Sunday, June 13, 2004

Babysitting 3

One of the main problems that we've had with Miyu is that she's just so young. Her attention span is about 4 seconds long--if that--and it is therefore difficult to keep her going on any one game or task for a long time. That is not to say that my approach to 'teaching' her resembles my approach in the classroom. We mostly just hang out. We take walks and play in the yard. We read books and eat donuts together. Sometimes we just run around like crazy inside her grandparents' house and drive everyone nuts. The name of the game is 'exposure' to English. And she's getting it.

She can now understand long, multi-clause sentences. Mixing past, present and future doesn't throw her off that much anymore. She enjoys playing the role of mother, so she usually responds correctly to any requests that I make. I often ask her to cook me some food, read me a book, sing me a song, get something for me, put my possessions on the table, etc. She doesn't mind doing things like that.

However, a lot of the time she'll simply ignore me. I've always heard about the "terrible two's", and maybe it's not all that bad of a generalization in this case. As I've mentioned before, Miyu's mood is like a tsunami much of the time. She comes riding in nice and high, and then all of a sudden she crashes--destroying everything in her path in the process. On days when she's in a bad mood (ie. she didn't take a nap that afternoon), a two hour lesson can easily be whittled down to just 30 or 40 minutes of play. I don't help matters much, because I tend to just wait her tantrums out. I guess I could be a little bit more proactive and try to cheer her up. She throws a fit quite frequently, although anytime we go for a walk on our own she's fine.

It is still early in the process, and we may have started a bit young with Miyu. I started working with her about 18 months ago, and in retrospect we probably could have begun six months later than we did. She has a lot of the language that she needs for communicating with me, but she just doesn't use it. It's like the English in her mind is very small, and the Japanese is very big. If her mind were like a toy chest, it's the Japanese that she sees first when she's looking for something. The fact that she's also had the English for a long time doesn't seem to matter at this point.

The only time she uses English is when she really wants something. "Give it to me" and "Pick me up" are two phrases that she will often produce without prompting. She knows that I will respond favorably, and immediately, to these phrases, so she often grabs them first when she's searching through the toy bin in her mind. In effect, they've been enlarged, and are perhaps almost the same size as their Japanese equivalents. Most of our conversations involve her speaking in Japanese, and me speaking in English. We both understand each other, and I think this probably makes things slower in terms of progress. I wonder if she would produce more English if she had a teacher who couldn't speak any Japanese...

I suspect that we'll be able to enlarge more and more phrases as she gets older. She only sees me for two hours each day, and that amount of time is easily trumped by the dozen hours that she spends speaking Japanese with her family. My hope is that by the time she's four, she'll be able to converse with me in short, stock English sentences. I imagine that she will start using a lot of the high-repetition phrases that I repeat every day.

I have noticed definite progress, but I guess Yukiko and Masumi were hoping for more at this stage in the game. I definitely don't blame them, but I hope they don't put to much pressure on Miyu to perform. We could run into a world of trouble if Miyu starts to resent English, my presence, or both.

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