Is My Language Investment Paying Off?

How do you figure out if your language investment is paying off? This might be a tough pill to swallow, but the answer here is to have patience. Believe me, we all want our children to go to their language lessons, learn what they learn there, and come home speaking as if they were born speaking two languages.

Nevertheless, sometimes a little reality check is in order. My son started his journey into learning Chinese at a very early age. So, early my family and friends thought I was crazy. How old you might ask? Well, by the time he was nine-months-old, I had already enrolled him in a Chinese class.

The class was for one-year olds but by the time my son would have turned one (in late November) the class, starting in August would definitely have been full. So, with a little convincing and a whole lot of confidence that in my child’s ability to participate – they let us enroll three months early. Now, if I didn’t feel like Cavanaugh could have handled the class, I would not have pushed it. But, the class was full of songs, finger plays, games, and movement that I knew he would not be overwhelmed – and he wasn’t!

At that point he barely spoke any English, so I had a silent understanding that even though I was spending $200 plus on those classes every month, he wouldn’t be rattling off Mandarin, since he barely spoke English.

As time went on, however, I began to worry about my investment. Over the next year or so he started speaking all kinds of stuff in English, even pretty complex phrases for a 20-month old.

But still, he wouldn’t say anything in Chinese. By that point he was enrolled in a Chinese immersion daycare, he was still taking the lessons I signed him up for on the weekends, and he even had a babysitter occasionally during the week who only spoke Mandarin to him too! And still, with over 10 hours a week with the babysitter, whole days at the daycare, plus the lessons, he would only reluctantly say a very few words in Mandarin, and only here and there – nothing consistent.

Despite my worries, all of the other people involved in teaching him Chinese seemed pleased with his progress. His language teacher said he was doing great, the babysitter assured me he understood everything she said, and, to top it all off, the daycare teacher asked me what I was doing with him at home for his tones to be so perfect.

So, apparently, he was just not speaking while I was around. It was a little disheartening that even though I was spending over $1,800+ a month for him to learn Mandarin, I wasn’t getting to hear it. But while I didn’t hear it, other people kept saying he was making progress.

Once he turned three, I pulled him out of the daycare and hired a Chinese nanny. At that point, I wasn’t convinced that the daycare was doing the trick, so I decided to take this new route. And yet, even with the nanny he seldom spoke in Chinese. You almost had to force it out of him to get maybe two or three words at a time.

Then, halfway through his third year, a huge weight came off my shoulders. It finally happened! It was like someone flicked a switch. He spilled his milk and muttered something in Mandarin. Later on, I found out that what he said meant “I’m sorry.” And, just like that, he was a Mandarin speaking machine! I could ask him to say something in Chinese, and he would just go and say it. He knew the difference between English and Chinese and he could speak it!

Take my story as an example and don’t be discouraged if your child is coming home and not speaking the second language. Perhaps the problem is not that he or she isn’t learning. Maybe, your child is just a little too shy about it. It took my son a few years to build the confidence to speak Mandarin. But, even though he didn’t speak it for a long time, he still understood quite a bit.

Not speaking doesn’t mean they aren’t learning.
Language learning is a process; a marathon of sorts, not a sprint. This can be a particularly tough process for parents, like me, who don’t speak the target language and can’t reinforce around the clock. But hang in there and one day that switch will turn on and you’ll be amazed at your bilingual genius.

How has your experience with raising a bilingual child been? I’d love to hear your stories as well, so don’t hesitate to comment below and follow our Facebook page @our21stcenturykids for the latest news.

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