Ellie got her first report card on Monday. It suddenly hit me. She’s only but she’s all grown up in a proper school with grades at mid-term. I had a chat with her principal and then her chinese lao shi. She’s doing pretty well in math (ok, not really math, just counting) and reads well for her age but talking to her chinese teacher brought back all these memories of my own experience with a language I never quite mastered.
She doesn’t respond much in chinese class; so her lao shi does not quite know what she knows or what she doesn’t. She doesn’t speak any chinese in school. “So what about the other children her age?” I asked. Well, they at least can name the objects at say little phrases, her lao shi replied. That got me a little bit worried. I didn’t think I was doing that badly with my chinese at home. We speak it maybe about 5% of the time, mainly to point out things to Ellie and Cait now and then and also to talk about the kids in front of them (we try to switch to our chinese dialect for that). And we sing a lot of chinese songs and read chinese books. All this was not enough; at least according to what I was hearing about Ellie’s progress in mandarin class from lao shi.
That very evening, we started our Mandarin time. At 7 in the evening, every speaks mandarin. Right now the mandarin conversations are between KM and I. Ellie speaks English and her version of made-up-Mandarin, and Caitlin her single English words. It isn’t perfect, but this is the best we can do. Today, three days into our new speak Mandarin programme and we forgot about Mandarin time. Will have to start all over again.