Friday, February 17, 2012

We Will Speak Mandarin

For the second time this week, a total stranger has triggered the feeling of failure in me. The first was the dentist and the second, the audiologist we met with today. I had to take Aaron for a follow up hearing test and the lady casually asked if he spoke a second language.

"No...I tried. I had the best intentions. He probably understands quite a bit but he doesn't speak any Mandarin."

Up until now, I have placed the responsibility of teaching Aaron, and now Adrian, a second language, squarely on Richard's shoulders. After all, he is the one that grew up with Mandarin as his first language. This is the only language his father speaks which made it quite awkward when we visited in December. Richard also went to a Mandarin speaking high school. So, its his language! He THINKS in Mandarin.

On the other hand, my parents speak to me in English. Apart from the smattering of Cantonese that I speak with my grandmother and kindergarten level Mandarin and Malay that I picked up from living in Malaysia, English is my only language.  How am I expected to surround my children with Mandarin?

It is with envy that I observe other mothers conversing solely in their non-English mother tongues with their children. I want to do that too but I'm going to need to learn the language first. I can't wait for Richard because he doesn't seem to be around enough to be effective. I have to stop my half hearted attempts to raise bi-lingual children and get serious about things.

So, I started last week. Unfortunately, Pimsleurs Mandarin lessons are very much for the traveler and are not giving much vocabulary for disciplining children or answer their hundreds of questions each day about the world around them.

We also have a set of childrens story books that build mini stories from some of the simpler characters. The boys and I read through these each day but I'm worried that they will get bored of that soon. I'll be stuck for material then and maybe have to make some of my own. EEK! I have also convinced Aaron to write a page of Chinese characters each day and he has been good so far.

I feel quite self conscious when we are out and about and I speak to them in Mandarin. If the people around me are not Chinese, I'm a little more comfortable but if they are, I try to whisper. Whispering doesn't work with these two boys so I inevitably fall back to English. Its terrible to look Chinese, have Chinese looking children and not be able to speak Chinese. Especially these days when there is so much emphasis on this second language business.

Anyway, I've set is as one of my major goals as a parent. Its going to be a miracle if I actually end up making them Mandarin speakers but at least I'm trying.


Bilbo said...

Any effort you make toward helping the A's learn a second language will be useful. At their ages, they'll soak it up like sponges, so you won't have to work as hard as you might think, especially if you can make it a game. It might also help if you can find Mandarin-speaking playmates for them, or something for children offered through the local branch of the Confucius Institute ( Good luck ... I'm trying to get our grandchildren interested in speaking German, so I sort of feel your pain!

Mike said...

A second launguage can only help them in the long run. My nieghbors adopted two Chinese girls. They send them to Chinese launguage school.