Where we are … 5 months later.

This week marks our 5th month here in the Philippines.  Our journey of language and cultural immersion started last December when me and my two children (ages 3 and 5) left the beautiful Orange County, California in our quest for Trilingualism (English, Filipino and Mandarin). It’s a sacrifice that me and and my husband decided to do because we believe that immersion is the only way for them to learn the target languages.

A week after we arrived in Manila, the children started a local Montessori school where the mode of instruction is done in English and Filipino. They adjusted rather quickly and few weeks later they are excited to go to school and meet new friends.  Having spent a vacation for a month last year prior to our moving must have given them the confidence and sense of familiarity for the new place.  To make their language acquisition faster, we tapped into available resources like hiring live in Filipino nannies,  setting up playdates and making sure everyone speaks Filipino at home.  When my husband came to visit last month, he was pleasantly surprised how they were able to pick up the languages so easily. Using the OPOL (one parent one language) method, kids where able to switch languages without difficulty. Now, my 5 year old is reading in Filipino and the 3 year old just started reading three letter words in both languages, too.

Mandarin on the other hand proved to be a challenge being the third language introduced.  But we are fortunate to find a Chinese native speaker to come in twice a week and we later added one on one classoom tutorial on Saturdays. Nowadays, the children are able to understand basic Mandarin conversations, write simple Chinese characters and read pin-yin as well. They love to count in Mandarin, sing, and they think its their special language together. Our goal is  to sustain this with summer immersion in China or Taiwan next year.

Looking back, we are happy that we made this major decision to temporarilly raise our children here.  Their ability to absorb languages easily and develop near-native accents in Filipino and Mandarin is simply amazing.  We had our struggle too — like being away from their Dad for couple of months, adjusting to  the heat and a different way of life, but in the end the benefits outweigh everything.  When I hear them having conversations in Filipino or when my 5 year old told me that the Chinese lady is talking to her son in Mandarin and translated what was said, I can’t help but feel a deep  sense of pride and joy knowing that my children will grow up cognizant of other languages and cultures.  Raising them to be global citizens is one gift we can contribute that hopefully one day, they will be thankful for. 🙂

Grade 1 acceleration

Yesterday was the Summer Exploration culminating activity for the children.  It was a 5 week session where they learn Filipino, Math and Reading.  I thought that was a very enriching activity they did this summer.  Everyday, they come home so excited about what they learned in school 🙂

Ethan’s  Filipino has also progressed rapidly than I anticipated.  Everyday, he has to read a story in Filipino.  At first, he started with a short paragraph then it gets longer and more complicated.  Even I, the Filipino Mom, was surprised to see how difficult some Filipino words can be.  But with my help, he persevered and now he is able to read and understand age-appropriate Filipino stories. So yesterday, I had a chance to talk to the School Directress to find out Ethan’s assessment result.  She said that he is more than ready  —  meaning he will skip a grade this school year (preparatory)  and at 5 years old will start grade 1. We both feel that this is the right educational plan for him, we just need to spend more time in Filipino subject this year. E was proud of himself but at the same time, he feels sad that he’s going to leave behind some of his close friends.  I reassured him that he will meet new friends in his class and it will be okay.  Besides, its a small school so he can still see some of his former classmates.

Kaya on the other hand started reading 3 letter words.  Her writing has improved a lot this summer and she loves to copy words from her favorite stories into her little notebook, an activity that her brother is doing. She is now counting and writing numbers.  Both kids are now speaking comfortably in Filipino and switching between 2 languages gets easier everyday.  My hope is that Mandarin will also be a part of that equation one day.

Being here in the Philippines also brought cultural awareness to the children.  Young as they are now, yet they are aware of the social ills like poverty and homelessness around them.  They know that some children live on the streets and don’t have the same opportunities in life. That’s why they have to be thankful and work hard in school, to do their best in everything they do, to inspire people and to share their blessings. Every time we pass by the overpass going to SM Bacoor, they always ask money or food to give to the street children. In the next few weeks we will get involve with Pen and Paper, a foundation that helps poor children in marginalized areas in the Philippines by distributing pen and paper for this school year.  “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the and the blind can see” ~Mark Twain.

Piano Lessons

One of the things I am most thankful to be here in the Philippines is to be able to afford enrichment activities for kids, especially piano lessons. When Ethan was around 4.6 yo, I enrolled him in Yamaha Music (Aliso Viejo, California)for group piano lessons. Although he loves music, he has a hard time sitting still and pay attention to the teacher. Although Yamaha’s group lesson  is fun for young kids, having a hyperactive boy in the class is not ideal. We did it for 4 months and we both gave up. The maturity is not there yet and I didn’t have the patience 🙂

A year later, we introduced piano again hoping to get different results.  Piano lesson in the Philippines is different — you can have the benefit of having a 1:1 lesson for a fraction of a cost in the States.  So, why not get one?  We signed up at Lyric music studio at SM Bacoor in February for twice a week 1 hour lesson.  However, most of the teachers are young and still in college.  But its not a big deal for us.  It will work best, we thought, if it will be with a young teacher knowing Ethan’s preference for a more playful approach. Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6-7pm we are at SM.  I dropped him off while I do my groceries. Unlike Yamaha or Suzuki Method, parents are not involved. He goes in and out. But I observed that he spends more time playing and talking with the teacher than the actual lesson.  Lately, he refused to go saying that the lesson is hard when in fact the piano book he was using a year ago is more advanced that the one he is using now.  In short, he wasn’t challenged, so motivation is zero at this time.  I asked for a different teacher, a Suzuki trained piano teacher but there was none.  The Suzuki school is an hour drive from where we live and its not worth it. Three months into the program, I pulled him out.

I agonized about it for  a week — should we quit piano again and revisit in the next few months? But I was worried that If we stop now, we’ll just abandon piano altogether.  For few days, I looked online for private suzuki trained teacher around us but I can’t find one.  Luckily, one guy answered my ad and was informed that he does home service and went to UST conservatory of Music, which is a good school.  He also had experienced working with small kids using Suzuki Method abroad (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuki_method).

Now we are back on track. E had his first lesson yesterday and that was the most productive of all the lessons he had.  He was engaged and learning.  Obviously, the teacher knows how to work with him. One thing learned from all this — don’t settle for mediocrity and don’t just give up! 

I still have my doubts, but I’m hoping that this time, it will work! 🙂

Abacus Math and Mandarin lessons

We just arrived from Festival mall, Alabang for Ethan’s first Abacus Math and Mandarin lessons.  Before Mike left for the States a week ago, we visited the place to make sure that the school will be a good fit for him.  We decided to give it a try so we went today with an open mind, not knowing what to expect.

The school is called A plus learning center which is located on the 3rd floor of Festival Mall, Alabang.  We signed up for once a week (Saturday)  2 hour tutorial for both subjects — Abacus Math and Mandarin.  Since February, we have a native Mandarin speaker that comes to our house 2x a week. Laoshi Kelsi has fostered a love of Mandarin in Ethan in their conversations, creative play and games.  Every week, he looks forward to their lessons, so we thought that this is the best time to introduce Mandarin in a more structured way — classroom setting. We observed the ongoing Mandarin class 2 weeks ago and were pleased with the way Teacher Babes deal with the younger kids. Later,  I was informed that she has 20 years of experience teaching in the classroom as well as tutoring younger children. When E finished his 2 hour lesson today, he came out smiling. When I looked at his seat work, I was pleasantly surprised to see him beginning to write strokes (Chinese character) starting with numbers 1-10.  Not bad for first session, huh? 

On with Abacus Math.  Abacus is a mental math arithmetic using modernized abacus with one bead at the top and four beads at the bottom. For little kids, it looks like a toy that is fun to play. When E was 4,  he started doing abacus and finds it interesting because he likes to do manipulatives.   He did it for 6 months and was doing so well, doing addition and subtraction with minimal effort.  One  day he refused — whining, crying and what not.  Since we are travelling back to Philippines for a month that year and we wanted him to enjoy his vacation, we didn’t really push the issue. However, when we came back, it was already difficult to pick it up. Nowadays, he doesnt want to touch his Abacus. We lost the battle. So, when we found out about Abacus being offered in the same center, we were so excited and enrolled him, but with no expectations. Today, when he entered the classroom, he was reluctant to go in. Thankfully, teacher Honey  started talking to him right away making him feel at ease.  Later, when asked if he still wanted me inside, he said I could leave and pick him up when its finished. I knew then that its going to be okay. Two hours later, he was proudly showing me his work and the teacher said that he picked up easily where he left off.  Its just amazing how kids brain work!

Tonight, I will write an email to my husband so when he wakes up, it will put a smile on his face. Yes, Dad, mission accomplished …. for now 🙂  I’m off to bed now … tired but happy!