Raising a child in China

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. 


  • Mike

    Mix kids are lucky as they can learn several languages easily, but don’t forget to focus on your native languages first (cantonese and finnish) or it will be pretty confusing for her later.
    As you are in China, it will be fine for mandarin and cantonese, so no need to worry about them, but if you are the only one speaking finnish, it will already take her more time to “learn” it. And if you add japanese and english, well it’s fine as long as it’s just at school. Don’t focus too much on these languages for the moment.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I’ve been quite surpirsed how much she actually speaks Finnish even though I’m the only one speaking it to her. The 3 week trip to Finland did help it seems. We weren’t planning on adding Japanese, but now it comes from the kindergarten. English then can be left for school, it’s fairly easy to learn so no need to hurry with it.


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