Friday, August 31, 2012

Taking a crack at the Putunghua
"Potunghua" is literally "common language" or what we call Mandarin Chinese. I took a semester of Mandarin at a local community college back in 2006. The speaking part was not too hard but after about 100 characters my brain stopped processing them. I would have loved to go on to the second class but they only offered it during the day and that just wasn't going to happen with my work schedule.

I've also listened, off and on, to the Pimsleur Mandarin CDs. As a result of my meager attempts, which includes watching several episodes of the children's cartoon Ni Hao Kai Lan ;-) I can say a few phrases. I've shared these with Georgie on occasion and she will often ask me how to say things in Chinese and I have to constantly tell her that I just don't know. One of her little friends at preschool is a Chinese girl who primarily speaks Mandarin in her home and she is therefore fluent. Several months back, after I told Georgie that I didn't know the Chinese word for something, she told me that she wanted "to learn to speak Chinese so she could be Chinese like her friend." I explained to Georgie that she absolutely was Chinese and would always be so, no matter what languages she spoke. Georgie had told me in the past that she wanted to go to Chinese school but after that exchange it ramped up.

Chinese school is not a little thing. Its a huge committment of time. Every Saturday morning from late August until early June for 3.5 hours. Due to work we are weekend warriors and normally try to do fun activities plus shop, clean etc so devoting what turns out to be about 25% of that useable time is a big deal. Plus, after the first year there is homework to be done. Of course, the positives are huge. Learning any language is important but for a person of Chinese descent obviously a bigger issue.

I have a friend, a highly educated Chinese woman, who speaks almost no Chinese at all. She's explained to me, somewhat apologetically, that she was second generation ABC and so grew up speaking only English in the home. Apparantly it didn't become much of an issue for her until she reached middle school. It was then that she first felt disconnected from the Chinese kids she encountered and the primary reason was inability to speak any Chinese. She then made an attempt at Chinese language but she said the Chinese schools were too advanced for her by that point in time and they weren't really offering Mandarin classes in the public schools in those days.

Its odd really. My descendants are from Holland. In fact, I am the second generation born in the US --the same as my Chinese friend. But, I feel no concern or embarrassment whatsoever about the fact that I speak only about 3 words of Dutch. But, I think for Chinese people this is different. Their communities tend to be more pocketed, more like "communities" in a way that certainly doesn't exist for Dutch people (and those of other ethnicities) at least as far as I know.

So there you go, it seemed important :-)

I started looking around at our options. We have a couple schools that are within a reasonable distance and they each have their advantages. I finally chose a particular school mainly because they offer an adult program. I knew G would be excited at the prospect of us both learning and she was. Once I told G that we were going to go she began doing a morning countdown of the days before school would begin. It went something like this:

G: Good morning mama
Me: Good morning baby
G: (big smile) What are we doing today? are we going to Chinese school?
Me: No, not today honey. We're going to Chinese school on Saturday. Today is Tuesday.
G: Ok so Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday... then I go to Chinese school??
Me: Yes dear.
G: (huge smile) I'm so excited to go to Chinese school mommy!

Anyway, Saturday finally arrived, yay! Georgie was incredibly excited. I'm not exactly sure what she was expecting actually. I mean, let's face it, she'd never been to chinese school but obviously had an image in her mind of what it would be like.

We got there a bit early so we could find our way around. Its done on a high school campus so its big. After a bit of initial confusion-- they had her down as a boy "Georg Lana" --it was all sorted out. We (well actually "I") got a lot of looks. I was the only caucasian person there. One man kindly asked if I was lost :-)  I was a bit lost though so his help was appreciated!

Her teacher, who is very sweet, assured me that everything would be just fine and that there would be at least a few other children in the class who had zero to extremely limited chinese language experience. She seemed to be more worried that G was going to cry when I left. Uh, not a chance. G sat down and happily began coloring!!! The class is a conversational one but I guess they use a book also. Its for 4-6 yr olds but from the looks of the kids and a bit of info from some of the other parents, it seems that most of them started kinder and 1st grade this year. G won't start kinder for another year. I think its good we're getting a bit of  a jump on it.
I spent the next couple hours in my own Chinese class going over tones and such. Its also conversational and there are just 4 students. Then it was time to pick G up and see how it had gone...

She was thrilled! She seemed more interested in finding out what I'd learned in my class than in sharing what had happened in her own which I thought was cute. She did finally share with me that they'd sung songs, colored, and learned some Chinese but she couldn't remember any of it. That's ok sweetie, no great rush.

Overall, I'd give the initial experience an A for both of us. Sadly, we'll be missing the next 3 weeks due to other committments and vacation. After that though, we're going to be diehards!

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