Wednesday, November 28, 2007

On Immigration and Kids and Languages and Commitments

Over the weekend Tootle and I spent quality time at the urgent care center so that we could banish her sinus infection with better antibiotics. As Tootle leaned against me and diligently worked on her Hidden Pictures book, I took note when an Asian girl of about six approached the front desk staff and politely inquired about when her family would be seen. (This place has appointments but an emergency had pushed those times back by 45 minutes or so.) Later when the family's name was called, her father went up to the desk with her. He spoke in his native language and the daughter translated. She was so articulate and poised and confident for one so young. I couldn't imagine one of my girls assuming that role at such a young age. But then I thought: if we had moved to China when I adopted Tootle at age 3, she likely would have retained her Chinese and would have been outgoing enough to assume this role by age 4-5, knowing that I still would have been hopelessly fumbling to communicate (linguistics is not my forte). I know that when young children take on what are typically adult/responsible roles, it is usually out of necessity and they lose a bit of the joy and carefree nature of childhood, but on this day I glimpsed what can be gained: remarkable confidence and poise.

I wish Tootle had been willing to continue to speak Chinese when she came home but she was determined to make English her only language. I have a neighbor who is fluent in Mandarin and a Chinese coworker who were lined up and ready to work with her to retain at least some of her Mandarin but she refused to listen to them or respond when they spoke to her. She is an obstinate child. Today she only uses one Chinese phrase: "bu yao." She says this when she is finished with her dinner without cleaning off her plate or if she tries something and doesn't like it. Doodle, adopted at 7 months, has a larger Chinese vocabulary than Tootle. More than two years later, there is some hope, however. Tootle has expressed interest in taking the once a week Chinese class offered at her school starting in January. I think she'll pick it up easily and the tones will come naturally, so I have my fingers crossed that we'll be turning in the registration form. I don't believe in forcing my kids to do things that they don't want to do (I may push a bit but I don't bulldoze) so Tootle will have to agree to the class. Conversely, once committed she will attend until the end of the year whether she likes it or not. I don't allow the girls to bail out of things that they've committed to do.

2 comments: said...

Children are amazing aren't they? Your daughter is beautiful!

Beverly said...

Oh I hope she takes the class too. I wish there was one close enough for us at this age.