The Meanings of Mom (#606)
Map to Trains (#608)

Gong Hay Fat Choy (#607)

One of my aunts sent me a Chinese New Year's email in.......Chinese. I was able to read most of the words without a dictionary: I studied Mandarin when I was in college and Cantonese (which is the only language that my grandmother, Ngin-Ngin, speaks) for just a few months when I was 7 years old. (My sister and I did not want to go, and my parents acceded to us.)
"It would be great if Charlie could study Chinese," I thought more than a few times when Charlie was a baby. I looked at the Chinese books on my shelves and looked forward to one day resuming my own study of Mandarin, together with Charlie.

Then came the past few years and speech therapy, verbal behavior, verbal imitation programs, oral-motor exercises with whistles and straws, sign langauge, PECS, the Language Master: Anything, everything, to teach Charlie to talk.

(The Chinese books have stayed on the shelf, and gotten rather dusty.)

Charlie was eating lunch while I printed out my aunt's email and started to read it out loud.

"Xin de yi nian......" I read.

"Xin," said Charlie.

"Woo de," I read.

"Woo de," said Charlie.

"Peng you."

"Peng you."

Charlie's pronunciation perfectly echoed mine: When he says a new English word, he usually has to practice saying it for some time. Chinese is a tonal language in which you modulate the rising or falling of your voice and this, along with the particular sounds of vowels of consonants, determines the meaning of a word. Charlie instantly picked up on the "level" tone I used for "xin" ("new") and the dip in my voice when I said "woo" ("I").

"New friend," I translated. And started to count up to ten in Mandarin; each time, Charlie repeated each number with ease.







And so on up to 10 (shi).

I know that Charlie has first to work on his communication skills, on his English pronunciation and yet----I was simply very struck at the ease with which he can say words in Chinese. Might a few lessons in a foreign language help his speech in general? Might I simply be confusing him? I have often figured out what Charlie is saying not so much from the vowels and consonants, as from the melody with which he pronounces a certain word, and he seems alike attuned to the tone and pitch of Jim's and my voices.
Almost too fittingly, it is Chinese New Year today, February 18th, the Year of the Pig: Gong Hay Fat Choy ("Best wishes and Congratulations. Have a prosperous and good year.")

Gong Hay Fat Choy, woode peng you!: Charlie said those words, just like that, too.

Thanks to for the calligraphy.



Kristina! Happy Chinese New Year to you and your family.

There'e a perfume stealing moist from a shaft of red blossom,
And a mist, through the heart from the magical Hill of Wu-
The palaces of China have never known such beauty-
Not evev Flying Swallow with all her glittering garments.

Li Po

Song of pure happiness (II)


Might a few lessons in a foreign language help his speech in general?

Quite possibly yes, but it might be better to think in terms of just letting him hear more Chinese rather than trying to formalize it in a lesson.

And rather than thinking only in terms of helping *speech*, it might be better to think in terms of helping Charlie understand *communication*. I wouldn't worry about confusing him...that is actually something that used to frustrate me while growing up, when people would restrict information from me. Intrinsic, nonlinear learning can be very strong in autistic people.


Fascinating! I can't wait to hear how this plays out over time.


My son was having trouble with 13, 14, 15 and after learning the spanish numbers(instantly)and also auditorily (note: I taught him the English numbers by flashcards along with speech.) He now has no trouble with 13, 14, 15. I credit this to the oral spanish we do. Since he reads I have not given him spanish to read, but only listening exercises like one teaches a young child. ex. nose, mouth, etc....I think it would be EXCELLENT if Charlie learned Chinese. Soooo exciting!! Hope this gives you encouragement. Sincerely, Diane


I had the same experience [my brother is in Beijing and when he visited - they were word perfect 1 - 10] My oldest daughter also spent a year in China and was able to repeat the exercise on her return.
We thought about a second language was a great idea [Italian] but once the speech delays were apparent we decided to keep it simple.
I've read that the 'sounds' of language are there to be moulded by the parent, it might be worth looking into, especially if it's flowing and he's 10. We have a high percentage of Chinese books on tape at our local library, they're great for car journeys [train journeys with a headset?]
[or get out your duster!]
And a very happy new year.


what a lovely chinese new year present to have discovered the way charlie's gift of tone has translated! i love that! why NOT chinese? seems to me those books may be coming off the shelf, yet.

Chu Ru Ping An.


Happy Chinese New Year!

Most definitely Charlie could learn, he has an amazing memory.

I have noticed when the boys daddy is home and he's talking to Big Brother, K.C. tends to look more at who is talking. I think it has got to be the tones as you mentioned Kristina.

Have a great day guys!

Ms. Clark

bu2 cuo4 bu2 cuo4 Charlie.
不错 不错 察 利
Wo3 ye3 xue xi pu3 tong1 hua4.
我 也 学习 普通话
ni3 bi3 wo3 shi4 cong1 ming2 de.
你 坒 我 聪明 的.

Don't worry if you can't make sense of it, it's probably wrong. :-)

Kristina Chew

Xie xie, woomen de peng you!


You probably know what I'm going to say... :) Brendan's & my study of japanese for the past 1 1/2 years has enhanced our lives in so many ways. Even though Brendan did not have speech delays, his "ear" for sounds seems to us to be an entity unto itself, & like zilari says, it might enhance Charlie's communication greatly to have an understanding of Chinese. I know that having more than one way to say things to Brendan has been a benefit on many levels... for both of us!

Kristina Chew

Equally needless to say: Brendan and you are a true inspiration!

Ms. Clark

Bu2 ya4o k4 qi4. :-) Maybe some of his teachers could learn some I hope he can get some bilingual teachers or aides so he can use it outside of your home, too. Maybe he could order some rice or soemthing in a restaurant? It's easier for me to speak to Chinese imigrants or visitors because the see my awkwardeness as a problem caused by the language, and they appreciate that I'm trying. :-) It's not the kind of "slack" that English speakers are likely to grant me.


Although I am not Chinese I've actually thought often about the fact that my son might have an easier time learning Chinese because of its emphasis on tones. My son's lanuage is all tone and no phoneme. He literally speaks in full sentences with all tones and very few phonemes (mostly vowel sounds).

These comments helped me because I was trying to shield my son from hearing other languages. I was afraid it would only confuse him. Kathy's comment about focusing on communication makes sense.

Maybe it is possible that learning Chinese, if that seems to be the most comfortable for Charlie, will actually help him learn english as well.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)