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.