Yu Mengting is a high school student who speaks fluent Chinese, even though her father speaks no Chinese at all. She recently delivered a presentation on the history of Chinese migrants to America in the 20th century, and she did it entirely in Chinese. What’s her secret? Turns out it’s her mother, Ms. Xu Yaning, who ensured that all her children learned their language and heritage.
Ms. Xu is originally from Taiwan and has a Master’s Degree in English Language Teaching as well as a Ph.D. in English-Chinese Language Teaching. She has taught in elementary schools up to middle schools and is currently teaching at Columbia University.
After the birth of her third child, Xu wondered how her children, who were growing up in the United States and speaking English, could grow up speaking the Chinese language as well. She found that there were almost no successful examples to use as a model, as reflected in her husband who is a 4th generation Chinese who doesn’t know the language. Ms. Xu was anxious and wanted her children to break through this obstacle that faces many Chinese families.
A former accountant, Xu went back to college to learn how to teach when she had this desire to teach her eldest child, a 5-year-old. After earning her teaching credentials, she taught English in elementary and middle schools, and then in the evening taught her children Chinese.
Her daughter, Mengting, says Xu used textbooks from Taiwan as a teaching aid. Her mother let Mengting and her two siblings watch Chinese cartoons and movies, read Chinese books, and learn classic Chinese idioms. Some evenings, they would have a reading club, where they read Chinese novels, and the discussion about them was all in Chinese. They listened to and sung Chinese songs, and used Chinese to write their diaries, which Mengting has done since elementary school. When she grows older she looks forward to reading more books in Chinese that she’s interested in.
She and her two siblings have also toured Asia. They spoke such fluent Chinese that the locals weren’t able to tell that they are actually American-born Chinese.
Mengting says that the best way to learn a language is to read it and write it a lot. In the beginning, you have to be persistent in reading essays and articles of interest. Parents should encourage their children to participate instead of letting them learn passively. Parents should trust their children and not rush them to seek success. Xu shares her experiences with other parents and hopes to encourage overseas families to learn Chinese.
Translated by: Chua BC
Edited by: Derek Padula