Our Journey Home

A year and a half ago, we left the beautiful Orange County to travel back to my home country to immerse my children in language and culture. The experience has enriched their lives in ways that we have never imagined.  We are grateful for the experience and there was never a single moment that we regretted our decision.

My son was 5 and my daughter was 3 when we decided to go home in the Philippines.  Initially, we planned for 6 months stay but realized that  we need more time to truly benefit from the immersion.  Surprisingly, the children did not have a hard time with the transition. They started a local Montessori school few days after we arrived and felt at home right away with new friends and family.   It was interesting to witness how young children can adapt to their new environment quicker than adults. Soon, they stopped complaining about the hot weather, the food, the convenience and things they missed in California. Then one day, they stopped talking about Disneyland 🙂

But living in the Philippines became a challenge as far as  language acquisition as we find out later on that aside from the fact that instruction for major subjects is done in English, most private schools have English speaking policy inside the campus.  Majority of the kids we met are more comfortable having conversations in English …  and Filipino became a second language. So I tried to enforce strict rules inside the house and instructed the nannies, relatives and friends to speak only Filipino to them.   Sometimes, I feel like a minority living in my own country as I struggled to speak my language.  It was difficult at first but I persevered.  We started watching local tv shows and involve in activities that promote the language. After six months, my 6 year old started to understand, speak and read in Filipino.  My 4 year old followed suit.  Then we thought about adding another language and chose Mandarin.  We started looking for a native speaker and were lucky to find a student from China.  She bonded with the children right away and “laoshi” became their “ate” or older sister in Filipino.  Learning Mandarin through play, songs and games became a part of their experience inasmuch as learning Filipino.

When we came back to California a month ago, choosing a Mandarin Immersion program is  an easy decision.  We were ecstatic when both kids got accepted in the lottery for a local public Mandarin Immersion school. Tomorrow is their first day of Mandarin Summer camp and they are so excited to go to school. My 6 year old reminded me today about the new rule : English with Dad, Filipino with Mom and Mandarin in School!

Nowadays, learning their mother tongue comes naturally.  Everyday, we have lessons, read alouds, pretend play and conversations. I am happy to say that both kids are now bilingual.  A lot of times, being here in the States makes me want to speak English to them,  but I have to be strong, determined and constantly reminded that I am their only connection to the language and the country, that for one a half years they call … HOME.

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Keeping the Minority language is a challenge nowadays

The kids are now enrolled in the Mandarin Immersion program for September.  Ethan passed his assessment last week for grade 1 🙂  Since summer camp starts in 2 weeks for 2 months, I’ve been teaching more Filipino at home.  Aside from our Kumon Math and Reading, we’ve been watching Filipino tv shows and reading Filipino books.  Aya is now starting to read in Filipino and Ethan is starting to be a confident reader. On my part, I speak Filipino constantly even if they answer back in English.  I told them to have conversations only in Filipino because once they are in school, they are going to learn and speak more Mandarin. Some days, I feel that its difficult to sustain the minority language. It’s unfortunate because no one from my set of Filipino friends  here speak Filipino to their children so I don’t get any support or reinforcement language-wise.  One mom questioned me why do I have to speak Filipino when the  children are here in the States.  Others disagree with me as if it’s a lost cause. Some probably think I am nuts!  But for me, it’s personal.  I want my children to speak my language because it’s part of my heritage.   It is my mission in life that these children  will speak their mother tongue.  One day, I want them to thank me for sharing my language and culture. For now, I have to persevere and keep my eyes on the prize 🙂

Trilinguliasm … is it possible?

It’s been a month since we are back in California.  Wonderful things happened since as far as our journey to learning three languages and cultures.  The children started Mandarin school 3 days after we got back despite jet lags and homesickness.  Ethan started Little Dysnasty and Kaya Started at Marian Bergeson Mandarin preschool on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  The rest of the week they are home with me (unless I work) and we are learning Filipino.  The rule for language learning is this : English with Dad, Filipino with mom and Mandarin at school.  When we started a month ago, I didn’t realize how it’s going to work out, now we are simply amazed with the progress the kids are having with language learning.

First, I have to mention that one of the most important  elements for a successful language immersion is the innate desire or interest to learn.  We are lucky that the children are completely enjoying the experience.  There were no power struggle — they just love to learn the target language.  When my son went home that day from school, he was rapping in Mandarin while my daughter is singing the Mandarin version of “Twinkle Twinkle little star.”  They both love their school and their teachers are happy with their progress as well.  They feel that the kids are having fun and not realizing that they are in an immersion setting.  However, our Filipino language was a different story 😦 Initially, they were resisting to speak at home saying that I can understand English.  So i told them that  it will make mommy happy if they can speak my language and that if we are outside and they have some things to tell me that they don’t want other people to know, they can tell me as if we have our own “secret language”.  Somehow it worked!  We have been having conversation in Filipino, watching Filipino children shows together and enforcing reading before bed. Currently, we are reading short stories of “Pabula” or Fables because they love animals.  There are also good questions at the end of the story to test their comprehension.  We also incorporate read alouds once a day.  Last week, Mike commented that he noticed Aya speaking sentences in Filipino now as compared to when they were back in the Philippines. I totally agree!  Hearing my children in Filipino nowadays is music to my ears 🙂

Ethan can now read in 3 languages –  Mandarin being the last language to learn. After memorizing his zhuyin, he started blending the characters and last week he was excited to tell me that he knows how to read.  Aya on the other hand is a strong English reader but she needs more encouragement in Filipino.  I’m sure by end of her kindergarten experience, she can also read in 3 languages like her brother 🙂

In 3 weeks, they will start Mandarin summer camp at school then in September,  Ethan starts in first while Kaya in Kindergarten.  We were so lucky to have been accepted in the ONLY public Mandarin immersion school here.  We are very excited for the opportunity and we can’t wait  to start. Tomorrow, Ethan will have an assessment with the grade 1 Mandarin teacher and see how he is with his current level.   Initially, he was on a waiting list for grade 2 (and is currently full), but after meeting with the principal about a spot that just opened in Grade 1, we have to consider our options. I spoke to my best friend whose son repeated kindergarten and wholly supports the idea of sending Ethan back to first grade.  Now, her son is thriving academically and socially and she believes that it would have been a disaster had she sent him early.  I know its a case to case basis and its about knowing your own child but in Ethan’s case, I feel that it will be an advantage. We told Ethan about the unique situation and he seems fine with it, as long as he is in the same school with Aya and he can still read his Wimpy kid and Magic tree house 🙂  The principal also mentioned about differentiation inside the classroom which is great!  Mandarin is a difficult language to learn so I feel that he will be challenged all year despite being in grade 1.   So after considering all the facts, Mike and I decided to have him repeat for 3 valid reasons : 1.) He’s only 6 with a  fall birthday 2.) Given his personality, an extra year will bring more socio-emotional maturity 3.) Lack of previous Mandarin classroom immersion experience.

Tonight, we reviewed his Zhuyin and numbers for tomorrow’s assessment while I hear Aya  singing the Butterfly song in Mandarin. After 20 minutes, he said, “Mama, alam ko na yan (I know that already) !!!   Tulog na tayo! (let’s go to sleep). 🙂

晚安
Wǎn’ān
Good night!

It’s been 8 months …

Yes, it’s been 8 months since my last blog.  Got so busy with constant changes, the highs and lows of our daily existence 🙂 My husband joined us in July and has been living there indefinitely.  The OPOL method we use at home is off balance right now as I’m finding lots of obstacles along the way.

Interestingly, our language immersion has brought 2 different results for both kids having lived in the country for 15 months. My 6 year old is now bilingual and has an easy transition with the language.  My 4 year old however, understands the language but has a difficult time speaking the language. I’m starting to think about nature vs. nurture. The fact that the present environment has hindered her language acquisition, I also wonder if she is not wired to learn a second language given the fact that both are exposed to the same environment.  Hmm… need to do more research on this.

When we moved to Alabang, a more upscale area of the Philippines, it came with  a price.  All the neighborhood kids as well as their classmates in the new school speak ONLY English.  I was really surprised when one day, my son came home from school and told me that he’s the only American in his class that can speak Filipino and only few Filipino kids understand but don’t speak the language.  I was dumbfounded,  so I went to school the next day and I was surprised when i heard all the kids chattering in English.  I thought I was back in the States … and this is not an international school!  My son introduced me to his new friend, so I spoke Filipino to the boy asking him if he can tell his mom if it’s okay to set up a play date this weekend.  The 6 year old gave me a puzzled look and I realized he has no clue what I’m talking about 🙂

Honestly, the experience really brought me sadness.  We went home to immerse our children in language and culture yet his environment failed them.  Soon after, the nannies speak English, their cousins, the neighborhood friends, their aunts and uncles, almost everyone.  I am the only one who tried hard to speak and teach them how to read and write in Filipino.   I’m puzzled because the adults  communicate in Filipino with each other but address the children in English. I don’t know why.  I am constantly reminding them that the kids understand Filipino. I wish I can send them to a local public school but that’s out of the question.  With my “American” husband being home,  I feel like a minority in MY house, in MY country.   It is so frustrating!  One day, he sensed my disappointment and pointed the fact that although we have struggles with the language, they are also exposed to the local culture and experience.  That’s true!  Now they know how important strong family ties are, how lucky they are to be able to go to school and how blessed they are to live in a clean and safe environment.  Everyday, when they leave the gated subdivision, they are reminded of  poverty and the plight of street children and other social ills.  It is my hope that one day, those experiences will help them become compassionate and productive citizens.

Lately, my son is picking up the language faster from adult conversations and is now reading and writing in Filipino.  He is also doing well in Mandarin classes. My daughter on the other hand is slowly starting to speak basic Filipino words and short sentences.  Her reading (English) has improved dramatically this month.  So I’m thinking of enrolling her and her brother to a Filipino summer class this April to start reading and writing in Filipino.

Since October, I am back in the States due to work and visa related problems but go home every 3 months to visit for a month.  Few weeks ago, I submitted an open enrollment application to a local magnet school that offers a Mandarin immersion program.  Tomorrow, i will find out the result of the lottery.  My daughter is incoming kindergarten and my son is going to 2nd grade.  I already met with the first grade teacher who gave me the information about the curriculum for my son to learn this summer for testing in August.  I hope (and pray) both will be accepted in the program. Fingers crossed 🙂

Mensa

Last month, Ethan was invited to join American Mensa and we thought hard about it and decided, why not.  We feel that it’s really cool for a 5 year old to join the list of smart people and connect with them locally, join their activities and get mentored in the process.

This is from their website, “With more than 57,000 members, American Mensa is the largest national Mensa operating under the auspices of Mensa International, Ltd. There are currently more than 100,000 members worldwide, and an estimated six million Americans are eligible for Mensa membership.

Members of American Mensa range in age from 2 to 102. They include engineers, homemakers, teachers, actors, athletes, students and CEOs, and they share only one trait — high intelligence. To qualify for Mensa, they scored in the top 2 percent of the general population on an accepted standardized intelligence test.

As a member, you have the opportunity to meet other smart people at local, regional and national levels. You can attend entertaining, intellectually stimulating events and exchange ideas with others through a variety of publications and our online Community. You can also work to help others in your community by volunteering for community-oriented activities and working with the Mensa Foundation. And you can take advantage of our variety of member benefits and services. I know there’s also a local Mensa chapter here and will try to connect with them one of these days.

So when we showed Ethan his Mensa ID that arrived in the mail, he is happy that he belongs to a club, although he thought that Mensa is a place where he gets a chance to play unlimited video games. 🙂

Aha moment !!!

Few days after turning 4 years old, my youngest daughter had an Aha moment.  She picked up a Bob book for beginning readers and started reading.  At first she was sounding out letters then blending them.  I was really surprised because I, (nor her teacher) have not started teaching blending yet.  The last time I checked her work, she was just doing beginning and ending sounds, so I was really not expecting it.  Out of curiosity, I picked up another book, this time with short and long e sounds and asked her to read.  And she did!  She is reading!  I  swooped her up in my arms, whirled her around and around and together, we did the happy dance as her laughter filled the air.  She knew that was a special moment and I can tell by the look on her face that she is very proud of herself.

This morning, holding her favorite book, she said, “Mom, Ethan (her brother) doesn’t need to read me a book anymore because I can do it myself.”  So happy for her 🙂

On Filipino and Sibika

This year, both kids have Filipino and Sibika (Social Studies) subjects  in school. That’s a solid 2 hour exposure to Filipino language.  My 4 year old (yes, she turned 4 last Sunday) is learning to read and write the Filipino alphabet and is doing a wonderful job.  My 5 year old first grader initially has problems with both subjects, complaining that it is difficult so I hired a tutor.  Six weeks into school, he is starting to relax, complaining less and is reading really well in both subjects. I decided he doesn’t need a tutor anymore and I will be the one to teach him.   Then I realized something … he is becoming more bilingual! He switches conversation easily in English and Filipino, depending on who is talking to. The same goes with my girl. They can decipher who speaks what language. At  home, they only speak Filipino to the nannies, English to their Dad and both languages with me, although I always favor speaking Filipino. Lately, I am more careful about topics to discuss at home because they can now understand.  So when my sister and I want to talk important issues in front of them we switch to our native dialect, which is totally different from Filipino.  I can observe that they are also trying to listen well because they know that we are talking something important and we don’t want them to know.  I have a feeling that in time, they will catch up with that language, too 🙂

On the other hand, I met a Filipino mom in their school who complains that her child is having a hard time understanding Filipino and Sibika although he went to a local school since Nursery.  I found out that they speak English at home  (even the nannies) and the school has a strict “English only” policy.  So now he is being tutored in both subjects and has no interest in learning Filipino. I shared that my kids are monolingual when we arrive 6 months ago and now they are bilingual.  She doesn’t believe me until she started having conversation with E in Filipino.  She was stunned. I could not forget the look on her face 🙂 Later, I found out from other Moms that this is a common occurence here in the Philippines.  In their hope to make their children become fluent in English, some parents stop speaking Filipino at home and send them to an English speaking school.  Filipino then becomes a minority language because there’s no direct reinforcement from school and home where kids spent most of his time.  In my opinion, Filipino should be taught at home because the Philippine educational system uses English as a mode of instruction in all subjects, except Filipino and Sibika.  I know it’s a parent’s choice but I feel sad because Filipinos should learn their mother tongue first before they learn a second or a third language.

As Dr. Jose Rizal would say, “Ang hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit pa sa mabaho at malansang isda.” On my part, I hope that we can sustain this language immersion and that one day my children will be able to speak their mother tongue confidently …. and proudly!