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!
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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. 🙂

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!

Mandarin tutor

Since February, E (Ethan) has been tutored in Mandarin by this wonderful Chinese student, Kelsi, whom we found online.  She goes to school here in De la Salle – Dasma so the proximity to our area is perfect.  We are lucky to find her not only because she is a great teacher, but most importantly, she is a native speaker.  Two months into tutoring (she comes to the house 2x/week), E has developed a good ear and is able to adapt to the difficult tones of Mandarin.  He is now counting 1-10, knows his colors, body parts, favorite animals, action words, greetings and is able to understand simple conversation.  I still have to hear him respond in Chinese, but right now he is developing a good comprehension of the language.  Last Wednesday, he was excited to finally have a Chinese name — ” Yi Zheng” (义 yì – righteousness) and (正 zhèng – just; upright). She said its a strong name for a boy.  He gave her a big grin 🙂

On my part, I tried to enroll in the Mandarin class at a local language school and lasted 3 weeks!  Blame it on my dormant brain or pure laziness, I could not (for the life of me) motivate myself to go beyond the basic Chinese greetings 🙂 The only consolation I have is to be able to read pin-yin, so now he can’t get smart and trick me about the pronunciation.  Apart from that, I could not understand Chinese conversations!  So I told Mike, I will continue with my Spanish 101.  Maybe there’s hope for me in the romance language, maybe …. 🙂