One of the first words we learned in Chinese was "xiong mao," or panda. We learned a little poem about a panda that my daughter recited for everyone who visited our house--or happened to walk into our aisle at the supermarket. During that beginning stage, we were all very focused on acquiring the most basic of vocabulary, like colors and everyday objects.
As we continued learning little by little (me the least of all, I think), phrases started to happen. "Xiao xin," or "be careful" was an important one in a house with a toddler. This phrase has now become part of our everyday conversation. It's the same with "zuo xia" (sit down) for the exact same reason. That's not to say that we're not still acquiring basic vocabulary at a sometimes painfully, frustratingly slow, one-word-at-a-time pace, because we are (or, at least, I am). But, at least we started sticking them together in sets, using them in meaningful ways during our regular activities.
Then, it happened. The breakthrough that I had been waiting for. The sign that my daughter's Language Stars* classes, a couple hundred dollars worth of language materials, and my own inadequate yet persistent attempts to speak the language as much as possible were paying off: A sentence. About, of all things, a panda.
It was after nap one day. My little princess was still standing by the bed, sleepily hugging her xiong mao. I looked at her and said (in Chinese), "Do you have a panda?" I was stunned when she looked up at me and said, "I have a panda." I had never heard her use the Mandarin word for "have" before, so I was completely shocked, impressed, and overjoyed--all at the same time. Over the next few days, I told everyone I knew. Of course, only those who already spoke another language or had once tried to do so seemed to nod with true understanding. Everyone else said their own version of "that's nice," but they really didn't grasp the work and time commitment that proceeded that simple, four-word sentence in Mandarin.
Obviously, we have years and years of Chinese to look forward to. We are now working on basic sentences like, "I have a ______." and "Do you want to eat _________?" So, we have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but I know it will be worth it. I will never be fluent, but one of my hopes for my children is that they will be. And perhaps they'll teach their children the poem about a panda . . .
Thanks for reading once again,
*I receive 50% off our tuition at Language Stars just for blogging about their great programs. How "niu" (cool) is that?