One Child’s Language: at 32 months (and abroad)

Social notes: Rachel is experimenting with social graces now. She plays with using please and thank you sometimes, and is working up to saying xiexie (‘thank you’) and zaijian (‘goodbye’) aloud in Chinese. Her strategy seems to be to listen and repeat to herself for a long time while she is mastering something new, then finally perform out loud.

She often gets very upset if we let a guest into the house without her help, or see someone off before she gets to wave goodbye. One day, Daddy came home from school in the afternoon, let himself in, and went in to find Rachel and Mama in the kitchen. Rachel immediately cried that she wanted to meet Daddy at the door. So Daddy went back outside in the stairwell, Rachel sent him down to the landing, then she walked down the steps to greet him on the landing with “Hello, how are you?” She nodded her head in response to “Fine, thank you. And you?” and then turned around and said “Well, let’s go up.” She repeated this ritual about ten times before our downstairs neighbors, Uncle Xu and Auntie Ni, came out to invite Rachel to play with them.

For quite a long time now, she has not gotten tearful when we drop her off at school, and she has a “best friend” there now. When she hears classmates’ names she can point them out, but she won’t say their names out loud to us.

Intellectual notes: In Freudian jargon, she still shows a lot of typically “anal retentive” behavior. She is compulsive about arranging and matching things. If you slip out of your shoes, she is liable to run off with them to arrange them carefully among other shoes. When she gets dressed, she is always concerned that everything should match. After eating, she will often get down and rearrange the magnetic letters and numbers on the refrigerator door. She is more concerned about matching shapes than about sequential order, so she groups 694, 25, 17, 38, VY, KX, MN, IL, CG, FR, BD, OU, and so forth.

Language notes: Rachel is speaking more and more Chinese. Her teachers say she is becoming more verbal at school. She must be saying a lot more Chinese to herself than to anyone else. She is quite aware of the tones in Chinese and experiments with them sometimes. Everyone at school tries to get her to say simple greetings to them, but they are content for now if she simply shows she heard and understood them.

Her pronunciation keeps improving. She has /s/ and /z/, /ch/ and /j/ pretty much under control. When she demonstrated that she could produce a clear /s/ one day on the way home from school, Daddy praised her and asked her when she would be able to say /k/ as well. She said “Soon.”

She still sings school songs at home and also sings a lot of English songs. She sings This Old Man up through number five or six. (On one of our excursions she got to see a beehive up close, so she no longer needs prompting for “hive”.) Her going-to-sleep ritual every night includes the same series of songs: Sleep Baby Sleep, Teddy Bear (“Dayto” Bear), Mockingbird (Hush Little Baby), and then Angels Watching Over Me (“That Guy Is Watching Over Me”). She sings along on all of them and recently recorded them on tape, singing by herself.

She knows the lowercase as well as uppercase printed letters now. (After trying to think of easy terms other than “big/little” to distinguish the two styles, we just settled on “uppercase/lowercase”—and so has Rachel.) She often utterly loses her chain of thought when her eye catches any letter or Chinese character she can read. She reads off numbers on license plates or hotel-room doors as she walks by. Sometimes she spells words from right to left.

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston’s Chinatown.

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1 Comment

Filed under China, education, family, language, travel, U.S.

One response to “One Child’s Language: at 32 months (and abroad)

  1. Pingback: One Child’s Language: Compilation « Far Outliers

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