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.

Small talk

I’m not good at small talk, although I’ve been learning foreign languages for years and always remind my students to be willing to begin small talk with foreigners.

For some people, small talk is easy and it hardly varies from one situation to another. Just say “Hello” and “How are you doing?”, and “good”, “good”, “it’s a nice day”, “have a good day”. That’s it. Whether your are in a hurry or available for a long discussion, the small talk is definitely necessary, especially when it helps to build up or maintain your positive image.

As many of my students, I sometimes feel embarrassed to answer others’ question with inaccurate information. When I am in a bad mood, even in a very horrible situation, I still tend to say “good” with a big smile to end the small talk, because I’m not sure if the greeting is just a polite routine or an expression of the person’s real concern. Maybe he has no time to listen to my problems. Maybe my unexpected answer would bring our normal greeting to an endless conversation. Imagine that we stand there, on the street, more than three minutes, both tired and frustrating. The more terrible is that when the conversation begins, we don’t know how to end it.

Last evening, when I got out of the car with Claire and my husband, we encountered one of our neighbors, who was walking her dog. We don’t know her much but always exchange smiles and greetings. However, each time, I felt a little short of words. One time, she asked us whether we had settled down. Since it has been eight months we are here, the question appeared a little strange. “Of course!” was really a bad reply but we had no time to rescind it. In small talk, when you are not ready to answer a detail question, it’s easy to make mistake.

“Have you had your dinner?” I added a question that popped out of my mouth without any further consideration. She was surprised and then nodded her head with a “Yes!” Believing that my Chinese culture would unconsciously drive me to silly behaviors, my husband made fun of me. In China, people always greet somebody in the street by asking if he has already had meals. I don’t know the reason of such a greeting expression, but for most cases, it doesn’t mean that the person is really talking about food. Even your answer is “no”, he would not invite you to eat something together. That is really a culture difference.

However, last evening, I wasn’t totally obsessed with the greeting formulation. I was just holding our pizza and had no idea of what to say. I supposed that she had noticed the pizza and the conversation would be normally turn to the food. I might expect that she would say “have a good dinner” at first, then I could  follow by uttering my stupide and rude question.

Whatever, I’m now considering to “save my face”-which is another culture issue, by explaining to her that my “dinner” question was simply a Chinese greeting.

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.

The power of language

We all know that language has a huge power and affects people’s behavior and relationship. I’ve read so many novels, which constantly unveil the magic but deceptive words of love. some one them showed us how foolish the lovers were or how silly the innocent heroine who was just indulging in cliché. I was also deeply interested in sociolinguistic and learned how the political or commercial rhetoric worked out on the mass.

But however, I never linked my studies to my daily life, less to many problems which pop out in my family just because of some careless words. We are basically selfish people, who defense first ourselves in all  circumstances. Even a little misunderstanding can quickly turn out to be a disaster. When we are mad, we tend to talk more and less carefully. Even the subject of quarrel was forgot days or years later, we may still stick to some uncomfortable words and tried to explain it by guessing what it meant deeply. These harmful words didn’t mean anything but just a way of let the violence go out of the body. Unfortunately, they have more power than weapons and they refused to die out in our memory.

One of my friend, who is ten years older than me, told me seriously a golden rule for maintaining a good marriage life: never say anything bad to define one person. I didn’t understand it when I was young and enjoyed the believed eternal love. Life is a journey and as he said, we tend to define others more and more easily and quickly. My mom kept complaining about my dad, using all the same type of sentence. “He is selfish!””He never cared about me.”… If all was true, there was no hope. But I just listened in stead of confirming these points to comfort her. But I didn’t expected to remember these words and never thought one day I would repeat it as a proof of my dad’s defect or replace these words on my husband’s behavior.

Sadly, most of such harmful words have long life and they are stored in a certain area of our brain. The next time when we shout out at the same person, we eagerly solicit them to show how meanly we were treated, having forgotten what we said from our part. More weapons only make the situation worse.

The worst part in a couple’s dispute is that often the woman, in order to calm herself, talked about it with friends or other family members. It seems that we Chinese people  are more likely to do it. But unfortunately, when we talk to the third person, we all try to magnify those hateful words and exaggerate the issue. That only helps to make the memory clearer and more biased.

It’s not hard to be polite in public while it’s really hard to be polite and respectful to our family members. Studies have show us a hug gap between language and truth, but if we remember it, we will take seriously into account the bad effects of our words and we will forgive others more easily. If we are not ready to accept the dialectic application of this truth, just let the silence in and control our impulsive violence.

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.