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!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Shoe, Schuh, or Shu? (OR...'On the road to Trilingual')

Lately - as in, the past 6 months and then some - it's been a lot easier for me to think about writing than it has been for me to sit down and do it. Not so much because I don't want to --because I still love the process so dearly-- but because I've finally slowed down enough in life such that it doesn't feel like I'm always trying to pack it all in. My mom would be so proud...I can't tell you how many times, how many conversations she tried to have with me around this topic. "Tams, you always try to do too much," she'd tell me, nearing a panic attack just from watching my spastic tendencies. But at the time, it's what energized me...or so I thought. Now, ironically, I get more life energy from slowing down. That's all to say that I've been more present and parenting more, which has left me much less time to write, particularly after a summer with lots of Kaya-time.

But alas...I wanted to sit down tonight and write because I think about Kaya growing up, just having started 1st grade at our dream K-8 Waldorf-inspired charter, and realize that what seems normal and everyday now won't always seem that way. And so I want to capture a few moments while they're fresh in the name of reminiscing later. This being a language and parenting blog, for the most part, I'll focus on the story today from Chinese class. 

First Day of School: Rose Ceremony with her
8th Grade Mentor behind her
Last year, I was torn. Start her at a Spanish Immersion kindergarten, or keep her at the outdoor immersion where she'd been for two years. As it turned out, we did neither, but had her instead at a small in-home kindergarten that our friend started down the street. But now that she's attending her new school, she's started learning Chinese twice a week at school. I may be a lot more excited than she, as she states that she doesn't like it, and that her Chinese teacher is hard to understand...but I'm impressed not only that she's learning already, but that she's coming home to tell me about it. Granted, it's only one word that she shared, but in our friends' car today on the way home from school, she tells me, "Mama, Shu heisst Buch." [Shu means book.] At first, I didn't get it - as simple a statement as it was. Being completely accustomed to her speaking 95% German with me still, I didn't process that 'shu' was a Chinese word. And then, with German being my 3rd language, it took my mind an extra few seconds to process it all, admittedly. 'Shoe' could be in English, or 'Schuh' could be in German, or clearly, 'shu' could be Chinese, too. For her, however, with 2 native languages, adding a 3rd is a completely different experience for her brain. It fascinates me that she can learn Chinese in school in English and then share with me in German what she learned it means in English (or maybe they didn't learn it through words at all, more likely, but with the item itself?). Granted, it's not so much the fact that she can do it, because I recognize that it's not rocket science...but the fact that she has the opportunity to do that, and that she is doing it (vs. keeping the thoughts to herself) is ultra exciting to me! 

In college, I took a Spanish-German translation course, and I remember how much effort it was for my brain to go directly from language 2 to 3, and back. In my early days of classwork, I had to use English as the middle language, serving as a bridge. But Kaya, with similar comfort levels in both English and German...does she need a bridge language? I would assume not. Maybe it's for this reason, among others, that it's easier to learn additional languages once you've already learned two.

Anyway, I'm still pretty fascinated to think about this, and while she may not be excited about the prospect of learning a 3rd language, I'm excited enough for both of us. I'm wishing she had it more than 2 days a week, back to back, but guess who's gonna go check out some Chinese books and resources at the library...

(Quick language update: As I mentioned above, Kaya still speaks to me primarily in German, throwing in plenty of English words than she doesn't know the German for...or doesn't want to give her brain time to grab over the English version. When she does this, if I know the word, I'll either repeat it back in German or will respond using the German word, which she then quickly assimilates into her end of the conversation. I have noticed that I've been using quite a bit more English with her -- definitely 1-3 sentences when i'm upset, before reverting back to German, and I'm almost always add English when friends are around so they can be more involved in our conversation. Sometimes, I say the German first, other times, the English. And every once in a while, I'll just say the English. She still feels a year or so younger to me when she speaks German...a phenomenon I've noticed for the past many years with her German. She speaks more slowly in German and it takes her longer to access some words...though if she's feeling patient, she will. She still seems very committed and interested in speaking German with's clearly our language together, and while we haven't discussed it in a while, it's clear to me that there's security and connection in that for her.)