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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Grease on the Gears

All you have to do is Google "benefits of being bilingual" to get a barrage of information on its positive points.  I even read somewhere (mom of 3, so I have NO idea where) that it delays the onset of Alzheimer's.  Check out what Wikipedia has to say here (my husband's go-to for info).  You can also find a reference list of links on the Language Stars* site by clicking here.  I've read that your kids will have higher test scores, be better at math, do better in a business career, have better social skills, be more creative, and on and on.  But, as I gave this some thought this week, I realized that we aren't taking Mandarin for any of these reasons.  So, why are we taking Mandarin and what are we getting out of it?

If you've been keeping up with my blog (you have, haven't you?), then you have read this story before.  I distinctly recall the one moment when I decided to look for Mandarin classes for my children.  My husband's uncle was standing in the kitchen holding my youngest, then an infant.  Someone said, "Gee, it's too bad they don't speak Chinese."  And I thought, yeah, it is.  But then the thought came to me that it wasn't too late.  In one second, I realized that  1) they were still young enough to learn easily, 2) we live in Chicago, so it would be easy enough to find SOMEWHERE to take them, 3) it would mean work for me, and 4) being bilingual wasn't the goal, because we might never get there.  In that one split second, I just thought:  Whatever we get out of it is what we get.  I refuse to find myself 20 years down the road and wish that I had taken them to classes--too late.  

So, did you catch that?  I knew from day 1 that being bilingual was not the goal.  At least, not for us.  I think that's somewhat unrealistic, given that no one is speaking the language to them at home (except for the little I can manage).  What I was looking for was EXPOSURE.  The chance.  My dad uses the expression "priming the pump."  While I'm not sure what real-life example he is referring to (I have NO mechanical skills whatsoever), I understand and agree with the concept.  It's kind of like, how can the gears move properly if there's no grease?  Language Stars* classes are our grease.  They give my children a CHANCE to become bilingual.  And it's not so they can get great test scores or be more creative, or any of those things.  It's just so they can learn to love and appreciate another language and their own ethnic heritage.  

Already, I am seeing that my daughter seems to enjoy the classes more than my son.  (My bittiest one is repeating and using some words, but he's still too small to know his interest level.  He just likes sitting on Mommy's lap in class!)  She seems to be learning more and participating more and retaining more of what she has learned.  She can correct me and teach me new words and answer the questions I ask her.  In fact, I was floored last week when we had a mini-conversation in Mandarin!  Granted, it was just about where her dad was and that he went to the bathroom with her brother, three or four sentences, but STILL!  I was quite thrilled.  I am already seeing that my work to get them to class every week may go somewhere.   

Are they learning Mandarin?  Obviously.  I am very pleased with what I've seen at Language Stars and their approach.  Will they someday be truly bilingual?  Who knows.  I hope so.  But, all I can do is my job "priming the pump," providing the opportunity.  They have to do the rest.  

*We receive 50% off our tuition for blogging about our Language Stars experiences.  
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