Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mother. Horse. Cat. Feather: Teaching Your Kids Chinese

 Trung Hung To Dao Temple.  Perfume Pagoda.  Huong Tich Mountain, Vietnam.
A number of my Western friends are raising their children bilingually.  Believe me, it's a lot more difficult than just, "Do unto others as you would have them do to you," or "Don't pick your nose and eat it."
 The Main Entrance Gate to Trung Hung To Dao
Raising bilingual kids, or in my case, trilingual, means that you are in a constant state of flux as a parent, literally balancing between two cultures, ideologies, practices, and customs.
 Can any of you read the markings on this temple?  Your kids can!
It never ends.  It never gets easier.  Especially, since the predominant langauge of the place we live, is Chinese... and my Chinese stinks!  Trust me, nothing is more humbling than looking helplessly at your 9 year old begging for translation help while out in public being gawked and oggled by a crowd of pointing, giggling, spitting, laughing, gurgling, farting, and grumbling Chinese...  But my kids have gotten used to it... they've learned, along with about a million words... to tolerate their illiterate and pathetic father.
 Buddhist Tapastries with Five Element Colors. 
So... to combat this, I've been taking Chinese classes. It's brutal.  (面包) Mianbao and  (西瓜)  Xigua.  (  苹果) Pingguo and  (葡萄)  Putao. I've got flashcards tapd to the wall and text books stacked on the floor and my head is swiming in Zhongwen.
 Banners hanging to dry along the way to Perfume Pagoda.
On the first day of class, the teacher stands in front of us smiling, rattling off Chinese phrases in total random order. It's baffling. Totally confusing. She says through brown teeth I try not to stare at: Ma- Ma- Ma- Ma-. Each with a different intonation. Now I know, this is nothing new for Chinese learners. The Four Ma's, the pronunciation of each meaning either :  Ma  (妈妈)  mother ... Ma  ()  horse ... Ma () cat ... or Ma  () feather.
Xian hanging back.  Giving me a pat on my back.  I deserve it.
So I scribble and I write and I raise my hand and ask... I do my best.  That's all one can hope to do.  My daughters don't mind.  Learning a second language has taught them an even more valuable life skill... forgiveness.  Thanks, girls.  我爱你!!

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