When our youngest, Asher, was about 17 months old he began hearing Chinese spoken by our friends who were native Chinese speakers. Of course we didn’t have daily interaction with our Chinese friends, but we began buying a few Chinese audio books and DVD’s and trying to expose him (along with the rest of us) on a regular basis to this beautiful and difficult language.
When he was 2 1/2 years old we put him in a Chinese daycare/preschool in Minnesota a couple days a week. He didn’t come home speaking Chinese, but we just did what we could and were hoping that it would sink in and be worth it in the long run. He spent three years there. It wasn’t an immersion program, it was just that most of the kids were Chinese and all the workers were native Chinese speakers resulting in Chinese being the prominent language spoken there.
When he was 5 years old he spent eight weeks in a Chinese immersion kindergarten before we moved here to China. Following in his sisters’ footsteps and FINALLY getting to attend Yang Laoshi’s Kindergarten class!
In March of 2012 we enrolled him in a local kindergarten here. It is not an immersion program. It’s designed for native speakers and there were no teachers or aids trained to help him come in as a Second Language Student. Fortunately there was a fellow student from Europe who spoke a good bit of English and was able to help him when he got super stuck. He liked his teachers and some of the other students were willing to make friends with him. His best local friend today is a boy he met at that kindergarten.
When he was 6 years old he entered our local Chinese elementary school here as a first-grader along with about 48 Chinese kids. In the school system here a teacher and group of around 50 students stay together as a class from the first through the fifth grade. We’ve found out since that many parents don’t put their boys in first grade until they are 7, but we didn’t know that at the time. He went through all of first grade and most of second grade in that school with the same teacher and most of the same students. The end result is that his spoken Chinese is, I’ve been told, very good.
We are homeschooling now and have a Chinese tutor come to our house and work with all three kids two afternoons a week. Children can quickly lose their ability to interact in their second language if they don’t have scheduled times for them to use it and hear it. For the most part he is able to interact with people here comfortably, talking and answering questions without having to worry about how to say something.
Native Chinese speakers here are often surprised and very pleased with his ability to speak and understand Chinese especially when compared to other foreign children that they’ve met. I’m sure they are being generous, but I can’t help but be very thankful for our Chinese friends in Minnesota and his Chinese teachers in America who were willing to work with a little blonde kid before we even moved here. They gave our son a gift. And I’m grateful.
Happy Birthday to our Nine Year Old!