Polyglot Toddler

Our daughter Anna is 1 year 9 months soon and experiencing her learning to speak is super exciting. I always thought I would know what her first word is, but in the beginning it was hard to say what counts as a word or not. 

At the moment she can understand Finnish, Cantonese and Mandarin. I speak to her in Finnish. Her dad speaks to her in Mandarin and Cantonese, his family uses Cantonese. Our nanny who worked for us almost a year spoke mostly Cantonese with Anna.

Here is a list of words she can say in each language.

Mandarin: cellphone (no other words yet)

Cantonese: wash hands, to hug, raining, go upstairs, small bird, dog, fish, water.

Finnish: boob, poo, pee, finished, more, cat, bag, flower.

She uses the word she knows, no matter if the person understands that language or not. The concept of language will develop much later. 

She is in a stage where she points at things and wants to know what the items are called, both in books and in real life around her. She also uses sounds to mean certain things too, like meow for a cat.

Next week Anna will start in a Japanese kindergarten which brings a new language to her mix. We weren’t planning on introducing Japanese yet (her dad speaks it fluently), but the daycare was the best option for us right now. It will be interesting to see what Japanese words she will pick up. They have English lessons too so let’s see if she starts speaking English as well!

I’m a monolingual parent, only spoke Finnish at home when growing up, it’s fascinating to see how my daughter learns to speak. 


Being a Mother in China

I was recently interviewed about being a mother in China so I wanted to share my thoughts on a blog post as well.

I bet most of the things about being a mother are the same all over the world. The huge amount of love and worry it entails. But of course there are a few differences as well.

Being a foreign mother means that many of the things I do seem a bit weird to local moms. I didn’t sit the month after giving birth, I took my baby out even during the “cold” Winter days. Baby led weaning isn’t a huge thing here now, so a toddler stuffing her self spaghetti by hand gets a few looks.

At the same time it frees me to be the mother I want to be. I’m different anyway so doing strange things is just normal for waiguoren in the eyes of locals. Any odd comment can be brushed away by “oh we Finns just do things this way”, as most haven’t been out of the country or at least not that familiar with Finland.

Another huge thing about being an expat mother in China are the ayis! Having a full time live-in ayi 5 days a week is what keeps me going! Childcare in the safety of our home, cooking and cleaning as a bonus. It makes haggling work and family so much easier by having a good nanny.

When it comes to family relations, in Finland moms seem to be able to do what they want but also receive little help from grandparents or extended family. In China family is always eager to help, but also brings their advice and opinions to the mix. 

Being a mother for a mixed trilingual (at least!) daughter is going to be full of adventures, surprises and challenges. Her world is so different from the one I grew up in, I hope I’m able to guide her the best I can.

This Mother’s Day I’m very grateful to my own mother who has always encouraged me to follow my dreams.

And to my mother-in-law who is surprisingly open minded and tries her best even though her daughter-in-law might be a bit difficult at times.

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone!


Giving birth in Guangzhou – experiences from 5 hospitals

Being pregnant in a foreign country brings a bit extra stress to an expecting woman, especially when it comes to deciding where to give birth. I interviewed five women who all gave birth in Guangzhou or Foshan to share their experiences.

Choosing the hospital

When it comes to choosing where to give birth, the locations of the hospital is very important. Also recommendations from friends count a lot, as do a visit to the hospital. More about choosing a hospital check my previous post.

It is close to where I live. Several friends gave birth there and recommended it. It also has a good reputation for medical excellence. Jingxi Nanfang Hospital, Guangzhou

It was reasonable and have very good English-speaking doctors. They are very helpful at the hospital in all the sections. Guangzhou women and children hospital

It was next to our home… We heard more good comments than bad, our friends had babies there as well. Mother and child hospital in Tienhe

Good impression of doctors and facilities. Elizabeth

I was looking for a hospital which would let me have a VBAC. I knew a doctor who worked there, and one of my friends had 3 children there. Mother and Children Hospital in Foshan (VIP department)


Cost of the delivery

Cost of giving birth can vary a lot from a few thousands to tens of thousands of RMB.

  • Jingxi Nanfang Hospital, Guangzhou: Deposit of 5000RMB, birth is more or less depending on your case [Natural birth]
  • Guangzhou women and children hospital: 15 000RMB [C-section] 
  • Mother and child hospital in Tienhe: 12 000RMB [C-section]
  • Elizabeth: 55 000RMB (paid by insurance) [Natural]
  • Mother and Children Hospital in Foshan (VIP department): 15 000RMB [Natural]


Birthing experience

When it comes to being satisfied with the hospital of your choice or not, the birthing experience is high on the list of course. When making your choise, try to gather experiences from many sources to get the full picture. There isn’t a  hospital that would be perfect for everyone. For my own birth experience in Guangzhou, click here.

Very satisfied but I was also very lucky that I was the only one in the delivery room at that time, so I could get up and move around as I wanted and have our doula present.Jingxi Nanfang Hospital, Guangzhou

Yes very much satisfied. I stayed at the hospital for 6 days and it gave me a lot of time to recover from my unplanned c-section. Guangzhou women and children hospital

Well would be nice if they would have some courses for new moms, for example how to prepare breasts for feeding. I felt the information wasn’t enough. We couldn’t even get information on the prices, only when we left the hospital.

I don’t understand till now, why when we would go for check up every time – we would stay with the doctor for 10-15 min, but Chinese would take at least half an hour. And almost every time doctor would mention to me c-section, even I didn’t have any problem (ok I was big but she should feel and by scan should know that my baby’s size is good for natural birth. So I felt that it was a bit planed from doctor already.

I was late 6 days, when I came they told me if you won’t deliver till 7am we will help you. In my country doctors first doing everything to give u a chance to delivery by yourself. Not so much information, just paper singing even when you are on the table with the big pain – a lot of papers.

After our baby was born, they didn’t put my baby on my chest. Which I really would have wanted. But I thank them still cause me and the baby are healthy. I liked there that they had ayis to help out after delivery, you had to pay money for them, but it was worth the money.  Mother and child hospital in Tienhe

Very satisfied with everything. Delivery went very well, they listened to all my wishes, and I was even allowed to give birth in water even if my water had broken (this is normally not allowed in China, but still perfectly safe). Elizabeth

I am very happy to have had a VBAC. The service was great, we had a 24-hour Ayi in our room. My husband was present all along. Nobody ever forced me to have a C-section or a medication, midwives let me try giving birth in different positions. The hospital had some gifts for us, including a photo shoot at a professional photo studio. Mother and Children Hospital in Foshan (VIP department)


Advice for others planning to give birth in Guangzhou

The women I interviewed also gave useful advice for all the other women in the same situation.

  • If you don’t speak Chinese, hire a Chinese speaking doula
  • Do research on the doctors who give you check ups, choose the one that fits for your
  • If you want an answer, sometimes you need to push the doctors to give it to you
  • Make sure you and your doctor click
  • Ask lots of questions, anything that comes to your mind
  • Ask if the paperwork can be done beforehand, not when you are pushing your baby out
  • Make sure the doctors and nurses support you
  • Ask how they deal with emergencies
  • Ask what they consider a natural birth is

For more information on being pregnant in China, check my earlier blog posts.


12 things I’ve learned in 12 months of raising a child in China

Carrying a baby is a necessity in China

Carrying a baby is a necessity in China

1 The whole village wants to parents your kid. You get lots of parenting advice every time you dare to leave the door with your precious baby. She should wear more clothes! Where are her socks? She must be hungry! Everyone wants to lend their best piece of advice for free.

2 You become the center of attention. Like being a white foreigner wasnt enough, now I get even more attention when I go out with our daughter as Chinese think mixed kids are the cutest and want to drown her in pleasant small talk. They usually mention her big eyes and white skin, or how cute and chubby she looks.

3 Formula companies are winning in China. Unfortunately the baby milk formula companies are doing such a great job in lobbying their products and making money, that they make Chinese women insecure with breastfeeding. Relatives give cans of formula as a gift for new mother, expecting that they need it. Along this comes the scams related to milk powder, making Chinese purchasing formula abroad for big bucks.

4 Too many cooks spoils the soup definitely fits the Chinese way of parenting where a baby has parents and grandparents going circles around him. If they all share common views on child raising, great, but more often than not, four people means four different ways of raising a child. My parents-in-law took their grandson (our daughter’s cousin) for a haircut in secret because their daughter and the mother of the son, had refused it.

5 Everyone is willing to help you. No matter where I go with a baby, other people jump of from their seats on public transport to give us a seat. Restaurant staff will entertain babies and toddlers while you eat your lunch. Once I even had a customer sitting next to me playing with Anna while I was eating out alone with her. Chinese people love babies and are really willing to help!

6 Baby carrier like Manduca or Ergo is a life savior in China. Many Chinese cities aren’t built for strollers or prams, making it difficult to go around with a baby, unless you have a nice baby carrier and then you are free to explore everywhere! My Manduca carrier is one of the best, if not the best, baby product I got this year and I can’t imagine how I could have managed the baby year without it.

7 The belly button is an open port for illness to enter the body. No matter hot or cold, the Chinese want to keep the baby’s belly button covered so they won’t catch a cold. When ever I was changing diapers, my mother-in-law would remind me to cover the belly with a small towel.

8 Shopping craziness starts with a baby. For many mothers, Chinese mothers too, it’s a transition time in shopping habits when a baby is about to be born. In China online shopping and Taobao makes it super easy to buy anything you need, fast and easy, which makes for many unnecessary purchases. My sister-in-law is a prime example of a shopaholic mom who isn’t afraid on spending money on her son.

9 Educational companies are making big bucks with courses for babies. Speaking of spending, parents are the most likely to spend money and it’s all for the best of their kids. Educational companies have noticed this and are offering a variety of courses starting from as small as 6 months. International or “international” day cares are doing good business in China at the moment and monthly fees can go to 7000rmb per month or higher!

10 Cantonese babies bathe daily. Here in the south it’s hot most of the year so it’s quite natural that everyone bathes or showers daily. But during our baby’s  first Winter I was following the Finnish custom of giving a bath just a few times per week. My Chinese family thought it was really weird not to give her daily baths! After she started eating solids at 6 months she started daily showers too as it was, and is, way too messy!

11 A sick baby is rushed to a hospital right away. No matter if it’s just a little fever or a running nose, Chinese parents or grand parents often rush the precious kids to a hospital for remedies. As the weather is changing, Anna is having a running nose and our nanny is really worried already and bundling her up in layers of clothing. I bet if grand parents were taking care of her they would have been to the hospital already!

12 A baby is the center of your life. This I totally agree with the Chinese though out methods are different, after you become a parents your baby is the center of your life. No matter which culture, we all want whats best for them and use the best of our abilities to provide them a happy and healthy life.


Raising bilingual kids in China

No matter if we are married to Chinese or just live in China with out family, all of us expats here come accross the issue of raising bilingual kids in China. Today I have guest post from Charlotte Edwards Zhang, she is an American teacher and writer, who has lived in China for 11 years and has been married to her Chinese husband for nine.

Charlotte loves spending time with her two children (ages 8 and 4) when she’s not stressed over school-related issues. An essay of her pregnancy with her son is featured in a soon-to-be-published anthology Knocked Up Abroad: Baby bumps, twists and turns from around the globe. Read 26 amazing stories from women who have been pregnant or birthed or raised (or possibly all three) their kids outside of their home country when you pre-order your copy on Kickstarter.


Raising bilingual kids in China

We didn’t really put much thought into how we’d raise our children to be bilingual. We sort of assumed it would happen rather naturally. Yes, you could say we didn’t really know what we were doing with kid #1.

Since I was nowhere near feeling confident about speaking Chinese, as I’d made little progress in my three years of self-study, I spoke English only to my firstborn. My husband is a whiz at studying and despite skipping out of all of his college English classes, he speaks fluently and uses big, fancy words that I’ve only read in books (thanks, TOEFL prep books). I felt that it would be best if he only spoke Chinese to our son, but since English was our language of communication, it was natural for Zhang to want to speak English to the baby, too.

So when it was just three of us together, English was used. With the two of them, or when yeye, nainai and any other Chinese family were present, it was Chinese.  Mandarin or Hubei dialect.
Now nearly eight years, and another child, later, there are some things that I feel we did really well and others that we could have done much better.


What I’d Do Again

I spent a lot of time reading to Nathaniel. During my zuo yue zi, I secretly read to him while his grandma was busying herself preparing our meals. I believe we went through a book of Bible stories twice in that 30-day period.  I also listened to various English-language podcasts while I cleaned, and he overheard the Chinese news after dinner.

He got daily lessons in Hubei dialect from his grandparents. He was just a month old when I had to go back to work, so we were lucky that his grandparents could watch him and influence his language, even if they don’t speak Mandarin. While we don’t go out of our way to encourage him to learn this dialect, he’s picked up the habit of saying a few words in it but can understand his grandparents perfectly.

Everything felt right, and months went by. As he grew and became more responsive, we could tell he understood us and would respond appropriately no matter what language was spoken to him. I felt we were on the right track with this dual-language thing.

Finally, around ten months he said “baba” which was soon followed by “yeye,” “mama,” and “nainai.” But all in Chinese. He continued to add Chinese words to his vocabulary, albeit more slowly than his peers. At two years old, his oral vocabulary–in both languages combined–was less than 100 words. But suddenly there was a huge leap in his progress and communication became much easier.
Of course there was the mixing of languages. Even though my husband and I never mix the two in a sentence, or even a conversation, Nathaniel would come to us with requests like, “Mommy, wo xiang eat ping guo.” I’d simply correct his speech by saying, “oh, you want to eat an apple?” and then give my reply. This was just to make him familiar with the correct way, but without telling him that I was correcting him.

It was effective, though slow; for example, two-year period in which he’d say “me” instead of “wo”, even when speaking Chinese. Every once in awhile, I would jump into teacher mode and give him a mini-lesson in hopes that he’d magically get it.


What I’d Do Differently

My husband is a voracious reader, but he’s not much into reading books to the kids. When he does it, he’s great. He makes voices and reads with emotion; I do not. To be honest, I don’t like reading aloud either. But I loved being the listener as a kid and in my teaching courses my professors were constantly stressing the benefits of reading aloud. So I did it anyway; kind of like how I eat mushrooms. I know they’re good for me, so I do it. But I never insisted that my husband read to the kids in Chinese.

But now that my son is in school, we can see that his Chinese lags behind his monolingual peers in some regards. He didn’t know many of the common measure words when he entered first grade, and we didn’t realize that he was lacking that knowledge. Reading good quality children’s books and literature is very important, no matter what the language is. I believe he missed out on quite a bit since he wasn’t being read to in Chinese. We’ve since become more intentional about reading aloud to the kids and now Nathaniel is able to read his Chinese books to his little sister.

My having a limited Chinese vocabulary has its benefits: it’s only been recently that I started speaking to him in Chinese, and surprisingly he hates this. With him, I wish I’d spoken to him even more than I did since his sister had the benefit of three people speaking to her.  Nathaniel was at a disadvantage since his parents are naturally quiet people who like to spend their evenings silently reading. Nor do we have any sort of social network that we hang out with and in which he’d get linguistic input from other adults.

I’m not a fan of most television programs, preferring the benefits of reading over mindlessly watching actors, but with my daughter I’ve been more lenient about watching television than I was with my son. I think finding quality shows is essential, but allowing him to listen to the television (or an app with audio programing, as we frequently do these days) would have given him additional language input.

Don’t get me wrong: my kids can speak both languages quite well. Their Chinese, overall, is better than their English, but that’s what happens when they only go to the USA every three years and the only English speakers around are Mom and Dad. I’m all about giving myself grace when it comes to this still new-to-me world of parenting so I don’t mentally beat myself up about them, but I hope all the parents and parents-to-be find my experiences and insights useful.