For many of us, this is the reality of having a child who is learning a foreign language. You send your child to an awesome immersion program, only to find that they’re the only non-Asian student there. Likewise, you send your kiddo off to after-school Chinese lessons and, again they’re the only non-Asian person in the room.
That’s okay. It’s only common sense that Chinese parents who are living in the U.S. would want their children to master the language. It’s not just first-generation Chinese immigrants who want to keep their language alive. Parents who have never stepped foot in China (meaning that their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents or even farther back came to the U.S. long ago) may also want their children to learn the traditional language of their ancestors.
What About Diversity?
When your child is the only non-Asian student in a Chinese class, they bring diversity to the group. That said, being the “odd one out” may make your child feel not so comfortable. Before pulling your child from the class, ask yourself if the lack of diversity is your child’s problem or yours.
As long as your child is having fun—and of course, learning—there really isn’t a problem. Kids are kids, no matter their race, religion, ethnicity or anything else. Your child knows this. So, why make your young student feel intimidated or alone when he goes to Chinese class? If your child already feels like he doesn’t fit in, help him to feel more included. How? Point out the similarities that your child shares with some of the other children.
Obviously, they’re all kids (and possibly in the same grade). Then there’s the fact that they all go to school. Not to mention that they’re all studying Chinese! Ask some of the other parents for info that may make your child feel more comfortable.
This might include sports, favorite books, music or movies. Let’s say a few of the parents are talking about how their kids play little league. So does your child. Now they can get together and talk about their mutual love of the game, or even play a few innings outside of class.
Get Insider Information
So you’re the only parent in the pack that isn’t Chinese. Well, you want your child to learn the language, right? Count yourself as lucky. You have the opportunity to talk to the other students’ parents and ask them about their heritage and culture.
Along with hearing their stories, the other parents may have resources you don’t know about. This could include information about a local Chinese cultural center or even the number of a truly fabulous language tutor. So go ahead and make your own friends too!
A New Network
Now that you’ve got a few new friends (and hopefully your child does too), it’s time to set up a playdate. If the other family is fluent in Chinese, ask if they wouldn’t mind speaking in their native language when your child comes over.
Spending time with a Chinese family may also give your child the chance to explore the culture first-hand. An invitation to a holiday celebration (or other similar activity/event) lets your little language learner experience Chinese traditions in a way that books and lectures just can’t.
Along with these types of cultural experiences, playdates with your child’s Chinese class friends may make the diversity issue, well, a non-issue. Sometimes the idea that we’re all people and have similarities that reach well beyond color or ethnicity is too abstract for young children to understand. Visiting a Chinese friend’s home gives your child a concrete way to explore and accept this idea.
Do you feel like your child is “alone” in their language class? Are you struggling as monolingual parents with a bilingual child? Share your experiences in the comments section below!