Tuesday, December 10, 2013

'Tis the Season for...EXAMS!!!

Caleb and Isaac go to a really fabulous private school here in Beijing.  It is a bilingual school where their instruction is about 60% English and 40% Chinese.  They both really love their teachers and have made some great friends.  They are thriving in the classroom and learning a tremendous amount.  We loved our DC Bilingual Charter School when were back in the States, but the atmosphere here is a lot more competitive and they have endless resources to enhance learning.  It is wonderful.  They both take mandatory violin lessons and there is a very robust arts program.  They have lots of time for unstructured play in addition to actual PE classes.  I have to admit, I'm a little jealous.  The blessing of attending such a school is a great benefit of Kenny's job.  No matter where we live, they will always go to amazing schools, with an international student body, dedicated teachers, and involved (sometimes overly - though I tend to believe any is better than nothing) parents.
Isaac was so excited to finally go to the "big boy" school.
I love that they wear uniforms.  It makes my life SO MUCH easier.
The only real challenge we have encountered as we moved from our old school in DC to this new school in China, has been the introduction of Chinese.  Caleb is bilingual.  He learned to speak English and Spanish simultaneously.  And, while his English is better than his Spanish, mostly because he seldom is called upon to use Spanish, it is still quite good and he has no accent whatsoever.  For all intents and purposes, he has never "learned" a language.  One of the first things he said to us after we arrived was, "but, I already speak two languages, isn't that enough?"  He makes a good point, especially considering he is 7.  Additionally, he is used to being the best in his class at everything with very little effort.  

Things have equalized a lot at this school and though he is still doing very well, there are other children who are doing equally well, and in some cases a little bit better.  Especially when it comes to Chinese.  He has struggled.  He has been frustrated and angry and defeatist.  His biggest problem is that he knows what he doesn't know.  He knows that he cannot use Chinese like he speaks, reads, and writes Spanish.  And, he is constantly comparing his abilities in Mandarin to his facility with Spanish.  But, he is persevering and his Chinese is improving.  We have a tutor (I KNOW!) for him and his English teacher helps translate sometimes when he is really lost.  And slowly, this language is starting to come alive for him.  Chinese is challenging, heaven knows I am aware of that.  My Chinese is pitiful.  But, we are so proud of him for not giving up.  

This week the boys have exams in their Chinese classes.  For Caleb it is a week long process with the children tackling one aspect of their language study every day.  Isaac's version of exams is abbreviated and only requires one day to complete.  But, THEY HAVE EXAMS!!  My Kindergartner and 2nd grader have been studying every night for these exams.  They are creating sample dialogues.  Memorizing songs and stories.  Practicing writing characters.  Answering sample questions.  Writing paragraphs wholly with characters.  It is astonishing!

I have always been amazed at how babies learn multiple languages effortlessly in infancy -- I have watched all three of mine do it.  But, observing my boys go from no Chinese to conversational Chinese to singing in Chinese, to, in Caleb's case, mastering enough characters to write a story in Chinese is just incredible.  We have told them all they need to do this week is their very best.  We have tried not to over drill or burn them out on study -- there is plenty of time for that later on.  We have prayed with them and encouraged them and we are confident they are going to do very well.  But, we were not ready for this kind of pressure and we know it is just the beginning.  We know other children in their classes are being put through their paces for these tests.  We know other parents would scoff at our seemingly cavalier approach.  But, we don't want them to get discouraged, and especially for Caleb, give up.  One of the primary reasons we moved to Beijing was so the children would learn Mandarin.  So far, we have been successful in working towards that objective and we'd like to keep it that way.  


Nomads By Nature said...

My daughter cried and stressed the first year there with Mandarin (she wasn't even in a bilingual school). By the second year she got past the fear, had quite a bit under her belt, and was then invigorated for the challenge. She still has all her notebooks and hopes to one day go back and recapture what she had and build even further on that. What a great opportunity for yours to really grasp the language and have skills that won't disappear with additional world scattered posts. I hope the exams went well and the kids were happy with their results.


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