‘You haven’t asked me what ‘Jurassic Journey’ is in Chinese. I still remember it!’
After our little trip to Birdland during the half term holidays in charming Cotsworld, the whole family left amazed at the array of aves that we saw and learnt. It was another one of those trips (opportunities!) that I seized to try and strengthen our minority language. Target our minority language deficit! Flamingos, pelicans, pterodactyls and yes, that’s all I remember from that trip! Will I still remember it in a couple more days after seeing patients on the ward, chiding the children to eat, brush their teeth, dress and not run around naked and doing everyday errands? No, I don’t think so! For now, I still relish in the three newly acquired vocabulary that we learnt together as a family… and as for my daughter, Felicity, she added a new word to her 13 month old vocabulary too. ‘Zoek zoek’ she says, pointing with her index finger as they hop up and down on their branches. “Zoek Zoek” she chirps every time she spies a pigeon with her Hawkeyed abilities.
And ‘zoek zoek I hear now at every turn and five steps forward with the buggy… I’m kindly reminded that we are in birdland even back in London!
Labelling/Commenting is such a simple strategy to increase your child’s language learning that it really shouldn’t be underestimated, no matter what language your child is learning: regardless whether they are a monolingual or bilingual. It is so easy to incorporate this strategy in our daily lives, such as the trip to and from nursery/school.
Admittedly I know I may look a little strange, walking with my children and commenting on the birds, trees, flowers, cars as I am pushing the bugging to my daughter, but does it really matter? The world is so interesting to her at this age and I am delighted to show her the world and with it the language we use to map on to objects. (With my son, I realise that he finds these walks fun, spying the rose that has just blossomed and clearly relishing the fact with a few giggles that he can play ‘teacher’ and get his little sister to approximate words that he asks her to say).
It appears that those of us who aren’t ‘fluent’ in our heritage/home/minority language that we wish our child to acquire may feel ashamed or are hesitant about passing it on to our child. Don’t be. Does your child understand the language (a little/a lot) and doesn’t speak your language (a passive bilingual)? Who ever said that being a bilingual meant that we are two monolinguals in one? Whoever said that we have to be proficient in both languages equally in order to be a bilingual? No one. Understanding the language a second language is better than not understanding any second language. Be proud of what you have achieved with your child already because this is success in itself.
So tonight I asked my son what Jurassic Journey was in Chinese (and of course he managed to tell me as it was his favourite part of Birdland; finding the codes and collecting his badge at the end of his trip). Will he remember this in a month’s time? I’m not sure but I know that it was so much fun learning a few words as a family from a trip and not leaving with a bird brain!