This summer we sent our son to Germany. He flew there as an unaccompanied minor two weeks before the rest of us join him.
We usually visit the German or Taiwanese grand parents once a year and we can only afford to stay 2 weeks because of our work. I notice that by the end of the second week, there seems to be some mechanism in the brain that get turned on and they would start understand a lot more and respond in the native language.
This is true in both Germany and Taiwan. But in Germany, it gets a bit trickier. First, most German speak English and they want to practice with us. Second, I don’t speak German and my kids don’t want me to be left out of the conversation.
This year, we decided to try something new. We sent our son two weeks early. Like all moms, I was a little nervous. We got him a direct flight with Lufthansa. Our Oma was equally nervous but excited at the same time. (She got to have the grand son for 2 weeks before we all showed up!)
I have to say this whole unaccompanied minor thing is very well organized. My son was never left out of sight of the crew, and needlessly to say, he got there safely.
This whole experiment turned out to be a wonderful experience for everyone. My son formed a special bond with the grand parents. It helps that he has friends from previous visit. And his “best friend in Germany” is the son of my husband’s best childhood friend who still lives in the same neighborhood. He had frequent “sleep over” and spend a lot of time with the friend. He made new friends with local German boys. He was in a full immersion environment.
This was an especially great experience for my son. He told him he definitely wants to do it again next summer. And this time, my daughter wanted to be sent there early too!
One day MM came home and reported that he has two “reading buddies.” MM’s elementary school has this wonderful system where the 3rd graders read to the kindergarteners, the 4th graders read to the first graders and so on. According to MM, his original reading buddy doesn’t speak English very well, so he has another 4th grad kid accompany him and they both read to MM. I asked MM, “If this kid is not good at English, he must be good at other languages. What language is he good at?” MM went “He is very smart in Spanish and he tought me some words.” MM later said, “Nai Nai (MM’s Taiwanese grandmother) is very smart in Chinese, even she can not speak English. Opa and Oma don’t speak English very well but they are very smart in Deutsche.” MM continued to list more people he knows. When he said that, I was very touched. I am not sure if this is a direct result of us raising him to be trilingual or the diverse community we live in. I’d like to believe that when children speak more than one languages, it will help them see the world from different perspectives. Maybe it will also help them to be more tolerant and open-minded.
Another boy we are very fond of is FA. We met him at our bilingual Montessori pre-school a few years ago. Since FA’s parents don’t speak Mandarin, they are not sure how much he has learned. When they asked him to say something in Chinese he would flat-out refuse to do so. FA’s mom is very cool and understands him well. Her explanation – “FA doesn’t speak Chinese as party tricks.”
When FA comes over to my house for play dates with MM, I would converse with him in Mandarin and I found that he can understand me perfectly well. Sometimes, if I catch him off guard, he would even respond in Mandarin. I told FA’s mom my findings and confirmed her theory.
Almost all the bilingual children I have met are the same as FA, including my own. children don’t show off their foreign language skills as party tricks. Children knows clearly that language is a tool, a communication tool. To them there is nothing to brag about if they speak a different language. However, getting a second chocolate cookie is a different story.