Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lucky Girl - Language

Tuesday, May 26th - Sunday, June 7th this blog is hosting a book discussion surrounding Taiwanese-American adoptee Mei-Ling Hopgood's memoir "Lucky Girl."

The more Mei-Ling gets to know her Taiwanese family, the more she feels the constraints of her inability to communicate with them in Mandarin. As the years pass, she makes efforts to learn the language but is never fully able to bridge the gap.

If you are an adoptive parent of an internationally born child, what do you believe your role should be in helping your child learn the language of his/her birth culture?


  1. I would like to learn some Mandarin before we travel, because I think it would be helpful and hopefully a nice gesture towards the orphanage staff and others if we are able to say thank you and a few other phrases. As for our child, I think we will offer him the option of learning Mandarin as he grows up (same as I think Mei-Ling's parents did) and let him decide. Of course, Mei-Ling ran into the issue even after she learned some Mandarin, her birthmother preferred to speak Taiwanese, so the language preparation only helped her to a small extent in terms of bridging that gap.

  2. We've always planned on having our daughter to go Chinese school on Saturday mornings. It's going to be a drive... maybe 40 minutes one way, but we feel strongly about it. After reading Lucky Girl, it made us interested in private Mandarin tutoring. Not sure how that would work or who we would find to do it... or even what age someone would start, but we're certainly interested. Chinese school starts preschool aged, so she won't really have a choice about it.

  3. Cindy - good point about the difficulty of learning Mandarin only to find that Taiwanese is the primary language spoken by key family members. Let's hope that's not a dilemma our kids may find themselves in should they ever reunite.

    Since William has been home, I've doing my best to revive whatever atrophied Mandarin skills I developed growing up in a Taiwanese-American home. It's been a challenging process, but I'm happy with how much I've improved. I can now speak on the level of a 3 year-old (woo-hoo!)There's much to be said for consistency and immersion, if you can call it that.

    This year, we're hoping to hire a tutor, maybe a student from one of the local universities, to come teach interested students after school at my older son's school. I've been dissatisfied with the local Chinese school options for a number of reasons, so I think it's up to me to take matters into my own hands.

    Sarah - I think there's great value in starting your daughter's Chinese education as young as possible - even now, if you can find a Chinese-speaking babysitter or other adult who can spend routine time with your child. She already has the aural foundation ingrained in her from her time at St. Lucy's and perhaps with her Taiwanese family. As the years go by, she may start to lose her familiarity with the sounds and cadences of the language unless she's exposed to it regularly. If you're unable to find people who can speak Mandarin, I'm a big fan of Mandarin kids' CDs and DVDs. The Little Pim series is a good one (though spoken with a Mainland Chinese accent). I think reinforcing the sounds of the language over and over again will only make it easier for our kids to speak it once they get to the appropriate age.

    Of course it's easier for me to say this having had an upbringing in a Chinese-speaking family, but one of the best ways for kids to learn the language is through their parents. I take my hat off to parents who commit to learning the language themselves, awkward and difficult as it's bound to be. As we've found from personal experience, practicing with one another has reaped great dividends. I'm just thankful there aren't any native speakers in my household to hear me sometimes ;)

  4. Just a note - Taiwanese speakers tend to be from the south end of the island.

  5. And then there are families that speak Hakka at home, and the many dialects of Hakka that even further complicate the issue.

    I still think that for the majority of Taiwanese adoptees, Mandarin would have the most usefulness in feeling connected with other Chinese and Taiwanese Americans, in reconnecting with birth family, and possibly for business reasons as an adult.

    I doubt I would have any resources available locally to our family to try to help our child learn Taiwanese or Hakka.

  6. Yeah, Taiwanese resources are hard to come by. I've heard some people say that Taiwanese doesn't even have an official written form. O.o

    (P.S. I am not the Mei-Ling who wrote the memoir.)

  7. (Canadian) Mei-Ling:

    I'm really glad you joined us. It's great to have your first-hand perspective on the various topics. You've been on my mind a lot as your own reunion is coming up very quickly.

    While we were in Taiwan last March, we came across a lot of Taiwanese speakers in Taipei. When we were out to dinner with my dad's side of the family, many who live in Taipei, my relatives had to consciously switch to Mandarin for my sake. Even then, much of what they spoke was beyond me!

    I don't know if you've come across this: It's a site with some Taiwanese language books. From first appearances, they may/may not be that useful to you (i.e., the one that teaches Taiwanese for German speakers), but it's worth a browse when you finally get some downtime.

  8. I came here through TongguMomma's links. And then a few people followed my name to my blog and figured I was the one who had written the memory... nope. =P

    Hm, I know that Taiwanese is taught as an extra credit course in many northern Taipei school, although I don't believe it's a compulsory language (of course I may be wrong, haven't really researched the curriculum!).

    That's exactly what the other Mei-Ling said - that her Mama had to consciously switch to Mandarin because their first dialect was Taiwanese, or her sisters would constantly go back & forth between dialects.

    I believe my sister said my mother does know Taiwanese but their main dialect is Mandarin (yay?).

    Yep, the plane leaves in 2 days. @_@ I swear just a while ago I was saying I still had a month left.. where'd the time go?!


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