My husband told me this week that he read somewhere that it takes10,000 hours to be "proficient" at something. I guess that means Olympic level. Carnegie Hall level. Completely and totally bilingual? Then I look at my kids. How many hours of Mandarin do they have so far? About 450 hours at Language Stars* for the oldest (if I am counting correctly). Maybe 200 for my oldest boy and 50 for the youngest. I just let out a long, tired sigh. We have a l-o-n-g way to go.
But, in a way, this is reassuring, too. It keeps everything in perspective. How much should they REALLY know? What should my expectations be? This fact put a new spin on it. My kids are about where they should be, saying some words and simple sentences. Obviously, at 2,000 hours or 5,000 hours, my expectations will be quite different. But for now, we're good. They are doing well when you compare a few hundred hours to a few thousand.
Yet, my expectations are changing a little bit, too. Most weeks, after my youngest son and I complete our Parents and Tots class, we wait outside for them. He plays with the waiting room toys and I do some work on the computer. It just so happens that we are right next to their classroom. And it's not that I planned that or anything, or that I intended to listen. I just sit there because that's where the toys are. But, for the last few weeks, I have heard them speaking English to each other AND to the teacher, despite her encouragement to speak Mandarin. Despite the fact that they CAN certainly say and respond with simple statements like, "Please give me a red car."
So, last week I let them know. "Do you know where I am when you're in class?" I asked. "At the store?" my daughter guesses. "Doing your work?" my son responds. "Yes, I'm doing work," I say, "But do you know WHERE I am?" Blank stares from both. "I am right outside your classroom. I can hear it when you speak English in class. I want to hear you speak Chinese." Wide eyes from both. They had not expected that one.
Hopefully, that knowledge (plus a weekly reminder before class) will be as effective as Santa and our Elf on the Shelf, Chippy. Just knowing that someone is watching/listening will hopefully change behavior. Especially after I tell them how much Santa LOVES Chinese!
*We receive 50% off of our tuition for blogging about our Language Stars experience.