The 5 Questions: How do you inspire your children to learn a new language?
Profile: Jesse and children Ryan (6), Charlotte (2 ½) and Violette (2 months)
Location: San Francisco Area
Language learned with Mom and Dad: Mandarin Chinese
What do you do with your children to help them learn Mandarin?
I learned Mandarin in college, and my wife speaks it also (better than I do). English is my native language. Before Ryan went to pre-school, we spoke mainly in Chinese with him. We currently do the same with Charlotte. Ryan split his time between Mandarin and English day care when he was younger, and now Charlotte attends all-Mandarin day care. Ryan just finished Kindergarten in a dual-language immersion school, about 50% Chinese 50% English and is going to continue his schooling there for the next year.
What are some of your favorite activities with the kids?
We enjoy organizing play dates with other Mandarin speaking kids, although sometimes they switch to English. So we also organize a gathering at one of the parents’ home, once a month. We have a chinese teacher over that helps with organizing chinese cultural activities. The children have fun discovering new things!
Besides that, our children enjoy cartoons in Mandarin, we listen to a lot of Mandarin (and some Taiwanese) kids' songs, and I have a subscription from Taiwan for Chao the Tiger (books, games, DVDs in Mandarin). They send fun materials over once a month. Since we live in the Bay Area, we also have Mandarin television available, and both Ryan and Charlotte enjoy watching a Mandarin kids' show called Fruit and Ice Cream that's imported from Taiwan.
What is your #1 challenge? How do you try to overcome it?
The limits of my own mandarin skill as English is my native language. Right now I speak with him 70% in English and 30% in Mandarin. I keep to Mandarin for simpler everyday conversation. But I do worry whether I speak with the right particles of speech, or say things the way a native speaker would express themselves (as opposed to translating English diction).
Sometimes I use a translation app if I can't recall a word and want to say it to Ryan. We also go with Ryan to Chinese martial arts classes. It is only in Mandarin, and the teachers are from China.
What keeps you motivated?
I want to make it easier for my kids so that they do not have to struggle to learn Chinese as I did in college (laughs!)
I believe it will give them a more open mind and greater opportunities in the future. I suspect it also strengthens brain development.
I would love at some point to take the family over to China and live there for a few years.
Do you have a piece of advice for other parents that want to raise their children bilingually?
It takes a lot of effort and a real time commitment! There is no real short cut. You have to really want it and to enjoy the journey.