Three years ago, in 2019 before COVID, our family visited Phoenix Zoo in Arizona. My son was 3.5 years old, speaking only Cantonese and knew very little English at that time. He was very excited running around in the zoo, and screaming all the animals' names in Cantonese, then he heard another boy was doing the same. Yes, running around, and speaking Cantonese too! While I was still chasing my son from behind, he was already playing with the other Cantonese speaking boy, pointing at the alligators and saying "鱷魚" together. Then I walked up to the boy's mom and started to introduce myself. The mom, Peggy, told me that the Cantonese Community is very small in Arizona, and her son, E, doesn't have many Cantonese speaking friends of his age. Our boys continued exploring the zoo together for the rest of the afternoon, we exchanged contacts and kept in touch after we went home to NYC.
Then the Pandemic started in early 2020, we all have to stay home. Many parents are scrambled to find online classes to continue their children's learning. I was one of them, and hoping to find a small group of children to learn reading Cantonese together. Peggy was first to respond and we quickly started our weekly reading session on ZOOM. My son was so happy to see his friend E on ZOOM again! Our reading group is limited to 5 - 6 families, who are dedicated to meet once a week, and we take turns to lead and do a learning activity after our children read their Lele Chinese books. (樂樂文化)
I can't believe it's been over a year, the children in our reading group are still reading together once a week. Many of us have already finished reading the Le Le series, and we have moved on to reading short stories, and simple bridge books. It's amazing to see their Cantonese improve so much in a year. I've also learned so much from other moms in our reading group as well.
Let's hear from Peggy:
Hey y'all! Who would have known we met Cantonese Mommy at our local zoo!! 😉 It was just another normal day as we went to the zoo, feeding giraffes, seeing flamingos and all kinds of wonderful animals, when all of a sudden, our sensitive ears picked up Cantonese pretty close to us!!! We were super excited as this is something that would probably only happen once a year when we go out!! The Chinese community in our state is very small, and for the most of them, they speak Mandarin, so we were thrilled to find someone speaking Cantonese around us!! We naturally started a conversation with this mom and child in Cantonese, and commented how wonderful it is to chat with someone 同聲同氣tung4 seng1 tung4 hei3 in our state, and finally someone close to my son's age can talk to him in Cantonese!!! The two kiddos jumped right in chasing each other, playing in Cantonese, like they had known each other since birth!! The magic of speaking the mother tongue!! #廣東話係我母語 I'm so glad we didn't just let the opportunity slip by and said “hello”, because this turned into a beautiful friendship between these two little boys!! As we started to learn reading Chinese during the pandemic but found no Cantonese reading group available, I started an online reading group with a few wonderful moms I found in the Le Le reading community, Michelle being one of them, and continue to meet weekly to read Le Le books and other books as we progressed. Since our boys are quite silly together and have similar interests, Michelle suggested we Facetime each other for some extra reading time if they want to chat. My son called it the “Silly Group” 😂😂😂 and they started turning the Facetime into sharing their lives and interests: showing each other their Lego builds, creating hilarious stories using their favorite stuffed animals Snakes and 蛋黃哥 Gudetama , going to a pet shop “together” via video calls, writing letters and send souvenirs after trips. And now, they are both getting crazy about Pokémon recently and even brushing teeth with the Pokémon app "together" !! 🤣🤣🤣 Not only did their friendship continue to grow, their Chinese reading and Cantonese speaking ability also grew a lot after a year of consistently meeting online!! Having a buddy who can learn together is not only fun, but it makes the whole learning journey so much more meaningful to them! Especially when there're a lot of worries about children losing their Cantonese after going to school, this friendship let my son continue to have meaningful use of his Cantonese apart from speaking to family and adults in our church! As moms, we also share books our sons love and found support for each other 💕💕💕 So I totally agree with Michelle: don't be a stranger when you hear someone speak Cantonese near you!! You'd never know what amazing things could happen!!
Create a Cantonese social circle for your children who are about the same age, have similar interests, and speak similar level of Cantonese.
If you hear someone speaking Cantonese near you, don't be a stranger. Smile and says, "我哋都係講廣東話喎 ！(We speak Cantonese too!)
Being Consistent is KEY ! Try to arrange playdate (in person or virtual) as often as you can with the same group of friends. Let their friendship grow and speaking Cantonese will become part of the fond childhood memories in their lives.