Studying Chinese

7 Oct

Many readers have asked what my daughter wants to study in college.  Before last year, she would have just shrugged, signaling the indecision that is normal for teenagers.  It has only been in the last year that she would tell people that she wants to study Chinese in college.  The irony of this decision makes me shake my head.

You see, the early days of learning Chinese held few pleasant memories for her.  Sitting in an antiseptic schoolroom for two hours every Saturday and listening to a teacher speak a strange tongue, my daughter was unmoored almost from the start.  Most of the other children spoke Chinese at home but we spoke English, which made it difficult for her to keep up.  Homework assignments and oral presentations became occasions for some anxiety and tears.

Nevertheless, we kept sending her to Chinese school out of a perverse sense of fealty to our heritage and a faith that any exposure to the language was bound to stick sooner or later.  I also heard my father’s voice in my head saying over and over, “She’s Chinese, she should learn zhong wen.”  So you see, even if she had wanted to quit, there were strong forces arrayed against her.

Mindful that we were violating a central parenting principle dear to us – to not force her to do anything that she disliked – the guilt made us pushovers when it came to other things that she didn’t want to do.  So we didn’t force her to take dance classes or play soccer.  We tried bilingual classes and even homeschooling but that led to more tears (there’s a reason I never went into teaching).

Finally she took Chinese language instruction offered at her high school.  Maybe because she made some good friends in the class, or because she liked her teacher, or because something from those years of struggle finally stuck, it clicked for her.  She came to embrace the language on her own terms.  So much so that she spent last summer at a Chinese language immersion program.  Now she wants to continue studying Chinese in college, maybe even study abroad in China.

I would never have thought this possible a few years ago.  And what’s the parenting lesson here?  I don’t know; I’ll try to figure it out once I stop shaking my head in bafflement.

 

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3 Responses to “Studying Chinese”

  1. Carol October 7, 2010 at 4:56 PM #

    Love it!
    I hear my grandmother saying, “You never know what you’re raising.”
    Often when I meet an adult American-born Chinese friend who hasn’t learned Chinese, I hear their regret at not having learned the language. It really does seem to be a huge strike against them when they travel anywhere in Asia. So… for a whole host of reasons, you are vindicated! Score one for the parents! 🙂

  2. Marty Lowell October 7, 2010 at 5:32 PM #

    Love it! My daughters are also Chinese (adopted as infants) and I have thus far not been been able to nurture an interest in the language. They grew up with us on an island in the caribbean and had Chinese speaking friends (from the Taiwan Embassy). But those kids only ever wanted to speak English.
    Wonderful and touching blog post. I wonder what your daughter thinks of it?

  3. Seth October 8, 2010 at 9:45 AM #

    Ah, bafflement- one of the highest principles of parenting. As a newcomer to the parenting field, I’ve already embraced the power of sheer, slack-jawed bewilderment. As my grandmother used to say, “you never know what your raising.”

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