to practice and show off their skills, which will make them very available for practice. And although Ting has little time for teaching me, she can be the ultimate escalation.

Thank you Thea.

So my mission is to be able to follow family discussions and bring minimal contributions, such as asking questions about what they did at school, understanding their responses, asking what my wife and her parents want to do for the weekend, and understanding where we plan to go and do, and interject when required in the conversation.

This will also be an excellent way to practice and experiment a number of techniques I have read about recently on habit design and skill acquisition, and see how they blend with what I practice everyday for coaching, but on myself this time. As I go through the efforts that follow the breakthrough moment, it will also be an excellent way to see how to hack learning and overcome the barriers to discipline and progress. Stay tuned.

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