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!