For many people of mixed ethnicity, cultural identity is shaped by and bound up in upbringing, language, and experiences.
For parents and carers of mixed ethnicity children, it can be an additional challenge to support their little ones to grow up possibly bilingual, experiencing and appreciating the vibrancy of both (or all) of their cultures.
To find out more about raising mixed ethnicity children, the Multippl team spoke to Ling Wang, mother of half Chinese, half Canadian twins.
Meet Ling Wang
Ling Wang, who is of Taiwanese descent, was born and raised in Ottawa, Canada.
As a child, she grew up speaking Mandarin to her parents as a house rule and attending Saturday Chinese school.
“I also watched Chinese soap operas with my mom with subtitles.” She recalls.
“The shows were recorded by my wai po [grandmother] in Taiwan, who would mail the VHS to us in Canada. I also spent summers in Taiwan where I hung out with my cousins. I went every two years up until I went to university.”
Ling studied Environmental Science but broke free from her Chinese-upbringing becoming a custom wedding invitation stationer.
She is currently not taking on any new clients as she loves her role as a full time mum to twins but occasionally dabbles in designs.
Ling lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, USA, with her husband and twin girls who are now three and a half.
Raising bilingual children
“When my twins were born,” Ling explains, “I did not have any ideas about raising bilingual children. I vaguely knew I wanted them to be bilingual but hadn’t ever thought about how I would go about it.
“In my new-born daze, it all started with my mom’s insistence that my twins only hear Mandarin from me. At first, her insistence felt really naggy and annoying. I didn’t feel confident about my Mandarin skills and my new-mom-brain was barely functional.
“But with daily calls for my mom to see the babies and me speaking simple phrases to them from around four months old, I got in the habit of Mandarin ‘round the clock. Eventually, I was the insistent one about 100% Mandarin. I am constantly asking Google Assistant how to say certain animal or plant names in Chinese.
“At first my twins learned through me speaking and reading stories to them every day. Then I started to work in Chinese nursery rhymes and audiobooks of familiar stories to play and sing with them. For a period of time they listened to Chinese audiobooks while falling asleep too.
“Now that they’re three and a half and mommy needs a break, I let them watch 30-45 minutes of YouTube videos or shows with Mandarin audio. Mama Laoshi and Super JoJo on YouTube and Chico Chico Bonbon on Netflix are their current favorites.”
More than bilingual
Ling explains that raising her twins as bilingual goes beyond just language skills. “At the very least I wanted them to be able to converse with our Mandarin-speaking family” she explains. “But now it’s also about maintaining a connection to our heritage since we live in a small white American town.
“I cook a lot of Chinese food,” Ling says, “and sometimes include my kids in making the food as a way to share my Chinese heritage with them. We read stories and watch YouTube videos about different holidays like Chinese New Year or the Moon Festival.
“I started making the odd holiday-related craft with them last year and foresee us making more culturally significant crafts now that they have better crafting skills.”
Ling focuses on enriching the girls’ understanding of their Chinese culture. “I have not really shared much about Canadian culture as I did not grow up celebrating any Canadian holidays, other than Christmas in a non-secular way.
I talk to our kids about our family in various places and do think it’s important they have a complete picture of their full identity so they can feel confident and proud of who they are.”
Being a bilingual parent
Alongside the usual challenges of parenting, there are some specific challenges for Ling’s mixed ethnicity family. “Being (nearly) the sole source of Mandarin input for my twins in a small white town is my biggest challenge as it’s hard not to give myself a lot of pressure about it.
“Balancing Mandarin with English to make sure English is progressing at a similar pace as Mandarin is another challenge. I want to make sure my husband feels included and also for the kids to function confidently at play dates with English-speaking friends.”
Ling describes how her children have changed the way she sees her own Chinese culture and language. “It makes me feel even more strongly about how much identity and heritage is tied up in language, making me want to pass it on even more.
“Looking back, I took for granted how I have this Chinese culture ingrained in me through the Mandarin my parents gave me. Now that I have to really work for it, it makes me really appreciate what my parents did for me so much more.”
Tips for multi-ppl parents
Ling closes with some final tips for parents raising bilingual children. “Follow your kids’ interests to keep it fun. My kids love songs so singing songs and making up silly songs has been a great way for us to reinforce Mandarin. I will also sometimes change nouns or verbs when I read to them to make them laugh. They love being read to and it’s a fun way to ‘test’ their memory of the story.
“However much you choose to do, just be consistent. And read! I’ve learned so much with my kids. When I realise I taught them the wrong word for something and I later learn the correct term, I will tell them so they know that it’s OK to make mistakes. I’m still learning!”