During our trip to Dallas for spring break, I was pleasantly surprised that my first grader’s Chinese is better than I expected.
My son was in a Japanese immersion Montessori school for pre-school (3-4) and kindergarten (5). We put him in the Japanese immersion program because Japanese is as close to Chinese as I could get when there were no good Chinese school in close distance. I am sure there are Chinese schools in Naperville or Palatine, but they are a long drive, especially with bad traffic. I also have to admit that him knowing Chinese didn’t seem so important to me when he started pre-school. (And there is no Swedish school in close distance either, given that not too many people use it in Chicago.)
As I am getting older and he is getting bigger, I gradually realized that it is very important for him to know both Chinese and Swedish. And I gradually intensified my effort toward that end (Chinese). I bought the BBC Mandarin Chinese program Muzzy and games called Wawa Yaya. Those are great programs. At the same time, I started introducing simple phrases and sentences in our daily conversations. One thing I learned is that I need to be tactful. I do not want to turn him off. It is a lot of fun to play and interact with him, so I need to do more of that.
So when we were in Dallas, my brother, my sister-in-law, and I spoke our local dialect (not too different from standard Mandarin), mixed with some Mandarin, for his benefit. To my surprise, he understood a lot of simple questions. And he seemed to be able to figure out what we were trying to tell him in Mandarin. He did have trouble differentiating some sounds initially, for example, the word hungry (饿 e) and hot (热 re).
I think his Japanese is fluent at his age level. His English is good. He knows some Swedish and probably a little Spanish. It is up to me to help him improve his Chinese.
Any ideas, tips, and suggestions from my readers will be greatly appreciated! If you have Chinese speaking children between age of 5 and 7, maybe we can arrange playdates together. Also, please do not hesitate to contact me (haidong.ji AT gmail.com) if you have questions on this subject. I will do my best to help. Or maybe we can even form a group on this.