The language war

Claire’s amazing progress in English has dispelled our worries of her daily life in school. But now she began to refuse to speak Chinese, bringing up another concern. She speaks English when playing by herself, talks in English when dreaming, even answers in English when we ask her in Chinese. Her grandparents felt more frustrated on video call : Claire talked only in English before her dad translated all her sentences in Chinese.

It was so easy and so fast that the language war is ended up by the triumph of English? We do hope that she would attain the native speaker’s fluency. However, we still insist that she master her mother tongue. From different perspectives, Multilingualism is obviously a benefit. The problem is we don’t know what’s the detailed map of her language proficiency, now or in the future.

I tried to keep speaking Chinese with her, but sometimes, unconsciously followed her in English. For example, I usually asked her to sum up her day and pick one thing that she likes most. Following my wish, she would form the first sentence in Chinese and turn quickly to English…I picked Chinese book for story time, only to have the reaction as “I know it already!” One day, she was found telling the story in English while the picture book was in Chinese.

Has she given up her Chinese? Was she too small to understand the importance to learn another language? I am considering to send her to Private Chinese lessons, especially for the writing. While her daddy was cooler, affirming that learning well English is the most important thing for now.”It’s OK. Anyway, Chinese is her first language and she will not forget that.” said he, “There is no need to speak Chinese now and she can pick it up quickly when we go back.”It’s true that at her age, she cannot realize the importance of another language if it’s not used frequently or if it can be replaced.

We all have read several research papers, according to which, one can only have a main language that express the deep thoughts. Even we intervene in Claire’s language acquisition, we cannot ensure that she would pick Chinese as the main language. It is also said that second language has its limits. Soon or later, she will encounter a frustrating dilemma, that she speaks less well English than her classmates in America and less well Chinese than her classmates in China.

One day, she followed me to my workplace, where I talked in French with my boss. The way back home, she suddenly suggested, “Mom, I want to learn French!” I was so surprised,”But you are learning Spanish too! Will you confuse so many foreign languages? ”

What I have learned is that Curiosity is a good motivation. Maybe we should find some strategies to make Chinese more charming.


How to build up language confidence

Claire enjoys a lot her best friend and classmate Anna. Sometimes, she remains all day grumpy after a disagreement or a quarrel. Since good friends can go though little accident and learn from how to deal it by themselves, I never took seriously her complains and kept myself from being the referee.

One day, she was unusually mad and asked me seriously to stay at school next morning.

“For what?” I tried to figure it out.

“You will tell Anna that this is a U not a V!” she pointed at the word “Hug” printed on her cap.

“This is a U!” I confirmed, “she was just kidding!”

“No, she repeated this was a V. I told her but she thought she didn’t listen.” Claire was about to burst into tears.

“OK. Next time when I see her, I will tell her.”In fact, I just wanted to end this topic, which seemed insignificant.

“Will you tell her tomorrow?” she stared at me.

“OK! OK!” I was making short shrift.

“And don’t forget to tell her that it’s not good to wast hand soap. She always uses too much.” cheered Claire.

I didn’t tell Anna to recognize the right letter the next day. Claire kept reminding me my duty, even on the road to Anna’s house for a play date. I still did nothing, but hoped that Claire would forget it soon. For another reason, I still thought it wasn’t convenient to intervene children’s business.

Claire was disappointed. I could see. I told myself that thy were still best friends, even with this permanent small disagreement. They hugged tightly when Claire left school in the afternoon. The only thing was that Claire began to hate wearing her cap, which had been her favorite item for long time.

Weeks later, when I sent her in, she suddenly appeared frustrated. An idea stroked me and I stooped down to tell her, “I won’t forget to talk to Anna!”

I found her best friend at the play ground. Teachers were surprised to see me there, because usually I dropped my daughter in the classroom and she would go outside by herself to join the others. Anna was embarrassed to see me, for Claire was hiding behind me.

“Hi, Anna, shall we do a game? Guess what is this letter?” I pointed at the word “Hug” and tried to be as gentle as possible.

“U!” she answered in a tiny voice.

“Good job! Now you can hug!” I put Claire’s hand into Anna’s and pushed them together.

Why did I this? Did I intervene too much? At the parking, I had suddenly realized that recognizing the letter U or V was much more important to Claire than anything else. The two are all at the stage to learn alphabet. For Claire, confirming her capacity to learn well this foreign language is essential. She knew well that English is Anna’s native language and she admired native speakers. She could give in if someone pointed out her mistake in naming things or in her pronunciation.

I did that only to make my daughter believe in herself,  make her confident and comfortable with the new language. If she has the right answer but is doubted by others, she might have a inner battle. I must help her to win this battle, because it could be a milestone. She will encounter more language problems, but I wish that she would still have the courage to tell whoever that she is right, if it is.

“Take care”

I was shopping at the 3rd street promenade in Santa Monica, alone and happy. I hadn’t been wandering in fashion stores for 6 months, although I had nothing to buy. “Be careful and keep safe,” my husband warned me when I left the hotel, while he was taking care of Claire. I rushed out to enjoy one hour’s free time, just because it was free time.

The promenade was not as crowded as the beach. I even appreciated a while the street singers. After trying several items in Zara, I lined up for check. “Take care!” the cashier handed me a paper bag which contained my new dress. I suddenly looked into his eyes, trying to figure out what this expression meant. Did I look like a teen because of my little body? Did he want to remind me of the insecurity in this tourist area? Was it relevant to my identity as a Chinese, who is usually believed to take cash and easily targeted by thieves?

I got no answer but walked out of the shop with my backpack near my chest. I hurried up and became more vigilant. Although suspicious, I still had time to go on my shopping. At the counter of Gap, I received another “take care”,  which smoothed my nerves. I realized that “Take care” might mean nothing but a simple greeting in California. However, I still held my backpack tightly the way back to hotel, because for the fourth time of the day, I saw the fire-engine pass by with a frightening alarm.

Later, we became more relaxed with the local greeting “take care”. Nevertheless, I prefer to say “Have a good day” in stead, which delivers a more positive message.Why should I take care? Am I so careless? Is there anything I should pay more attention to? What will happen if I don’t take enough care?

As a foreigner, I always pay too much attention to small words and take all messages seriously. One day, when I was running at a park, I noticed a panel which reads” Watch out for venomous creatures”. I never took the same path again. That was silly, I know. But language has its own power.

I love you so much

I had no idea what caught Claire today, because she kept saying: “Mom, I love you so much.” For more than thirty times!

At first, I was moved and I hug her with the same words: “I love you too”. In our family, we don’t have the tradition to express by language our love to others, even for some special days. We hardly said “I love you” in our native language after the wedding. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just culture, as we are not so open. Maybe we thought that language was so artificial. Or maybe this sentence was so serious for us to use in daily life. We repeated our love to children, but it seems that every time when we said it, we hoped that it would have a big effect. For example, the fist day Claire went to school, when she was sick, etc.

Now she said I love you in English so frequently. Is it one of the natural phenomena of learning? Even I know here people tend to say I love you in their daily life, I still take these words seriously. So I asked her to stop when she had repeated about twenty times. I asked why but got no answer from her. Maybe she had a very happy day, because we went to the Children’s museum. Maybe she was weighing up this amazing sentence. Maybe she was just having fun in saying it.

Later in the afternoon, when she did a silly thing and I frowned my eyebrows, the same words pop out her mouth:”I love you so much, mom!” She was really certain about the power of this sentence, because she smiled innocently at me, believing that I would not be angry any more.

Do I love absolutely this kind of situation? On one hand, I like hearing sweat words and I should learn to say more I love you to her. But on the other hand, I’m afraid that after being repeated without limit, the magic and lovable sentence would become a routine greeting.

I love you so much, Claire. But I will show you, not only by saying it to you.

Wander and Wonder

My English is not good yet, so I often made mistakes in my emails. I don’t have many emails to write, just several causal letters to thank our neighbors or Claire’s preschool teachers. We’ve moved to U.S for four months et have limited communication with the community. 

I waited three months for my job permit, but even I got it, I haven’t begun job research, since I know it’s difficult for me to start an other career, with only expertise in another language’s teaching. So I stay at home, wondering what to do next. Meanwhile, I wander around to discover the city. 

I wrote one day to Claire’s main teacher, “I wander if it’s permitted to take pictures of others kids at school?” Later after sending the mail, I  was suddenly  aware of having made a huge mistake. Why I tapped “wander” in place of “wonder”?  So shamed of myself, I went out hiking in the mountain. My daily life is fulfilled with increasing frustration with my English level, especially when I remembered how proud I was in another foreign language – French. 

My new life is not perfect. My past bumped up to make me reconsider the value of actual life. I lived in a big modern city, tired with daily noisy and stress but consoled by familiar traditions and taken-for-granted security. My family struggled to move out of China in order to land on a better place, even we didn’t figure out how better would it be. Now living finely under the blue sky, our mind is still confusing. Is this the life we looked for? Are there so many culture chocks as we learned in books ? What are the challenges to handle ? 

I’m afraid to wander in the new city, frightened by daily news focusing on gun violence and crashes. Being told to keep safe one thousand times, I just permit myself to wonder in lieu of wandering in touch with the variety of the society. 

But the most exciting part of my daily wanderwonderling is to write down what made me happy, sad, thankful, anxious or just idle. Writing is never boring. Writing in another language is an exploration, like wandering in the strange mountains, like wondering wonderful things or even unbelievable fictitious experiences. 

Keep wonder and wander with words.