One morning, while in the elevator, a senior Chinese woman struck up a conversation with DA. In fookien Chinese, she asked, “Are you going to school already?” DA managed to nod his head despite not fully understanding the question. Thinking that he understood, the woman went on, still in Fookien Chinese, “How old are you?”
DA answered with another nod.
Oops! Wrong answer!
Embarrassing as it was, that experience made me realize one thing – I have failed as his first teacher. I have failed to harness his learning capabilities by not teaching him to be multilingual. Kids nowadays grow up hearing, learning and speaking mostly English. DA is no exception. While hubby and I are both Chinoys, we rarely speak Chinese at home. When it comes to the kids, it’s always in English. It’s English with his teachers, it’s English with his friends, it’s English with his cousins, it’s still English with his family.
Something is definitely not right with that. Why, our generation of Chinoys can go from Tagalog to English to Fookien to Mandarin without batting an eyelash! We can do better for our kids, right?
I once attended an advertising talk by The Learning Library, offering Filipino reading and comprehension classes. I was too busy feigning interest that I managed to catch only 2 points from the talk. Two very helpful points, if I may add, since they are what I found useful when teaching Chinese to the kids.
The first point was immediate translation. For those who are familiar with the shows Handy Manny and Dora the Explorer, they employ the same technique. They say a word in Spanish and then follow it up with an English translation. An example would be Manny saying “Bienvenido, Tools!” He would then follow it up with “Welcome, Tools!” This lets the children associate the foreign word to the familiar translation.
The next point was to set a designated time and place to use the new language. I, for one know that I should speak more Chinese to expose the kids further to the language. The problem however, is that I am so not used to speaking it that I forget. This is how the mentioned technique helps. For us, I have set bath time to be Chinese time. While giving the kids a bath, I would try to speak mostly in Chinese, letting them learn words like hot, cold, water, bath, done, not yet. It’s but a few words but it’s a start. By defining a specific time, the kids and I are both reminded of it and it becomes a routine. I hope to eventually include other times like mealtime, car time, sleep time, even CR time, to have more opportunity to learn the language.
Another tip that I learned from experience is repetition. I managed to get him to learn counting in Fookien by just saying the number while we go up and down the stairs from the parking lot. It’s just one floor up, two flights of stairs, Monday to Friday. In no time at all, he was saying the numbers like a pro.
We’re still a long way from him having a good command of the language but as I’ve said earlier, it’s a start. A good start, in fact. He’s a few weeks shy of turning 3 and they say that the best time to teach kids a second, a third, or even a fourth language is before that age.
Well, I gotta run now! I’ve got a few more days left to cram words into his head and hope that the next time someone asks him in Chinese, he’d have something correct to say. 🙂