Wednesday, January 28, 2009

books we read tonight

I decide to keep a journal of the books I read to Avril.

Tonight on the way home from daycare, we stopped by the library picking up some books. After dinner, we finished reading the following books. Avril and I enjoyed all of them.

What Happens on Wednesdays is a good book for preschool kids, we can really relate to the daily routine, as we were reading this line" mommy read me a book, while daddy unloads the dishwasher' we were laughing to see Michal was unloading the dishwasher.

It might be a little too long for 3-year-old Avril? I will read to her a few more times. I personally like the drawing texture.There are lots of details,Avril and I spend time on each page looking at the shops,dogs on the street ..

Dog and Bear: Two's Company is consist of 3 short stories. I liked it immediately. It is really appropriate for 2-3 year old. Avril can quickly recognize words she knows. I plan to read this book a few more times this week.
I requested a few more books by the same author.

The Chicken of the Family
A cute stories about siblings.The younger one was teased by the old sisters.It is a little complicated for a 3-year-old, maybe when she is 4 or 5 year old, we can read it again?

We read this book twice tonight. once by me, once by Avril with my help. After this book,she remembered 4 to 5 Chinese characters.I shall remember to have her read the same book for the rest of week a few more times.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Parents' & Teachers' Guide to Bilingualism

A personal review of A Parents' & Teachers' Guide to Bilingualism, 2nd Edition by Colin Baker. Please note that a new edition is now available.

Review Summary

I recently read A Parents' & Teachers' Guide to Bilingualism, 2nd Edition by Colin Baker. This is a second book I read about bilingualism in children and I overall I liked it. The book contains a lot of information about various aspects of raising bilingual children. However, like pretty much everything I've read about bilingualism, this book suffers from not being objective. It seems that all existing material about bilingualism has an agenda to push: bilingualism is good. This bias made the book annoying to me. Now, don't get me wrong: I am a big supporter of multilingualism. I enjoy learning languages myself and I am doing my best to raise my daughter to be trilingual. I strongly believe that knowing more languages makes your life richer in many ways. But it is irritating to read all those books and articles that brush aside obvious problems that come with multilingualism in the effort to promote it. I started the review by saying that l like this book overall and this is for one reason: it made me think more concretely about what a measure of success in being multilingual is (more about it below).

The Bias

The basic premise that I have a problem with is repeated throughout the book. Here's one example [from section E26]: "Languages don't exist in balance: the higher the one, the lower the other". This is obviously not true at many levels. Let's first consider pure language competence in the sense of how large one's vocabulary is. We learn language from many sources but for simplicity, let's focus on reading books. There's a finite number of books I can read in a given period of time. Say, I can read 100 books in some amount of time. If I read all 100 in one language, I will acquire a better vocabulary in this language than if I read 50 books in this language and 50 in another. I think that the basic disagreement between me and the author of the book is that he is happy if an individual acquires just a basic command of language you need in your everyday life: to connect with your community, have a conversation with a stranger etc. What we're losing is the extra difference between a person with average competency in a language and someone who truly mastered it. I don't think that the trade-off is always obvious.
And what's more, using language is not just about the vocabulary size. Using the language means living the culture of this language. So the vocabulary size is just one of the aspects where there will be a gap between a multilingual who knows a given language as one of a few languages and a monolingual who knows the culture related to that language in a more comprehensive way. The monolingual will have read more books, listened to more songs, watched more movies, used more web sites, talked to more friends, played more games etc in a given language than a person who lived the life of that language only part-time. Whether this is better or worse is a matter of your point of view and your values. I happen to think that even if I know fewer artifacts of a given culture, the fact that I can look at the culture both from the inside and from a perspective of another culture makes me understand this culture better. But do I expect that everyone will share my point of view? No. I realize that some people will think that knowing a single culture inside out is better than having direct experience with many cultures. And the fact that this book and everything else I've read about bilingualism doesn't give the same respect to this alternate point of view that monolingualism can be superior in some ways is what made me cringe when I was reading this book.

The Insight

All this brings me to what I think is the most valuable thing I took out of the book. What does it mean to be multilingual? Who are you comparing to and what are you comparing? Do you expect that in every of the languages a multilingual speaks, their command of that language will be as good as of a monolingual person? This is not reasonable. Is is even desirable? No one will give you the answer. You have to decide what the answer for you is.

Interesting points

Unfortunately, the book doesn't provide references for the claims it makes and I would love to see what they are based one.  Since no evidence is provided, I ended up liking things that appeal to me either intuitively or because they match my personal experience.  In most cases my bias probably shows and I like things I want to believe.


Here's a collection of quotes I liked in the book.
A child who hears one language for half an hour a day is unlikely to grow competent in that language. When a child is deliberately exposed to an ever increasing variety of language in different contexts (e.g. books, listening to cassette tapes, visits to the zoo and park), a realistic chance of bilingualism exists. [A2]
If the parent uses two languages during the day to the same child, a potential problem is separation within the child of those two languages. [A7]
It is important to amplify that minority language rather than the majority language, especially in the early years. [...] some sheltering from the incessant blasts of the pervasive majority language is important. [B1]
There is generally little relationship between how quickly someone learns to speak one or two languages and eventual school success. Early language developers are not likely to be more successful in adult life -- however success is defined. [B2]
[...] consider comparing your bilingual child against other bilinguals and not against the fastest moving monolingual who sets the pace. [B2]
So, if efficiency is defined by the amount of time it takes to learn a second language, teenagers and adults tend to be superior to young children. [B3]
However, we therefore mustn't conclude that learning a language early on in life is better. Many people learn a second and third language later in life, and learn it fully and fluently. [B5]
This idea of balanced bilinguals, perfectly balanced in both their languages, is one muddled myth that surrounds bilingualism. [...] For a bilingual, each language tends to have different purposes, different functions and different uses. [B6]
Few bilinguals speak both their languages with native speaker fluency. [B19]
Translating as a game is artificial, patronizing and embarrassing. [B20]
It is likely that the bilingual child will not have as large a vocabulary in each language as the monolingual child. [C5]
Having a bilingual background is widely believed to produce language delayed children. The evidence does not support this. [C14]
The scholars concluded that mixed language background marriages were socially and emotionally valuable for teenagers. [C21]


And here's a collection of points that I do not agree with and that in my opinion are symptomatic of the book's bias:
Languages grow interdependently and with no long-term cost to each other. [A14]
Section [B4] mentions a few "studies published in academic journals". It's disappointing that each "study" is a case study of a single child. All parents know that children can be very different and it's impossible to generalize experiences based on one child to all other children.
I think that sections [B6] and [B9] contradict each other. The former says that it's impossible to be as fluent in each of many languages as one may be in one language. The latter says learning a second language helps with the first language.
The claims of section [B11] that bilingualism improves IQ are poorly explained and it is not obvious to me that the causality implied in this section is real or just wishful thinking.
However, ensuring a high degree of competence in the majority language need not be at the cost of minority language skills. Bilingualism is usually a case of addition and not subtraction; multiplication and not division. [B12]
There is currently no strong evidence that bilingualism has negative effects on the everyday functioning of the brain. [C7] What?! No strong evidence, so there is evidence, just not strong?
One thing is for sure. If you are a bad model of language for your child, you should not speak that language to your child. [C19] This is bizarre. Children are not machines for acquiring language in the most efficient way! For instance if a parent speaks the majority language with an accent (or is a bad model in another way for the majority language), that parent may want to use the majority language when meeting people who only speak the majority language. Otherwise the parent while not inflicting any language harm may be a bad model in life in other ways (for instance may be perceived by the child and others as antisocial or may cause miscommunication since others do not understand the minority language).
Learning more than two languages
This topic is of big interest to me but sadly, the following quotes from section [B16] is very consistent with my experience:
  • There is little research on trilingualism and multilingualism in the family to provide clear advice.
  • Stable trilingualism seems less likely than stable bilingualism.
The following quote is interesting and makes sense: One proviso about trilingualism is that at least one language needs developing fully. It is important in a child's cognitive development that at least one language develops at age-appropriate levels.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Avril's first dentist visit

Today Avril had her first dentist visit. MJ had prepared for this visit long time including buying two books about visiting dentists, watching Charlie and Lola going to dentist office with mom. Avril had enough background knowledge before the visit. She knew she can get some toys, dentist would show her how to brush her teeth, there would be a big machine looking chair, etc.
But we were still not sure how she would react this morning. During our previous doctor visits, Avril always resisted opening her mouth, not wanting the doctor to touch her.
This morning as soon as we walked into the waiting room. Avril was taken by the computer game, she played the joystick watching the little person moving, jumping... after she lost interest, there were so many other toys that she wanted to play with. That was a good start.
After we sat down in dentist office, while waiting, MJ tried to lie down himself to watch the DVD from the ceiling. Avril was cautious, refused lying down. We thought this would be hard. Dr Quo came in, introduced himself to Avril, and asked her back: What is your name?
Avril quietly answered.
Then Dr Quo talked about how to brush teeth with a big teeth model. I can see Avril relaxed a little. Then Dr Quo continued:
Let's count your teeth. You will get a prize after this.
It was a set of a cup, tooth brush etc.
Amazingly, Avril was willing to lie down, with me holding her hand. Before the dentist was ready, Avril kept her mouth wide open waiting. I almost felt the dentist took too long to get ready.
Everything went very well. Avril now has very clean, shiny teeth. She got the prize, and a little extra bonus. A coin to the vending machine outside where she can pick a gift.
It was a pleasant journey to her, I can see her enjoy this place a lot. When we got to the daycare afterwards, she proudly showed her clean teeth to her daycare teachers and friends. Quite an accomplishment to her.
Given our super good experience, I will put the doctor information here.

Brian C. Quo, DDS, MS
882-A Emerson St.
Palo Alto, CA 94301 (650) 853-8883

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I have been using Excel for my simple money management. In the past two years, I always started in January, then stopped in June. It is not easy to always remember to write everything down.

Yesterday I found Yodlee. It is exactly what I am looking for. A place with one login where you can view all your bank accounts, credit cards. So far I still have trouble setting up my ING account, always got a time out error.

But overall I am happy.

I have never tried MS money, but my experience with Quicken was not good. It offered much more than my simple needs. Because it is more for professionals, I found it is confusing and tedious to use. All I want to know is how much I spend, where I spend. Yodlee gave me exactly that.

I still have complaints, but overall, I am very happy with what I found.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Lovely little mouse

This series has been one of Avril's favourite books. It is simple and cute. Very easy to understand for a two year old. I have also used these books to teach Avril Chinese. The lines repeat page by page.
For example:

"this vest is petty, can I borrow it'- duck asks the little mouse
'this vest is so pretty, can I borrow it -- a pig asks the duck
in the end, the vest became too big when elephant gets it:)

It was written by a Japanese couple in the 70s, and translated into Chinese.

By the end of the book, my good memory two-year-old daughter can memorize a few Chinese charactors. Now she is almost 3, she can read most parts of these books.

You can get them on Amazon China

1~6 on Amazon

7~12 on Amazon

I tried to find them in English, only fount 1 on eBay.

Samurai Salmon

This is my favourite dish at World Wrapps. Every time I ate it, I looked at the ingredients, thinking: this has to be very easy to make. So here it is, A super easy, fast, delicious dish. If you like Japanse sushi, wasabi, salmon, avacodo, you will like this dish.

cook rice in a rice cooker.

place rice in a plate

fry salmon in a pan with very little cooking oil, break them into small pieces. cut cucumber, avocado into small cubes,
put everything on top of rice
add some small pieces of sea weed

Mix wasabi with diluted soy sauce (I always add water so it does not get too salty or the color become too dark)

pour the sauce on rice.

mix, and enjoy.

Fast, and easy. In less than 20 minutes, you can have a very nice dinner.

Lamb soup hand-pulled noodle 羊肉烩面

If you google 'hand-pulled noodle', you will see a lot different ways of pulling noodle. The one very popular in my home town is wide, flat, you only pull it once. I have not gone back to my home town for years, never thought I could reproduce this one :)

But never say never, now I can make it at home this delicious noodle soup. With the help of my bread machine, the kneading part became easy.

I experiment with different kinds flours, and bread flour is the best.

the dough:
2 cup of bread flour
2/3 cup of water --I don't like put the amount, different flour requires different amount water, so add water slowly.
1/2 tea spoon salt
1/2 tea spoon baking powder.

knead for 30 minutes ~ 1 hour. cover the dough, let it sit for 1 or 2 hours

knead and make it into small pieces like this: 5 mm thick, 25~40 mm long
brush some cooking oil on all sides.
use a chop stick to press vertically in the middle. ( this is for later spliting the noodle into two)

cover them, put in the fridge for at least 2 ~3 hours. I usually let it sit over night.

Prepare the soup base.

Costco lamb pieces with bones. put the lamb in the boiling hot water for one minutes, drain the water.

in a big pot, put lamb in the cold water. add big pieces green onion. I personally don't like putting so many chinese herb. If you like, you can add anything. Green onion helps to reduce some the unpleasant lamb smell (not sure if this is true:):)

boil the soup on high heat for 1 ~ 2 hours, reduce to medium to low heat for another 2 ~3 hours:) ---I don't wait, add enough water, watch a movie:)

add salt to taste

When it is time, get the dough out of the fridge, now magic happens:

pull the noodle really long. then split it from the middle. put in the hot boiling soup.

boil 5 minutes, add some mushroom (Auricularia auricula-judae ?) or some seaweed, or any vegitables you like.

serve in a big bowl. add some cilantro if you like

I have put the lamb pieces at the bottom. so it does not show in the picture. the lamb is soft and tender.

Enjoy. I have showed off this noodle to a few of my non Chinese friends, parents and kids all like it.

It looks complicated, but most of the time is just waiting time, you don't really have to do too much work. and it can be a party where everybody tries out to pull a piece

I don't think I can become as good as this guy ever :). We took this video last month while we were visiting Beijing:)