From the Mouths of Babes

Today I gave an English lesson to a 6 year-old girl in our apartment. Her dad works with a friend of mine nearby, so it’s very convenient for him to bring her over for a lesson once a week. This kind of work, just now, is a dream come true. I get to play with a fun little girl for an hour each week at my own house, and they pay me to do it!

I wasn’t exactly sure of her English level, so today we spent our hour mostly playing and seeing what she could say. We drew an outdoors landscape together, acted out things we like to do at the park, and eventually drew an entire children’s playground (complete with jungle gym, swings, teeter totter, and slide). We ended our time together reading a story and singing "If You’re Happy and You Know It!" This level of teaching is about my speed just now. Last semester I taught college-level Economics, and right now (being pregnant and with a head full of my own Chinese lessons), I really don’t think I’ve got that in me – but I can draw a mean jungle gym any day of the week.

Her English level was impressive. What amazed me the most was the way the grammar came so easily to her. She spoke in complete sentences, saying things like, "I don’t like to dance." or "Let me think, oh, I know – I can draw a cloud!" When she couldn’t think of the word for ladder, she described it as a "climbing frame" to talk around the vocabulary word she didn’t know. THAT really impressed me.

It made me realize the utter importance of starting children early on a second language. It’s something so empowering for any young person today to be bilingual – and it’s just so much easier to do when you’re 6 years old as opposed to say, how old I am :). My Chinese does not roll off my tongue quite so easily, and my brain clearly has to work harder to incorporate new words and grammar structures.

We do have a few kinks to work out to make this situation work. After Leo got up from his nap, he was none too pleased to find out that he couldn’t play with his Mommy and the fun girl in his house. He made his displeasure known from all corners of the apartment. That was mildly awkward, but since Chinese people really don’t expect children his age to behave like anything other than a 2 year old and simply laugh when toddlers lose their tempers – it didn’t matter too much. Next week we’ll plan to distract Leo much more deliberately.

Speaking of Leo, his Chinese is improving every day. I came home today from class to him saying, "Huilaile!" meaning, "You’re home!" And right now I’m listening to him say, "Haole!" to his Dad in the tub, which more or less means, "Good, I got it!" It’s so fun! His newest English additions are, "Like it!" and "Different!" It’s good to be able to say you like something or to say you want something else. I remember discovering how to express these things in Chinese in the not so distant past – so I feel like I can really relate to my toddler as he’s learning.

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