You May: After arriving in the U.S., we found it difficult to motivate ourselves to learn English; and later as our life settled in the U.S., we find it hard to motivate our children to learn Chinese, do you see similar challenges from international families as they move to the U.S.?
Sandy Koop: Yes. When you first arrive in your new English-speaking country, your may feel learning English is at best a chore, at worst a curse. You might feel angry, lonely, confused and stubborn all at once as you moving away from your home, friends and relatives. You might experience a silent period, which is a normal phase of language learning.
As for your children, they might prefer to speak English like their friends do and refused to learn Chinese.” I will not learn this crazy language, and you cannot make me!”They are right. Neither parents, teachers, friends nor classmates can force your child to learn Chinese. If you put a lot of pressure and stress on the situation, you only create a power struggle, which parents cannot win. We have an America saying which describes this situation. “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.”
You May: How to create a natural thirst so our children want to “drink”another language?
Sandy Koop: Let us create a natural thirst by putting salt in his food. Salt will make him thirsty, then he will drink. Ask your child:”If I had some wonderful gifts to give you that would help you for ALL your life, would you want them? Also ask yourself: “Now that I am living in the U.S., what gifts do I want from the people of America and this country?”
Do I want success in school and at work?
Do I want to have Chinese friends and American friends ?
If the answer is yes, then you find your salt.
You May: Can you tell us a little more about these gifts and how to unlock the treasure box to obtain these gifts?
Sandy Koop: The treasures of being bilingual is priceless, worth more than anything money can buy. As a parent, this key is the best inheritance you can give to your children by speaking and teaching them Chinese. As for you, learning English will be a gift to yourselves.
There are 5 gifts many experts in the field of Second Language Acquisition and Linguistics have found to be true gifts for bilingual speakers.
1st gift: Success in Academics
If you learn another language, you will naturally grow in these “brain” areas to get better grades. Actually, bilinguals have more “grey matter” in their brain, which helps in all areas of processing information and intelligence.
Your brain will help you:
- Remember facts better
- Create clever stories both written and oral
- Deal with distractions
- Mult-task well
- Focus on studies longer
- Lead in math and math concepts
- Lead in reading comprehension
- Score higher on IQ tests
- Get accepted into the top universities
- Earn scholarships to universities
2nd gift: Your dream job
Even armed with a prestigious university degree, the competition can be stiff when entering the job market. You need an “extra something” to compete against many well-qualified candidates. Speaking a second or even third language is often that “extra something.”
Today’s global companies are seeking bilingual people. That is your advantage in the tough job market. If you get hired by a very good company, you might earn a higher salary with more benefits. If you work hard at your job, your chances for promotions and raises will increase. Your communication skills with international colleagues at work as well as new customers give you a better opportunity to excel in your career. Career advancement is all about good communication. If you are bilingual, you have advantages over monolingual colleagues.
3rd gift: Positive self-esteem, confidence and courage.
You are comfortable with yourself so you shine with positive and optimistic emotions. You make decisions about complicated issues more easily. Your self-confidence comes from past victories. Put all these characteristics together and you have a person who enjoys life. You live life to the fullest and delight in each new day. Because you are fun to be around, you have many friends.
4th gift: Friendship
Bilingual people usually enjoy social gatherings because they can make friends with various types of people. You understand others’ emotions and know how to show compassion. You can read others’ body language as well as comprehend spoken words. You relate well to new friends while keeping old friends close. Many bilinguals have friends all over the world.
5th gift: A bridge to the cultures of the whole world
Friends all over the world enhance your love for the world at large. Bilinguals build bridges across cultures. You enjoy cultivating cross-cultural communication skills on the job, on vacations, in everyday life. You find you have a wide worldview embracing many cultures and languages. Narrow worldviews mark a person who has never had close relationships outside his/her own close family and surrounding areas.
Your global consciousness is valued in academic circles, the political scene, in religious centers, as well as government halls. People appreciate your cultural awareness and acceptance of others’ culture variables.
Last, being bilingual often lowers your chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease in your older years.
You May readers, you are very fortunate to be able to speak fluent Chinese, keep speaking Chinese to your children because this is a life-long gift you can give to your children; in the meantime, invest some time to learn and improve your English, because YOU deserve a life-long gift to yourself!