Sheep,Yang. Goat, Shan-yang. Pig, Zhu.
I’ve got horse and cow and dog and cat down, but sheep and goat and pig remain elusive, so I wanted to write them down here, in hopes that they’ll stick. 
Saying the sounds to Emmy, I realized how close the sheep and goat sounds are — I maybe bleet a shorter “baaah” for the goat, but basically they’re the same as far as I know — so it’s interesting that “goat” in Mandarin translates to “mountain sheep.” Having never given them much thought, I guess I didn’t realize how closely related they are, beyond each being sources of delicious cheese.
You can hear the Google Translate woman — who has a very Beijing accent — say goat here. Her pronunciation is very shh — shan-yang Though Rich’s pronunciation (and so the pronunciation in our house) is more san-yang.
Now, for a nice joke involving a yang, a san-yang and a zhu…

Sheep,Yang. Goat, Shan-yang. Pig, Zhu.

I’ve got horse and cow and dog and cat down, but sheep and goat and pig remain elusive, so I wanted to write them down here, in hopes that they’ll stick. 

Saying the sounds to Emmy, I realized how close the sheep and goat sounds are — I maybe bleet a shorter “baaah” for the goat, but basically they’re the same as far as I know — so it’s interesting that “goat” in Mandarin translates to “mountain sheep.” Having never given them much thought, I guess I didn’t realize how closely related they are, beyond each being sources of delicious cheese.

You can hear the Google Translate woman — who has a very Beijing accent — say goat here. Her pronunciation is very shhshan-yang Though Rich’s pronunciation (and so the pronunciation in our house) is more san-yang.

Now, for a nice joke involving a yang, a san-yang and a zhu


You’re right! Duì de! (Sounds like: duay-duh); 
I bought a “First 100 Words Bright Baby” book, less for Emmy than for me to see which beginning words I’m missing. We keep it on her high chair, and while she eats we’ll flip through it, her pointing at things she knows she knows, or me asking her where things are and her very insistently stabbing at each box with her little index finger. Airplane, car, sippy cup, baby, chair, ball, flower, apple, cheese — she nails everything I know how to ask her for. The animals even come with sounds — she pants for the dog, the  monkey gets an “oo oo!” and the cow and cat get a little stuck  “mmm…”
Maybe because she’s learning two languages, she’s less verbal than a lot of kids her age, so the game is particularly satisfying for me — she may not be saying the words, but at least I know she understands what they are, both in English and Mandarin.
Each time she points to the right photo, I gush: Duay-duh! You’re right! Or sometimes the simpler duay — right! (She’s comically serious while she’s pointing, but will sometimes crack a smile at my congratulations.)
Currently, her vocab extends to hi (which she says 1,000 times a day) and bye and mama and babah (what we call Rich instead of dad). Beyond that, she’ll throw out a word or phrase once and never repeat it again (at the airport, when I went to get coffee, she said to Rich, “Mama tzai-nar?” Where’s mama?). Or she’ll say something and one kind of has to squint one’s ears to realize it. Or maybe I do especially, more naturally straining for English words. (A little while after I learned munn (door), I realized she’d been saying this when I’d hand her my keys (they jingle, she likes holding them) half a block before reaching our front door. She and Rich apparently have a game in which he points out windows and doors.)
One morning, I was in bed listening to the two of them playing in the living room and Rich said, “Duay-duh!” Which, after a beat, Emmy repeated perfectly.
I jumped out of bed. “Did you hear that? She said it! Duay-duh! What does that mean?”
"Right."
"Oh. How do you say left?"
"No, like, ‘You’re right.’"
"Ah…"
Since that day, she’s never said it again. But it’s in my cache now. And surely also in hers.
ps: I love that pissed-off duckling. Maybe he thinks they’re suggesting the blue ball is his?

You’re right! Duì de! (Sounds like: duay-duh)

I bought a “First 100 Words Bright Baby” book, less for Emmy than for me to see which beginning words I’m missing. We keep it on her high chair, and while she eats we’ll flip through it, her pointing at things she knows she knows, or me asking her where things are and her very insistently stabbing at each box with her little index finger. Airplane, car, sippy cup, baby, chair, ball, flower, apple, cheese — she nails everything I know how to ask her for. The animals even come with sounds — she pants for the dog, the monkey gets an “oo oo!” and the cow and cat get a little stuck “mmm…”

Maybe because she’s learning two languages, she’s less verbal than a lot of kids her age, so the game is particularly satisfying for me — she may not be saying the words, but at least I know she understands what they are, both in English and Mandarin.

Each time she points to the right photo, I gush: Duay-duh! You’re right! Or sometimes the simpler duay — right! (She’s comically serious while she’s pointing, but will sometimes crack a smile at my congratulations.)

Currently, her vocab extends to hi (which she says 1,000 times a day) and bye and mama and babah (what we call Rich instead of dad). Beyond that, she’ll throw out a word or phrase once and never repeat it again (at the airport, when I went to get coffee, she said to Rich, “Mama tzai-nar?” Where’s mama?). Or she’ll say something and one kind of has to squint one’s ears to realize it. Or maybe I do especially, more naturally straining for English words. (A little while after I learned munn (door), I realized she’d been saying this when I’d hand her my keys (they jingle, she likes holding them) half a block before reaching our front door. She and Rich apparently have a game in which he points out windows and doors.)

One morning, I was in bed listening to the two of them playing in the living room and Rich said, “Duay-duh!” Which, after a beat, Emmy repeated perfectly.

I jumped out of bed. “Did you hear that? She said it! Duay-duh! What does that mean?”

"Right."

"Oh. How do you say left?"

"No, like, ‘You’re right.’"

"Ah…"

Since that day, she’s never said it again. But it’s in my cache now. And surely also in hers.

ps: I love that pissed-off duckling. Maybe he thinks they’re suggesting the blue ball is his?


Bus, gōnggòng qìchē. (Sounds like: goong-goong-cheetz-uh.)
Unlike bird, which is the short-and-sweet nyoh, bus gets replaced with a mouthful — goong-goong-cheetz-uh — knocking it from the list of words I expect to be among my daughter’s firsts, despite the fact that she points out every one she sees. Did I mention there’s a bus stop outside our front door?
If I had a dollar for every goong-goong-cheetz-uh we greet and wave away from behind our opaque first-floor windows, it would begin to seem possible that I might pay off my student loans in time for my 1-year-old to start college.
But I digress.
I’m learning Mandarin alongside Emmy in a completely conversational way. Basically, Rich introduces a new word when we come across it, and then I try keeping it inside my little grab bag of words. They slip out with extraordinary ease.
Last night we bought a Christmas tree and brought up the boxes of ornaments, and so when Emmy entered the living room this morning there was not only a decorated Christmas tree but a a jingle bell on the front door handle. Amazingly, she was much more interested in banging and ringing the bell than she was in investigating the tree. (Are trees passé, since she sees them in the park?) When Rich woke up, we learned that bell is liing — think ling, with a little roller-coaster dip in the middle. By the time we pack the ornaments back up, God help me if liing isn’t securely in the bag. (Pun not intended, but why not.)
I’ve been thinking about the other languages I’ve tried to learn from “conversational” lessons. An Italian tape taught me to greet friends and ask the price of a yellow skirt in the window. And thanks to a French tape I used to listen to while sitting in Los Angeles traffic, my brain has retained, all these years later, just please, thank-you, elevator and “The lamp is broken.” La lampe est cassée.
Maybe if I were learning Mandarin on my own I’d be able to say, “Waiter, the check, please.” But since I’m learning it alongside a 1-year-old, the Mandarin in my odd little grab bag instead consists of:
How are you?It’s time to eat!Would you like to drink water?Monkey.Frog.Bird.Cow.What does the ___ say?AppleBlueberryStrawberryWash hands.BusAirplaneBallTreeBookDogCatHairHeadLegsFeetToesHandsFingersNoseEarsBellyButtWhere is it?There it is!SocksShoesWhere did it go?Don’t eat that!DIrty!Come here.Take a bath.Wait.Be careful.Sweet little treasure.I love you.

Bus, gōnggòng qìchē. (Sounds like: goong-goong-cheetz-uh.)

Unlike bird, which is the short-and-sweet nyoh, bus gets replaced with a mouthful — goong-goong-cheetz-uh — knocking it from the list of words I expect to be among my daughter’s firsts, despite the fact that she points out every one she sees. Did I mention there’s a bus stop outside our front door?

If I had a dollar for every goong-goong-cheetz-uh we greet and wave away from behind our opaque first-floor windows, it would begin to seem possible that I might pay off my student loans in time for my 1-year-old to start college.

But I digress.

I’m learning Mandarin alongside Emmy in a completely conversational way. Basically, Rich introduces a new word when we come across it, and then I try keeping it inside my little grab bag of words. They slip out with extraordinary ease.

Last night we bought a Christmas tree and brought up the boxes of ornaments, and so when Emmy entered the living room this morning there was not only a decorated Christmas tree but a a jingle bell on the front door handle. Amazingly, she was much more interested in banging and ringing the bell than she was in investigating the tree. (Are trees passé, since she sees them in the park?) When Rich woke up, we learned that bell is liing — think ling, with a little roller-coaster dip in the middle. By the time we pack the ornaments back up, God help me if liing isn’t securely in the bag. (Pun not intended, but why not.)

I’ve been thinking about the other languages I’ve tried to learn from “conversational” lessons. An Italian tape taught me to greet friends and ask the price of a yellow skirt in the window. And thanks to a French tape I used to listen to while sitting in Los Angeles traffic, my brain has retained, all these years later, just please, thank-you, elevator and “The lamp is broken.” La lampe est cassée.

Maybe if I were learning Mandarin on my own I’d be able to say, “Waiter, the check, please.” But since I’m learning it alongside a 1-year-old, the Mandarin in my odd little grab bag instead consists of:

How are you?
It’s time to eat!
Would you like to drink water?
Monkey.
Frog.
Bird.
Cow.
What does the ___ say?
Apple
Blueberry
Strawberry
Wash hands.
Bus
Airplane
Ball
Tree
Book
Dog
Cat
Hair
Head
Legs
Feet
Toes
Hands
Fingers
Nose
Ears
Belly
Butt
Where is it?
There it is!
Socks
Shoes
Where did it go?
Don’t eat that!
DIrty!
Come here.
Take a bath.
Wait.
Be careful.
Sweet little treasure.
I love you.

Bird, niǎo. (Sounds like, nyow.)
Like dog (goh) and book (sue), bird exchanges one short, simple sound for another: nyow.
It was a word I grasped quickly and used easily until I learned cow — nyoh — and suddenly my brain wanted to mix up the two. It’s a very humbling thing to realize, a beat too late, that one has pointed to the sky and told a toddler, “Look! A cow!”
I’ve since started thinking of nyoh more like nyohhhhh, with a drawn-out o at the end, mentally linking it to a cow’s moooo. Which actually works. Most of the time.

Bird, niǎo. (Sounds like, nyow.)

Like dog (goh) and book (sue), bird exchanges one short, simple sound for another: nyow.

It was a word I grasped quickly and used easily until I learned cow — nyoh — and suddenly my brain wanted to mix up the two. It’s a very humbling thing to realize, a beat too late, that one has pointed to the sky and told a toddler, “Look! A cow!”

I’ve since started thinking of nyoh more like nyohhhhh, with a drawn-out o at the end, mentally linking it to a cow’s moooo. Which actually works. Most of the time.

Not a whole lot of actual news in today’s New York Times piece about “hearing bilingual.” I’ve read that the link to language is social, so kids don’t learn it by watching TV; that infants favor the languages they heard in the womb; and that bilingual speakers are better executive decision makers. What’s new, it seems, is the idea of “neural commitment” — that monolingual babies stop registering words in other languages at around 10 to 12 months.
Also kind of neat, in studies where babies were shown silent films in which people spoke different languages, 4-month-olds could tell when the language being used changed, but around 8 months, monolingual babies stopped reacting, while the bilingual kids stayed engaged. The bilinguals, the thinking goes, registered that information was still being conveyed.
Now, if someone could release data on the thinking processes of bi-sippy-cup babies, who insist on toting around twice the necessary plastic…

Not a whole lot of actual news in today’s New York Times piece about “hearing bilingual.” I’ve read that the link to language is social, so kids don’t learn it by watching TV; that infants favor the languages they heard in the womb; and that bilingual speakers are better executive decision makers. What’s new, it seems, is the idea of “neural commitment” — that monolingual babies stop registering words in other languages at around 10 to 12 months.

Also kind of neat, in studies where babies were shown silent films in which people spoke different languages, 4-month-olds could tell when the language being used changed, but around 8 months, monolingual babies stopped reacting, while the bilingual kids stayed engaged. The bilinguals, the thinking goes, registered that information was still being conveyed.

Now, if someone could release data on the thinking processes of bi-sippy-cup babies, who insist on toting around twice the necessary plastic…

This mother horse could barely be bothered to guide her baby toward the downier patches of lawn, or around the neighbors’ crushed beer cans. Nevermind find the energy to scold it. If she had, can you imagine? The Mega Millions of translation!
(Confused? Please to note the dorkiness of my earlier post.)

This mother horse could barely be bothered to guide her baby toward the downier patches of lawn, or around the neighbors’ crushed beer cans. Nevermind find the energy to scold it. If she had, can you imagine? The Mega Millions of translation!

(Confused? Please to note the dorkiness of my earlier post.)

Tree, shù (Sounds like: sue.) Book, shū (Sounds like: sue.) Horse, mǎ. 
Awesome things about Mandarin: there’s no verb conjugation and no feminine/masculine. Major challenge about Mandarin: it’s a tonal language.
Which Rich likes to remind me of, generally at moments when I’m making his ears bleed, clumsily repeating sounds to the point of making them other words.
Just after Emmy and I had mastered tree — sue — I saw Rich pointing to the books on her bookshelf and telling her: sue.
"What?" I stopped folding her clothes. "Are you kidding me?"
"You pay attention with a glass of wine, to find the nuance," he told me. "You have to do the same with the words."
Repeating that here it maybe sounds cute or super cheezy. But being told it was just annoying. Though I followed his point.
Tree, shù, is high and light. (Listen here.) Book, shū, is low and quick. (Listen here.)
Another trickster is horse: ma. A light, easy, ma. Sometimes when I take Em for a run in Prospect Park we pass a few lethargic horses dutifully toting riders along a path. Can ma, ma? I’ve started to say, knowing can is to see, ma (as you know) turns the words into a question and — since our recent trip to the Outer Banks, where wild horses did the gardening — that ma is horse.
Over dinner, I asked Rich about the awkwardness of the back-to-back “ma” and he laughed that there were actually five “ma” words — all different tonally, of course.
In high school I had a job involving a cash register and I used to think of giving $0.41 of change — one quarter, one dime, one nickel and one penny — as the jackpot of change.
Surely someone saying, “Ma ma ma ma ma?” is the jackpot of Mandarin translation.
Now, to sit tight and wait for the need for someone to ask: “Did the mother scold the horse?”

Tree, shù (Sounds like: sue.) Book, shū (Sounds like: sue.) Horse, mǎ.

Awesome things about Mandarin: there’s no verb conjugation and no feminine/masculine. Major challenge about Mandarin: it’s a tonal language.

Which Rich likes to remind me of, generally at moments when I’m making his ears bleed, clumsily repeating sounds to the point of making them other words.

Just after Emmy and I had mastered treesue — I saw Rich pointing to the books on her bookshelf and telling her: sue.

"What?" I stopped folding her clothes. "Are you kidding me?"

"You pay attention with a glass of wine, to find the nuance," he told me. "You have to do the same with the words."

Repeating that here it maybe sounds cute or super cheezy. But being told it was just annoying. Though I followed his point.

Tree, shù, is high and light. (Listen here.) Book, shū, is low and quick. (Listen here.)

Another trickster is horse: ma. A light, easy, ma. Sometimes when I take Em for a run in Prospect Park we pass a few lethargic horses dutifully toting riders along a path. Can ma, ma? I’ve started to say, knowing can is to see, ma (as you know) turns the words into a question and — since our recent trip to the Outer Banks, where wild horses did the gardening — that ma is horse.

Over dinner, I asked Rich about the awkwardness of the back-to-back “ma” and he laughed that there were actually five “ma” words — all different tonally, of course.

In high school I had a job involving a cash register and I used to think of giving $0.41 of change — one quarter, one dime, one nickel and one penny — as the jackpot of change.

Surely someone saying, “Ma ma ma ma ma?” is the jackpot of Mandarin translation.

Now, to sit tight and wait for the need for someone to ask: “Did the mother scold the horse?”

Airplane, fēijī. (Sounds like: fay-gee. As in, gee whiz.)
Somehow, above the roar of the city’s song, my girl manages to pick up on seemingly every airplane flying by and must accordingly adjust her view — whether throwing her head back in the carrier or smushing her face against the back door screen — in order to identify it with an insistent point of her outstretched index finger.
"Yes!" we say for the umpteenth time. "Fay-gee!”
Last week we took a better-late-than-never summer vacation in the Outer Banks, and she actually got to ride in one. Though, the view of the thing up close — boarding the small plane from the runway — seemed to more totally blow her mind.

Airplane, fēijī. (Sounds like: fay-gee. As in, gee whiz.)

Somehow, above the roar of the city’s song, my girl manages to pick up on seemingly every airplane flying by and must accordingly adjust her view — whether throwing her head back in the carrier or smushing her face against the back door screen — in order to identify it with an insistent point of her outstretched index finger.

"Yes!" we say for the umpteenth time. "Fay-gee!”

Last week we took a better-late-than-never summer vacation in the Outer Banks, and she actually got to ride in one. Though, the view of the thing up close — boarding the small plane from the runway — seemed to more totally blow her mind.

Happy birthday to you, Zhù nǐ shēngrì kuàilè  (Sounds like zoony sun-zuh kwy lah)
Emerson’s delivery — a year ago, Aug. 29 — was an exciting one. Her head was turned the wrong way and so she wasn’t falling into position, and when I finally pushed her out, after 36 hours of labor, the room was packed with doctors and nurses and medical residents (who rushed in to see a forceps delivery, which the doctor had threatened).
A moment after Em finally slipped out — in a big wriggle of arms and legs, or so it seemed when the doctor shouted, “Stop!” and I stopped pushing and opened my eyes — one of the nurses announced: “I think this one is going to be a drama queen!”
I recalled that woman’s regrettable words as, days after an earthquake, Hurricane Irene made tracks for Emerson’s Sunday birthday party and the big ordered cake — vanilla buttercream frosting, strawberry jam and lemon curd filling — was cancelled and the party called off.
In the end, feeling nervous about Irene knocking the power out — and leaving us in the dark with a baby for too many days — we drove to Rich’s parents’ place in Boston and on the 29th celebrated with a tiny cake and just the grandparents. Emerson clapped along with our singing, occasionally hid her face in faux modesty, and loved the strawberries even more than her first bites of cake. In all: a success.
Maybe more than a drama queen, we can hope that while drama may find her, she’ll move through it with smiles and ease.
Sun-zuh kwy lah, xiao bao bei.

Happy birthday to you, Zhù nǐ shēngrì kuàilè  (Sounds like zoony sun-zuh kwy lah)

Emerson’s delivery — a year ago, Aug. 29 — was an exciting one. Her head was turned the wrong way and so she wasn’t falling into position, and when I finally pushed her out, after 36 hours of labor, the room was packed with doctors and nurses and medical residents (who rushed in to see a forceps delivery, which the doctor had threatened).

A moment after Em finally slipped out — in a big wriggle of arms and legs, or so it seemed when the doctor shouted, “Stop!” and I stopped pushing and opened my eyes — one of the nurses announced: “I think this one is going to be a drama queen!”

I recalled that woman’s regrettable words as, days after an earthquake, Hurricane Irene made tracks for Emerson’s Sunday birthday party and the big ordered cake — vanilla buttercream frosting, strawberry jam and lemon curd filling — was cancelled and the party called off.

In the end, feeling nervous about Irene knocking the power out — and leaving us in the dark with a baby for too many days — we drove to Rich’s parents’ place in Boston and on the 29th celebrated with a tiny cake and just the grandparents. Emerson clapped along with our singing, occasionally hid her face in faux modesty, and loved the strawberries even more than her first bites of cake. In all: a success.

Maybe more than a drama queen, we can hope that while drama may find her, she’ll move through it with smiles and ease.

Sun-zuh kwy lah, xiao bao bei.

Dinosaur, kǒnglóng.

The magnets are a red herring. The real kǒnglóng in our house is Miss Emerson, who roars and shrieks and stomps and generally does a spot-on impression of a pterodactyl or a velociraptor, depending on which of her parents you ask. But at any rate, a kǒnglóng for sure.

I wrote in Gastronomy about how Rich’s mom likes to tell me that Mandarin is so efficient — there aren’t extra words to remember like podiatrist or dentist, one just says foot doctor or teeth doctor. Kǒnglóng, however, literally translates to scary dragon. A little redundant for such an efficient language, no?
 

Blueberry, Lán méi (sounds like: (gold) lamé)
If bananas are the most risqué fruit, blueberries are the most fabulous.

Blueberry, Lán méi (sounds like: (gold) lamé)

If bananas are the most risqué fruit, blueberries are the most fabulous.

To see, Kàn (sounds like: can); Dog, Gǒu (sounds like: go)
Over enough drinks with a certain couple we like to talk about how we’ll someday make millions — or at least hundreds — with a curriculum that teaches “Chinese math” to white people. Remember those timed times-table tests we used to do in math class? 100 equations in four rows, ready set go? Second-grade Rich apparently blew through those (while I counted on my fingers) thanks to Chinese math, which consists not of this but of getting rid of all extraneous words.
Instead of thinking “2 times 2 is four,” you think, “2, 2, 4.” Instead of “4 times 4 is 16,” “4, 4, 16.” That’s it. Seriously.
Leave out “times” and “is” and you go from finger-counting American to an I-finished-15-minutes-before-everyone Chinese American. Emerson is going to kick some math ass.
I tell you this because Mandarin apparently works the same way. There’s a handy little word — “ma" — that basically acts like a question mark. Tack it on and you’ve got yourself a question. (Ni hao ma?) Another awesome word is go, which means dog. Which means it’s impossible to say “dog” in Mandarin without imagining a happy, energetic, running dog. To see, is can.
Since Mandarin handily works like Chinese math, if you wanted to say, “Do you see the dog?” you could just link together the essentials: dog, see, question mark. “Can go ma?”
Rich is going to be devastated that I’ve shared this top-secret information. If you somehow wind up making hundreds off of Chinese math, please do send a portion of the proceeds this way. 
*Above is Emmy’s dog cousin, Nigel, whose mom is Emmy’s talented Auntie Mina. (Hi, Mina!)

To see, Kàn (sounds like: can); Dog, Gǒu (sounds like: go)

Over enough drinks with a certain couple we like to talk about how we’ll someday make millions — or at least hundreds — with a curriculum that teaches “Chinese math” to white people. Remember those timed times-table tests we used to do in math class? 100 equations in four rows, ready set go? Second-grade Rich apparently blew through those (while I counted on my fingers) thanks to Chinese math, which consists not of this but of getting rid of all extraneous words.

Instead of thinking “2 times 2 is four,” you think, “2, 2, 4.” Instead of “4 times 4 is 16,” “4, 4, 16.” That’s it. Seriously.

Leave out “times” and “is” and you go from finger-counting American to an I-finished-15-minutes-before-everyone Chinese American. Emerson is going to kick some math ass.

I tell you this because Mandarin apparently works the same way. There’s a handy little word — “ma" — that basically acts like a question mark. Tack it on and you’ve got yourself a question. (Ni hao ma?) Another awesome word is go, which means dog. Which means it’s impossible to say “dog” in Mandarin without imagining a happy, energetic, running dog. To see, is can.

Since Mandarin handily works like Chinese math, if you wanted to say, “Do you see the dog?” you could just link together the essentials: dog, see, question mark. “Can go ma?”

Rich is going to be devastated that I’ve shared this top-secret information. If you somehow wind up making hundreds off of Chinese math, please do send a portion of the proceeds this way. 

*Above is Emmy’s dog cousin, Nigel, whose mom is Emmy’s talented Auntie Mina. (Hi, Mina!)