Monday, September 14, 2015

The Power of the Novice (and learning along with them!)

My last post took us into our new Chinese adventure, and bedtime tonight provides yet another story down this path. As I mentioned, Kaya just started learning Chinese at school (and will learn through 4th grade), with two 50 minute sessions per week. The focus is mostly on culture, with some focus on the sounds and basic words. Being the language teacher that I am, the format had me wondering how much she'd really get from 50 minutes back to back two days a week. With this, I sat down in front of my computer and put a bunch of Chinese books on hold at the library -- those with CDs of course, as I have absolutely no clue what I'm doing in the language. This cluelessness has actually felt like a huge asset, as Kaya knows with great certainty, that I, like she, am a true beginner, and I'm just realizing now, as I write this, that this novice position is allowing me to model for her. I think it's actually working...

Last week, she hated Chinese. Ok, maybe not hate, but the dislike has been strong and voiced. The first week, she came home expressing frustration that her Chinese teacher is really hard to understand. Once they started playing games in class, she seemed a bit happier about her experience, but there has still been a general aversion to the experience. Tonight, however, we started in on our 3rd chinese book, and I began to sense quite a different vibe.

When I brought this particular book up to her bed tonight, I didn't announce that it was a Chinese book. I think she knew, but I can't be sure. It's one of those that has the English version starting at one end of the book, and the Chinese at the other end. So, in the middle, they meet, with the rest of the pages upside down. We read the English side first, with no real intention on my part to listen to the Chinese on CD. It was late and she needs the sleep. But when we got to the end, and she'd clearly enjoyed the story and seemed eager for more, I asked her if she wanted to listen to the CD. "Willst du," [Do you?] she asked me, with curiosity. As much as I was aware that this was a true opportunity to model excitement for the language, it was my heart that really answered the question. "Ja!" [Yes!] I told her, enthusiastically. She wasn't yet convinced. She thinks Chinese sounds like baby language, and seems quite annoyed by this. Maybe it was my super stellar Chinese impression...I have always gotten a kick out of pretending that I'm fluent (and I promise you, it's likely an insult to those who do, unintentionally, of course!) --but something kicked in for her, and she was suddenly warming up to the idea of diving into some Chinese tonight.

While we were listening, I noticed her "following" the characters along with the Chinese sounds (probably in the wrong direction, I realize, since I have no idea what I'm doing and I modeled left to right!). I also noticed her testing out some of the sounds a few times, as I had done a couple times after I'd begun to recognize individual sounds...particularly those that get repeated a lot. By the end, she was clearly into it, even if she wouldn't admit it. By the end, she was asking me if I would be learning together with her, so that "eines Tages wir koennten zusammen auf Chinesisch sprechen!" [one day we'd be able to speak together in Chinese!].

How cool would that be?!

I'm feeling motivated. I've been down this road before, both with Chinese and up because I knew I'd never be moving there. But now, I have a different motivation to learn: together with our daughter. And that feels incredibly exciting, on so many levels...

If you have any resources to recommend for us on our Chinese learning adventure, please share them below. We're eager for great titles, games, songs, and other (optimally screen-free) resources that can help us connect to the language and each other!


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