For two years (1993-1995) our family lived in Beijing, China. We had three children at the time, and when we first arrived, they were ages 5,3, and 4 months. We lived in the penthouse of a hotel there. I looked online and was able to find a picture of the hotel. :)
Our oldest was kindergarten age, but we quickly found that the only International schools were already full, so she was unable to attend kindergarten. I taught her at home the things she would need to know to pass the entrance exam the following spring. But my husband and I had the idealistic notion that our children needed to learn to speak Chinese, and that if we used the immersion method, they would naturally pick it up. We enrolled them in a Chinese preschool/day care. I would take them there in the mornings, and pick them up after lunch. We did this for about 2 months before we realized that it wasn't the most ideal set up, and our children weren't learning anything. I took them out and eventually enrolled our second child in an International Montessori preschool two days a week, and our oldest tested in to the International school first grade.
Needless to say, our children never learned to speak Chinese. Over the years we have tried to teach them, but because their experience in China was a difficult one, they never had interest in going back, or in learning the language. Growing up in the Bay area, we have often taken them to China town, and have had chinese friends come over. They have been exposed to the culture, but the only language they ever expressed an interest in learning was the "naughty words". Their favorites included, "Where are your underwear?" (they pieced that sentence together with fragments they learned) and "You stink!", or "You're ugly!". We were so afraid of what they would say those phrases to the local chinese while shopping in China town, so we taught them a phrase and insisted they NEVER say it in public. We knew they would do just the opposite, so we didn't tell them what the phrase meant. We taught them to say, "I don't have manners". I know....a dirty trick for a parent, but at least it kept them from shouting out to passersby, "Where are your underwear?".
This morning as we opened our Christmas presents, our college age daughter handed me a little note and asked me to open it. She had her video camera to catch it on film, so I was suspicious. I opened it to find a note written in Chinese. I couldn't make out all of the characters (I can speak, but my writing isn't the best, and some of these were hard to make out). I read the note (which I assumed a friend had helped her write.) But what I finally deciphered was that our daughter had secretly taken a Chinese class this last semester! She proved it by translating some things my husband and I said to each other. My husband told her this was the best gift she could have given. :)
I'm not sure if she will take any more Chinese classes, but it is nice for her to be able, when she tells people she lived in China and they ask if she speaks the language, to say "a little". The only downside is that for many years my husband and I have been able to use Chinese to tell secrets to each other. Now we will have to watch what we say!