Language is one of the most intimate ways that connects you to your roots. For most people, their mother tongue along with English has become important and automatically made them bilingual.
But a lot of new-age parents tend to focus only on English. And yes, while the language is truly global and works in every major situation, learning other languages only helps you to open up to other experiences, perspectives and traditions.
So, when the young mum of two boys, Yvonne Tee tried teaching her toddler Mandarin Chinese, little did she know that there was a dearth of books to help her in the quest towards bilingual child development.
But not one to give up, Yvonne decided to take matters into her own hands quite literally and wrote a book herself.
With Bilingual Kiddos, the self-published author has written bilingual children’s books that are fun and educational for young children new to the Chinese language.
theAsianparent caught up with Yvonne Tee to understand how she tackles the issue of bilingual child development, her parenting journey, and life as a working mum of two.
A Parenting Journey That Changed Her Life
Image Source: Yvonne Tee
Yvonne lives in Australia with her husband and two kids. His first son Edric was born in 2017 and she says she was clueless about motherhood or parenting at the time.
Nevertheless, she researched about everything during her pregnancy– right from baby items, to breastfeeding, to confinement tips.
Yvonne’s parenting journey has been an eye-opening experience. It helped her understand and learn about different concepts with every trimester, which only prepared her for the second baby that arrived a few years later.
When it comes to giving advice to new mums, Yvonne says, “If you are big on breastfeeding, read more about it before the baby arrives. Read books or join a breastfeeding-friendly online group. If you do not know your facts, it might be easy to get lost in the sea of unsolicited advice and misconceptions. Read and equip yourself with the knowledge. It made my breastfeeding journey smoother.”
It also helped to have more friends who are mums during her pregnancy journey. Yvonne recommends making an effort to connect with other moms as they will understand what you are going through.
“As I was one of the first in my peer group to have kids, online mom groups were extremely comforting and helpful. ” the author says. “It made such a big difference in helping me enjoy mom life. I highly recommend it.”
“Having a positive mindset is extremely important too. This journey has been and still is challenging. But in the end, you count your blessings and take life one step at a time,” she tells theAsianparent.
From A ‘Non-Baby’ Person To ‘It’s All About The Kids’
Yvonne explains how she was never a “baby person” before she had kids of her own. The author was all about being independent and career-minded but her perception of success changed after having kids.
“Pre-kids, I was not a baby person at all. Now, I melt a bit on the inside every time I see a baby or young child. They are just too innocent and cute,” she says.
Adding, “My perception of success in life changed after having kids. Spending quality time with family and having a good work-life balance are now the most important things. I feel happier and more fulfilled too.”
But parenthood hasn’t stopped the mum from pursuing other interests. With her kids in childcare three days a week, the mum uses that time to work on her business and books.
Why She Wanted To Work Bilingual Child Development
Image Source: Yvonne Tee
And the idea of creating bilingual books led to the ‘Bilingual Kiddos’ for the mum.
With Mandarin Chinese as her mother tongue, Yvonne wanted to pass the language down to her children. However, the mum says there weren’t many Chinese books enough for the kids and written with pinyin.
“I clearly remember that one night in February 2020 I was lamenting to my mom, “I wish there were more simple bilingual books for parents like me and for young children like Edric.”
“I am going to write one,” she said to her mum.
Yvonne further says, “She looked at me funny. But the rest, as they say, is history.”
Bilingual Kiddos set-up shot in June 2020 to help parents in bilingual child development. The mum self-published her first bilingual book in September 2020.
“I was not sure about the demand for the book, so I launched it through a platform that promotes creative projects, Kickstarter.”
The Kickstarter project turned out to be an overwhelming success. The mum raised over $15000 and sold over 400 books to backers from 19 countries.
“At least it was not loss-making, which was a relief, ha!”
A year into Bilingual Kiddos turned out to be an eye-opening experience for this mumpreneur. She found that many English-speaking parents are in a similar position as she was.
“Many understand the benefits of raising their children bilingual/multilingual but lack the resources to do it.”
She also realised that the parents had the same queries as well.
“Will teaching another language confuse my young child? It is too late to teach them another language? How do I even teach the language when I am not fluent in it myself? How do I get my child to respond in the second language?” she tells us.
While the questions were legitimate, Yvonne has plenty to share from her own journey and experience about the same.
Teaching Kids Chinese In An English Speaking Country
However, the journey has been far from easy as far as teaching her kids a second language goes.
“I am the only source of exposure to Chinese for my children. We live in an English-speaking country, and most of our friends and family speak English,” she notes.
Nevertheless, the mum’s efforts have paid off as she managed to inspire other parents to raise their children bilingual.
She says, “I love it when parents come to me and say that their children love my books and are receptive to the Chinese language because of it. To me, these are the most rewarding aspects of Bilingual Kiddos.”
Focus On Bilingual Child Development For Her Two Toddlers
Image Source: Yvonne Tee
Yvonne was a full-time parent when she started Bilingual Kiddos and that meant she had limited time to work on her first book.
“Having two young toddlers in the house can be extremely hectic. The only time when I could work was at night after putting them to bed. I remember working on my book up till 3-4 am most nights. I spent hours on Instagram trying to build a following from scratch,” as she explains.
The mum also experienced burnout after launching her first book. It wasn’t until then that she realised how passionate she really was about her books and work.
And that’s when she decided to take a step back from work and social media. For most entrepreneurs, burning out becomes a challenge that often consumes you before you hit that peak.
It’s great to see the mum realign work to suit her mental health and yet achieve all her goals.
“I started to read more and journey inwards, questioning my whys and realigning my purpose. Now, I am more mindful of my health and well-being. There is always more work to be done, but you can not enjoy life without your health,” she says.
How Parents Can Work On Bilingual Child Development
“I want parents to know that there are real benefits to raising their children bilingual,” says Yvonne.
It includes improved cognitive function and also being more empathetic. The mum further explains that it also helps in more job opportunities in the future.
She further adds that most people realise the importance of learning a second or third language only when they are in their 20s. “So, while the kids may not warm up to learning a second language immediately, they will thank you for your persistence down the road,” she says.
In line with the same aspiration, the mum wants to create a course on raising bilingual children to help more parents and pass on this message to a bigger audience.
The Balancing Act As A Working Mum
Image Source: Yvonne Tee
Yvonne’s life is now a lot about juggling so many things with just two hands and limited time. While parenting takes the load of time throughout the day, she also has a business to run.
“In my opinion, it is not easy to balance it all at the same time,” Yvonne says, adding, “There is a time and place for each of these roles.”
“When I was in my 20s, the sole focus was on myself and my career. When I become a mom, I want to spend more time and energy on my children and less on work. In the future, when my children are more independent and no longer require me as much, I will choose to refocus on myself and my work,” she points.
Is motherhood putting a backseat to your professional aspirations then?
The mum disagrees. “I want to clarify that this does not mean that you can not have a successful career or business while being a mum. For most of us, it just means you have to get help or sacrifice some part of your life to achieve that.”
Yvonne also believes that marriage is a balancing act and that can only happen when both sides weigh equally.
“It is important to view each other as equals in marriage,” says the mum.
She adds, “It, in turn, promotes mutual respect, making it easier to achieve goals as a team. My husband brings in most of our income, but I look after our financial investments. I appreciate him for providing for the family, and he acknowledges that I am the backbone of the family. Not one of us is less important than the other.”
What About Gender Equality? Yvonne Has A Different Take
In today’s world where the larger debate is more about gender equality, as it rightly should be, Yvonne has a different perspective on the matter.
“As much as I appreciate the gender equality movement, I do not think men and women are equal,” she says.
“Women can do the one thing that men can not, even if they wanted to, which is giving birth to another human being. At some point in our lives, most of us women will have children. We will want to spend more time with our children instead of climbing the corporate ladder or spending time away with our businesses,” she adds.
The author says, “When my first child Edric was born, I chose to stay home with him after my maternity leave ended. That year was an extremely challenging and emotional one for me. I felt lost as my identity tied into my achievements and my career.”
“It also did not help that stay-at-home moms are perceived to be contributing less to society as they are not earning an income. It took months for me to come to a stage where I accepted my role as a full-time mom, despite it being my decision. No one else should determine my self-worth except for myself.”
“I also want to highlight that it is okay to continue pursuing your dreams while being a mom. We should not have to give up our dreams for our children if that is not what we want,” she tells us.
Prior to being an author, Yvonne worked in investment banking, which was a male-dominated industry. Despite graduating from the prestigious London School of Economics, the mum says she had to send in over 50 applications each year to land a job in banking in London.
As the world moves towards a more gender-equal status, she is happy to see more talented women joining the ranks in the sector.
The Secret Sauce To This Mum’s Success
It’s also this perspective that has helped Yvonne control her success story.
“Create your definition of success rather than confirming to that of society,” says the mum.
Yvonne believes that setting your own goals and achieving them should be your primary guide to life. It’s a half-glass full approach and indeed the one we should all follow.
The mumpreneur also insists to not take life too seriously – a quality she’s inherited from her own father, and something we wholeheartedly agree with.
Both her parents have been her role models with her mum breaking the glass ceiling in being a female leader in a male-dominated industry.
Yvonne also says that she takes inspiration from the teachings of the ‘Slight Edge’ by Jess Olsen.
Raising Children To Not See Colour
Image Source: Yvonne Tee
Apart from gender equality, we live in a society that continues to struggle with racism. However, it will take a generation of changed mindsets to bring about an effective change.
And the first step towards the same is raising your kids that way.
“I think it is okay to see colour per se and acknowledge that some people are different. Children have an infinity towards people who look the same and speak the same language as them. It is our role to explain to them that we are all beautiful in our unique ways. It is how we treat others who are different that matters,” the mum says.
Bilingual Child Development In Singapore
As someone working in the education sector, Yvonne’s books have found acceptance worldwide.
While the mum isn’t in Singapore right now, she has a strong following in Asian countries while she’s settled in a western country.
Speaking from her experience about education in Asia and the west, the mum says, “The Asian education system requires memorisation and regurgitation. The Western education system focuses more on understanding and application. It would be ideal to combine both education methods to make the best of both worlds.”
To understand more about the same same, Yvonne recommends, “Beyond The Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age” where author Maya Thiagarajan discusses this topic in specific.
That being said, Singapore schools do offer the option to parents to sign up for a second language that can be either parent’s mother tongue.
What About Daddy Duties?
Yvonne’s husband has been an active participant in their child’s early learning.
“My husband would go for school tours with me and is quite vocal about sending our children to public schools instead of private schools to give them a more rounded exposure to children of all backgrounds.”
However, she also agrees that he does not play a major role in their kids’ early education. However, she expects it to change as the little one get older and identifies with the dad as a role model.
So for mums and dads looking to focus on bilingual child development, pay heed to what this mum says! After all, in the more glocal (global + local) world of today, it’s a skill set for your child.
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