Reasons why we send Sienna to a Chinese Mandarin immersion school in USA...
Many concerned friends and relatives have asked us why we are sending Sienna (soon Skyler) to a Mandarin immersion school. My answer is short and simple: Why not?
(More details will be revealed further in this blog post).
I'm a Malaysian Chinese, born and raised in Malaysia. Malaysia being a multicultural country where we have 3 major races (Malay, Chinese, Indian), there're lots of benefits that come with it. Many Malaysians know at least 2 or more languages, not including dialects! But with that being said, it comes with drawbacks too! We are "good" in many languages and dialects but just not good enough. For example, I am fluent in Malay n English but know very basic Mandarin, Cantonese and a few words in Tamil, Hokkien.
I could not pick up the Mandarin language fluently. This is because I did not go to a Mandarin school, my parents did not make it a point to constantly speak it to us (the kids) and I wasn't surrounded by Mandarin speaking people since young.
My parents had a private tutor that came to teach us (once a week) but we, the siblings made the teacher cry. Not only 1 but 3 different tutors! Till my parents finally gave up.
So now I'm officially labeled as a "banana" ~ white on the inside n yellow skin on the outside. My hubby is a "potato" ~ white on the inside n brown on the outside. I'm super thankful to have a FULLY supportive Mr. Hubby from day 1!!! He has been involved in getting Sienna into the program since he feels strongly about the importance of being bilingual, if not multilingual.
Ok enough of the background information.
Now, let me move on to give some information regarding the full Mandarin immersion school. So it's ALL in Mandarin from the moment Sienna (who just completed kindergarten) steps into class till the end of the school day with the exception of a 1 hour English class. It's as if she is immersed in China! This will go on for the next few years and the hours in Mandarin will slowly be decreased, replaced by English. And in middle and high school it will be fully in English with a 1 hour class in Mandarin. Totally reversed.
Finally, let me continue with reasons why we want Sienna to go to this kind of school as opposed to the normal American public school.
1) It's FREE!
To get this kind of education especially learning Mandarin typically involves a lot of money in Singapore and Malaysia, what more in the USA! So when we found out there are only 3 schools in North Carolina, we dove right into it. What more, it's FREE. Too good to be true.... but it's true! I was willing to spend money to make it happen, so this is a blessing for us.
2) Make one a better student.
Mandarin is a very hard and challenging language to learn. To learn it, one needs to be very diligent and persistent with lots of time spent practising writing and mastering it (it requires memorizing several thousand characters). Once a student goes through this rigorous training, every other subject seems easy by comparison. Chinese education also tends to emphasize achievement.
3) Teaches strict discipline from young.
Sienna's teachers are all originally from China. They bring along the SAME discipline as they would if they were teaching in China. When it's time to play, it's PLAY time and when it is time for classwork, it's all strict teaching and no nonsense attitude.
Sienna gets homework from day 1 of her kindergarten which is unheard of especially here in the USA.
4) Makes a person stand out.
Whenever a person has an extra language under their belt, it is always an added benefit and makes one have a leg up. This will come in handy when applying for university, jobs, etc. I remember when working for Cummins diesel engine, whenever dealing with Cummins China or Chinese clients, the company would prefer to choose the employees who can communicate in Mandarin to deal with it's China counterpart. And for a company to send someone as an expat to China, knowing the local language definitely will be helpful. Apart from that, when we moved to Singapore (and Malaysia), there were many positions available for hire by local companies but with a condition that the candidate knows Mandarin fluently!
And when I pursued my childhood dream as an air stewardess, knowing a language definitely is a bonus! You get paid more knowing a different language fluently, you get to display the languages that you know on your name tag (so that you can assist passengers who do not speak English), you get to frequent the routes of your spoken languages as the airlines need air stewardess who are able to translate and make the announcements over the speakers in the local language.
I can add many more personal points to this, but I think you get the gist.
5) Learning Chinese makes you appreciate the Chinese culture.
I'm pure Chinese (my great grandparents migrated to Malaysia during the 2nd world war) but yet it is hard for me to learn and appreciate the Chinese culture as I am a "banana". I felt that I missed out a big part of my race and culture.
Since Sienna and Skyler are half Chinese, I would like my kids to learn and appreciate all about Chinese and China. China has lots of history and its dynasties go all the way back. Chinese written language is directly connected to culture. My dad (who loves to read Chinese literature, poetic books and watch Chinese history drama shows) tells me how interesting it is and one who doesn't know Mandarin will never understand nor fully appreciate it (even with English subtitles) as one needs to know the history of the Chinese language.
6) Learning a language has to start from young.
Especially when learning Mandarin.
Children are like sponges where they can easily absorb with continued exposure. Yes, one can learn a language as an adult but it takes a lot more hard work, will power and brain power. It is hard to master a language as an adult. But for kids, it becomes like second nature to them.
7) Mandarin is the most spoken language on the planet and China looks like it is taking over the world.
If you can't fight it, join it!
And if Donald Trump's grandkids and the queen of England's grandkids are learning Mandarin, it is a sure sign that we are heading the right way. Okay, enough of the Trump now, politics is not my topic of interest.
8) Research has shown that students who attend a language school do better academically regardless of the family background. This holds true in Sienna's school also from past statistics.
9) Chinese written language is "magical".
When I say magical, I mean it! The Chinese written language is identical for ALL Chinese dialects. Meaning a hokkien, Cantonese, Mandarin, any Chinese dialect person can all read the same written language and will mean the same! But when spoken in their own dialects, they can't understand each other. So they just have to communicate using their written language, if needed. And voila, it's magical! So when you travel to China, you will be intrigued as you will only see 1 written Chinese language everywhere.
10) So that my kids can communicate with grandparents and relatives.
Yes, my parents speak English fluently but they also speak Mandarin fluently. But my aunts, uncles, cousins all speak only Mandarin and their other dialects.
This will be neat just to see my kids communicating with my parents in Mandarin ~> which is now in fruition. Sienna will read her Chinese mini books and show her homework where she has to write Chinese characters repeatedly. My parents will talk to her and she will be able to understand and reply back in her basic Mandarin.
11) I can learn Chinese for free too!
So with my basic Mandarin "skill", I've been trying my best to continually talk to Sienna and Skyler in Mandarin since they were babies. I've sounded like a broken record repeating like a lunatic till my Indian American husband has also picked up my basic Mandarin too. But now that Sienna's mandarin skill level has way surpassed my basic "2 year old" skill, she has been teaching me, Skyler and Mr. Hubby. Win win situation!
We did send our 3 year old son Skyler to Chinese tuition for 1 hour once a week for a couple of months, but although he enjoys it we find that he doesn't learn much in a short period of time. It is costly too. So I continued to homeschool him and he's doing "okay" for his age.
My goal isn't to be the typical Asian "kiasu" a.k.a tiger mom. Mandarin to me is a ‘value-added’ to my child’s education. Speaking a second language is a value in and of itself. My goal for my kids is for them to be fluent in the spoken language. Anything else are added benefits.
It is better to have them learn it now when they are young and then decide for themselves when they are older if they would want to continue learning it than to have it the other way round.
I would love for my kids to be able to one day be my tour guide and translator the next time we travel to China (or Singapore or Malaysia, etc). From my past experience, something is always better than nothing. So, some Mandarin is better than none!
I do hope that you, my readers, will take away at least some thing from this blog post!
"Xie xie nin" ~> thank you very much!