It's fall, which means that it's time to start looking for Chinese lessons for my six-year old. Chinese-class hunting has become an annual ritual for our family ever since my daughter turned three.
"Chinese class?" many of our non-Chinese speaking friends incredulously ask. "But don't you and your husband speak Chinese?"
"Yes," I usually explain. "But my husband's native tongue is Shanghainese, a dialect of Mandarin that is like its completely own language."
I speak Mandarin, but it is my acquired tongue, so the Chinese that I teach my kids either has bad grammar or incorrect tones. When my daughter was a baby, my husband would sometimes overhear me teaching her short phrases in Chinese. His response: "What are you trying to teach her to say?"
So I stuck with funny expressions and slang that were fun to use around the house (such as "stinky bottom" and "big head"), and hoped that she wouldn't repeat them to her grandparents on accident.
So back to Chinese lessons. We tried sending L to the local Chinese school where she attended with other Chinese kids--those who had recently moved to the United States, biracial kids, and kids who had been adopted from China at birth. That worked out okay until she turned five and the songs and games that she so loved...stopped. They were replaced with two hours of sitting in a chair and repeating Chinese words and phrases to her teacher, who often spoke in a loud monotone.
Next, we hired a teacher from China who was trained as a language instructor to give private lessons to my daughter and several other girls. The teacher brought the songs and games back, and my daughter began to love learning Chinese again. Sadly, our beloved teacher was not available this year so we started another search.
This year my girl will take private lessons with a native English speaker who is proficient in Chinese and dedicated to teaching young non-native speakers. My daughter is loving her classes so far. Her teacher comes prepared with stickers, candy, and a panda puppet each week. What little girl can resist these treats?
For now, my girl is excited to learn Chinese, and that is something to celebrate!