Monday, July 25, 2016

My Chinese Tutor

During this year's Volunteer Tea, I insisted on getting a photo with Fiona's grandma. She helped out in an official capacity as a volunteer, but her impact on my teaching and learning came informally, during my twice-weekly scheduled hall duty assignments. Fiona's grandma was my Chinese language tutor.

If you've ever heard someone complain about why immigrant families don't just hurry up and learn the language of the country, give them a dirty look for me. Learning a new language, especially as an adult, is HARD! I was only capable of learning a phrase or two at a time, and I needed many weeks of practice. Often, I'd forget exactly how to say the words, even though I had repeated them with success the day before.

Fiona's grandma was very patient with me. She encouraged my speaking and celebrated my efforts, even when they weren't flawless.

My school has a high Chinese population. Many of the grandparents that pick up our students at the end of the day do not speak English. I wanted to be friendly and be able to communicate. I also wanted to speak to some of our youngest students who respond quicker to commands in their native tongue. The bilingual students are very helpful and will offer words when I'm floundering to explain. Thanks to them, Fiona's grandmother and Mrs. Lung, our kindergarten teacher who is also fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese, I can say ...

Good morning


How are you?

I am fine.

Wait a minute.

Who are you looking for?

Line up.


I don't understand.

Do you understand?

Happy Chinese New Year!

Mrs. Lung and our principal, Mr. Parish, at the Volunteer Tea
I get mixed up frequently. Tones are really tricky to get right. Sometimes I mix up a Mandarin phrase with a Cantonese phrase. I can really empathize with our English Language Learner students. My vocabulary, as you can see by the list, is pretty limited and rudimentary. Our ELL students are acquiring more words and phrases while managing in class.

What helped me with my language learning was:

  • a patient teacher
  • many chances to practice
  • positive reinforcement that encouraged me to take risks
  • taking notes (i.e. writing down with English letters how I'd interpret the sound)
I hope to improve with time and effort. I'm not signing up for official Mandarin and Cantonese lessons - I like my tutor and the way she gently helps me get better. 

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