This article first appeared in Fête Chinoise on July 1, 2019 here. It was written by Yollanda Zhang and translated into Mandarin by Jingyu Wang. Photograph by Lana Opris.
Through language, our world is created. The more languages we know, the more of the world we will have access to. I came to Canada from China at the age of 10. Today, I can speak and read Mandarin but not with ease; English is definitely my dominant language. Research shows that most Canadian immigrants will lose their heritage language by the third generation. Despite the odds, I retained Mandarin because I had a strong foundation and my parents insisted on speaking Chinese. My husband Bryan, on the other hand, was born and raised in Toronto and spoke Cantonese fluently until age 8. After that he was disinterested in attending Chinese school on Saturdays and gradually forgot how to speak Cantonese.
Consequently as parents, we’re not able to work together to help my daughter speak Chinese. Is it a major life-changing problem? No, of course not. But I realized that the required effort has to be widely from within the family, at schools, as well as in the community and I worried that my daughter might miss out if we did not make our heritage languages part of our everyday. So I contacted her day school to discuss starting a Mandarin program there and when they agreed, Panda Mandarin Language Programs was born.
因此作為家長的我們無法一起努力向女兒傳授我們的母語。這使我們的女兒更難在日常生活中使用和學習中文。這是一個天大問題嗎？當然不是。但從此我意識到母語教育中家庭、學校和社區的重要作用。我很害怕我的女兒在我丈夫丟失母語的道路上重蹈覆轍，於是我聯繫了她所在的學校並與他們討論開啟一個中文學習項目。我們對此達成意見一致。這便是 Panda Mandarin 語言項目的誕生。
One of my program’s primary goals was to create an environment that is play-based learning – kindergarten classes have been using the technique for years. If your child enjoys art, for example, learning art in Mandarin will not only teach them a skill but also foster their interest in language learning. Trips to local attractions and visits to Chinese cultural institutions (and restaurants) are also part of the program! This kind of authentic experience helps everyone understand the value of what they are learning.
Panda Mandarin 學校最主要的目標之一是創造一個安全、有趣、愉快的環境來保證孩子們學得開心。寓教於樂的教學方式並不是我們首創，幼兒園在過去的許多年裡都使用的這個方法。如果把教育和學習與孩子們已有的興趣結合起來，孩子們便會更樂意接受。在我們學校的課堂上，我們還會帶領孩子們遊覽當地名勝、中國文化機構、和中餐館就餐。這種實地經驗能讓學生們了解到他們學習的價值和意義。
In Ontario, we are restricted to French and English within public education curriculum. Alberta, on the other hand, has quite successfully implemented immersion programs in other languages and have a far higher rate of heritage language retention. We still have a long way to go in Ontario before we achieve parity with regards to the importance of heritage languages to young children.
“The more languages we know, the more of the world we will have access to.”
— YOLLANDA ZHANG
To our south, the United States has forged ahead by creating immersion programming in other languages including Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and more. Over half of the states have the “Seal of Biliteracy”, which allows high school students to earn credits for competence in languages other than English. This kind of acceptance makes a huge impact. When a person can speak more than one language, it should not only be viewed as acceptable but should be celebrated!
The value of having heritage language programming is beyond measure: kids learning with their peers in a familiar environment will immensely help language retention. By opening Panda Mandarin, I hope that all children will never be embarrassed to speak their heritage languages. The power of language allowed my daughter to understand, communicate with and build a bond with her mother’s mother, who would otherwise be a stranger. With my work, I have found a renewed sense of the importance and connection to my heritage, for me, for my daughter, and for all my students and their families.
我希望通過成立 Panda Mandarin 學校我的女兒和其他的孩子們再也不會為說母語而感到尷尬。我非常慶幸女兒擁有很好的語言能力，讓她能夠在我媽媽過世前三個月與她外婆一起度過寶貴而美好的時光。如果我的女兒不會說中文，這是無論如何也無法實現的。語言的力量使得我的女兒能夠和外婆交流，不然的話，外婆對她來說只會是一個不熟悉的陌生人了。