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Global Citizens = Spanish and Mandarin Immersion

May 04, 2012

these global kids are trilingual


Mandarin Chinese and Spanish are two of this planet's most important and widely spoken languages and according to the 2000 U.S. Census, Chinese is the third most common spoken language in the United States after English and Spanish. The ability to read, write and speak the dominant languages of our planet, opens many doors and is an essential part in being a true global citizen.

You can't really understand a culture without knowing the language and spending time fully immersed in it amongst that culture is the easiest and best way to learn. I've written extensively about this in my 3 part series, How to Raise a Bilingual or Multilingual Child that is filled with tips that have worked for us.

Sadly, the United States ( and most English speaking countries) lags in high school and college graduates who can read, write and speak Mandarin and Spanish fluently. The importance of Mandarin in business in all of Asia is obvious to us as is Spanish in all the countries where it is dominant. Our world is shrinking.

I am not saying that one must speak only in Mandarin Chinese ,Spanish and English or other dominant languages to be a world citizen or that one must be fluent as a native, as learning any other language at any level is better than nothing and a step in the right direction. My daughter speaks bits of many languages and all of it is valuable in my eyes.

We are monolinguals raising a fluent-as-a-native trilingual/triliterate, so know the challenges first hand. One of the challenges is keeping up with all three languages as kids can lose languages as quickly as they pick them up.



Like learning a musical instrument, one needs daily practice reading, writing and speaking all three languages if you want to be fluent as a native. Without the practice, even adults can get rusty and even lose much of their native tongue.

There are hardly any Spanish speakers in Asia, so that adds to our challenges here. Luckily, we happened to have a neighbor last year who was from Mexico and they have two daughters Mozart's age, so that relationship helps greatly. As well as her long distance relationships with Spanish speaking friends in Spain.

But our 11 year old is in Mandarin school here in Asia, six days a week, so there is less time for that, especially now that we live in a different condo. Last year they could play almost every day after school in the pool and playground. This years playground and pool group has no Spanish speakers.



Mozart has a mysterious and magical way of manifesting what she wants and needs and she has been wanting a Spanish speaker in her Mandarin school. She has Korean, Thai, Japanese and Indonesian friends who have their own "private" languages to share, so she wanted to do that with another fluent Spanish speaker.

Recently a 15 year old boy from Chile ( who speaks no English or Mandarin) came to the school, but is in another class ( with mostly Thai kids who also don't speak English or Mandarin so learning both in the foundation class here).

That was a happy day for her, but even better, she now sits next to a Korean girl who just moved here from China. Luckily she spent a year in Madrid, so speaks Spanish. Her English is very weak, so they only communicate in Spanish ( and fill in with Mandarin when needed).

What are your tricks and tips for learning languages and keeping them up over the many years of childhood? How important do you think being multilingual is for being a world citizen and understanding different cultures?


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Margaret Sch.

Isn't it amazing and awesome how very important ONE PERSON can be in the life of a child (or anyone, for that matter) . . but here I'm thinking particularly of the language or other areas of socialization that a child wants or needs . . . and so often a need is met through someone special. "Just ordinary people" making big differences for each other. I bet the parents of the Korean girl are also happy for their daughter to be keeping up her Spanish -- and might not have known she would have that opportunity in Malaysia! I'm happy to hear about this friendship and its rewards. Each individual brings along a wealth of culture, knowledge and potential. Yay for friendships as a channel for language learning!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

So true Margaret! It really has seemed like a miracle. It is really sooo hard Spanish speakers here that we thought we were profoundly lucky to find our friends last year ( they kept our box of stuff for us).

But we never thought there would ever be any Spanish speakers in this Mandarin school...not in a million years.

Friendship is wonderful in itself...but perhaps the best means of language learning or maintaining quite effortlessly too. ;)

They can teach the other kids things too...like when they do the Spanish style of kissing on the cheek in parting or greeting. Some here thought it strange...but they explained it is part of the culture...and goes naturally with the language.

Wonderful piece of luck!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Oh, and I bet her parents ARE very happy and surprised too that she found a Spanish speaker at a Mandarin school in Asia!

With just a year in Madrid, she doesn't speak as well as Mozart or the native speakers, but it is indeed a truly positive aspect for both of them!

Chaya Shepard

How cool you found some Spanish speakers for Mozart. I'm afraid we've been a little lax with keeping up Petra's Spanish since coming to China, but she's taken to the challenge of learning Mandarin with enthusiasm.

Tyler Muse

It sounds like a ton of work and perseverance is put in to keep the language fresh. Constant conversation with a local is the number one way to keep you and the little ones brushing up!

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