China adoption diary: Mom struggles to keep daughter afloat in school
Madeleine wades through the challenges of learning math and sentence structure in a new language. Mom anxiously navigates the sea of knowledge with her daughter.
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That was then, but this is now: the same box of picture flashcards is now an old familiar friend. I can zip through the entire deck of nearly 100 cards at lightning speed and Madeleine doesn’t miss a trick. I’ve even begun to make my own flashcards with pictures cut from magazines so that she’ll be sure to recognize “strawberries,” “green beans” and “hair” in daily conversation.Skip to next paragraph
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So much for isolated nouns. Last week, the teacher sent home a small Ziploc bag of tiny word cards. The assigned drill was to help Madeleine create different sentences based on a basic pattern. As I got out the little cards and set them up on the coffee table, Madeleine seemed less than interested in working on the very thing she had done in class that day. But we persevered. Soon, she had unscrambled the cards and created “I like the yellow butterfly.” She read the sentence to me in her funny little voice, and for a moment, I felt tears coming.
All I could think of was “Is this where she is?” I knew she was proud of herself and felt a sense of accomplishment, but that one little sentence wasn’t even a blip on the screen of language competency.
Still, she could express herself, and despite the off-kilter pronunciation, it was music to my ears.
If working to increase English skills feels daunting, try explaining simple arithmetic concepts to someone who can’t understand your attempts in awkward Chinese. The most recent debacle was differentiating between the “greater than” and “less than” symbols in comparisons of number pairs. I had an unsuccessful go at charades.
Grace fell back on a favorite gimmick her second grade teacher had used: “Think of the ‘greater than’ symbol as a crocodile’s mouth. The hungry crocodile always points toward the bigger number.”
Madeleine’s facial expression said it all. What do you mean by this word ‘crocodile’?”
We finally made some progress and the worksheet was completed, yet there was an uncertain peace about crossing that finish line. I consoled myself with the thought that there would surely be another opportunity to work on that concept – hopefully before a test.
A wise Chinese philosopher from the 5th century B.C., Lao Tzu by name, put it this way: “The longest journey begins with the first step.”
I believe he knew what he was talking about.
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