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!

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!

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.