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Multilingual families: A Belgian grandmother teaches her grandkids Chinese

What’s it like to have a cool grandma? Well, for WuKong’s student Yuan Yuan, it’s amazing! His grandma moved to Belgium 38 years ago and raised her two daughters there, and now she is teaching her grandkids Chinese and sharing Chinese culture with the whole family.

Being a grandma isn’t all about childcare. Yuan Yuan’s grandma has her own life and is always learning new things. She also has her own unique views on education.

While most interviews focus on moms, this is the first time WuKong has interviewed a grandma! What are her thoughts on parenting? What stories has she shared? Keep reading to find out!

Yuan Yuan and his family
Yuan Yuan and his family

Yuan Yuan’s grandmother and her family live in Antwerp, a beautiful seaport city that is also the diamond-cutting center of the world. Although known for its industry, the city is permeated with a romantic medieval atmosphere, and retro-European architecture can be seen everywhere. However, Yuan Yuan’s grandmother still misses her hometown Taiwan, where she can easily take the subway and have food delivered to her doorstep.

In addition to lifestyle habits, Yuan Yuan’s grandmother also had to adapt to the education system. Yuan Yuan’s grandmother raised her two daughters following Chinese-style education, with the idea that “learning more things is good for them,” and she even wanted to fill her children’s weekends with study plans.

However, her husband, a fourth-generation ethnic Chinese who grew up in the Western education system, did not agree with this educational philosophy. He believed that since they were living in the West, there was no need to continue using the “survival rules” of Asia. Under her husband’s influence, Yuan Yuan’s grandmother gradually reshaped her education philosophy.

When her eldest daughter was in the second year of junior high school and her coursework became increasingly heavy, she wanted to give up playing the piano, which she had been studying for seven years. This time, Yuan Yuan’s grandmother supported her daughter without any hesitation. She believed that once children have their own thoughts and opinions, they must be respected for their choices. The role of parents is to guide and accompany them.

Yuan Yuan and his family
Yuan Yuan loves swimming

In Belgium, it is common for people to speak at least three languages, which is the inevitable result of the environment. Belgium is divided into the Flemish region and the French-speaking region, with the capital city of Brussels being in the French-speaking region and Antwerp in the Flemish region. Schools offer courses in Flemish, French, German, and other languages for future communication.

When watching television, there are channels broadcasted in Flemish, French, German, etc. People naturally learn multiple languages through immersion. Although Chinese is not the mainstream language there, speaking Chinese is an unspoken rule in Yuan Yuan’s grandmother’s house.

When her two daughters were around seven or eight years old, Yuan Yuan’s grandmother personally taught them Chinese. However, they gave up halfway through due to starting too late. Although they have no problem with daily conversations, it is difficult for them to read and write.

After her eldest daughter graduated from university, she used her Chinese advantage to apply for a job in an airline company. After accumulating enough experience, she chose to continue challenging herself and entered the international group Alibaba.

The younger daughter helped her father run his travel agency and dealt with tourists from different countries every day. Being able to speak Chinese made things easier for her.

They knew that their achievements today were due to their mother’s insistence on teaching them Chinese. Therefore, after giving birth to her own kid Yuan Yuan, the younger daughter immediately started Chinese education for Yuan Yuan.

learning Chinese
Yuan Yuan is writing Chinese characters

Since her daughter’s Chinese is not very good, Yuan Yuan’s grandmother took the responsibility of teaching her grandkid Chinese.

Yuan Yuan began taking Chinese classes at the age of four. This decision made Yuan Yuan’s grandmother very happy. As she observed, “A four-year-old’s brain is like a sponge, absorbing whatever adults teach. If they get older, other languages are more likely to take precedence and teaching basic Chinese characters may seem childish to them, leading to giving up halfway.

To help find a reliable Chinese teacher for Yuan Yuan, her grandmother compared several Chinese institutions and finally settled on WuKong Chinese, which looked good in all aspects.

In the beginning, they only planned to take a few classes to try it out, but WuKong teachers were particularly professional, which made Yuan Yuan become a loyal student there.

Although Yuan Yuan enjoys taking Chinese classes, the homework still gives him a headache.

Yuan Yuan’s grandmother then divided his homework into small chunks. For example, if the teacher asked Yuan Yuan to learn five Chinese characters in a week, her grandmother would split this task into learning one character per day. This not only reduces difficulty but also lengthens the timeline, allowing Yuan Yuan to be in contact with Chinese characters every day without getting bored.

Yuan Yuan’s grandmother’s thoughtfulness didn’t stop there. Considering that handwriting Chinese characters may be messy and different from print, she hand-wrote each newly learned character on the blackboard and taught Yuan Yuan to recognize them one by one.

learning Chinese characters
Grandmother’s handwriting Chinese characters

The weekly Chinese classes have been going on for a year and a half, and Yuan Yuan has learned over a hundred Chinese characters.

Without regular review, knowledge will be forgotten. Therefore, Yuan Yuan’s grandmother takes out a blackboard and helps Yuan Yuan review all the Chinese characters every Saturday.

The review process is not just rote learning. Yuan Yuan is quite competitive, so his grandmother motivates him by turning the review into a game.

Grandma: “Yuan Yuan, let’s play a game. See if you can find all these characters in ten seconds.”
Yuan Yuan: “Okay!”

Every time, Yuan Yuan feels like he is competing against time, and he becomes fully engaged.

To prevent Yuan Yuan from simply memorizing where the characters are located, his grandmother shuffles the order of the characters every week to ensure that he truly masters the characters.

Throughout the process, not only is Yuan Yuan learning, but his grandmother is also learning and observing, constantly adjusting her communication skills and exploring the most suitable teaching methods. Yuan Yuan is also a very warm-hearted child. He knows that his grandmother cares about his progress in learning Chinese, so he often surprises her.

He secretly wrote the new characters he had learned on paper and folded them up as gifts for his grandmother.

Thanks to his early exposure to Chinese, Yuan Yuan seems to have a unique talent for Chinese characters. Every time the teacher asks him to say the strokes of a character, whether it’s horizontal, vertical, or diagonal, he can answer accurately.

Yuan Yuan’s grandmother does not want to turn “learning Chinese” into a very utilitarian thing. She only hopes that Yuan Yuan can learn and write common characters, and hopes that Chinese can someday provide him with more opportunities!




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