New York ‘Tiger Mum’ Teaches Nine Daugh­ters Man­darin From In­fancy

SHE SAID THIS IS TO PRE­PARE THEM FOR BE­COM­ING ‘CIT­I­ZENS OF THE WORLD’.

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It is not un­com­mon for non-Chi­nese her­itage peo­ple to learn Man­darin nowa­days as the world’s old­est written lan­guage is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar with the rapid rise of China.

But it is phe­nom­e­nal that 58-yearold Lynn Berat, who holds two PhDs from Yale Univer­sity, kind of “forced” her nine daugh­ters to learn Man­darin from in­fancy in a bid to have them well-pre­pared to be what she called “cit­i­zens of the world.”

COM­PLETELY CHI­NESE

Ms Berat fell in love with Chi­nese cul­ture when she was giv­ing lec­tures at Pek­ing Univer­sity in early 1980s. She quickly re­alised the Chi­nese lan­guage is “pic­to­graphic” and “very dif­fer­ent” from Indo-Eu­ro­pean lan­guages.

“It re­quires a greater ef­fort than a lan­guage with an al­pha­bet... Chi­nese seemed to be some­thing that they (her chil­dren) should learn from in­fancy,” Ms Berat told Xin­hua in a re­cent interview.

“If they were go­ing to learn it, then they needed to be com­pletely bilin­gual. And so we’re work­ing on that,” she said.

Ms Berat has ac­tu­ally cre­ated a purely Man­darin speak­ing en­vi­ron­ment for her nine girls, now aged from 11-19, ever since they were born: a Man­darin-speak­ing nanny, a Chi­nese/English bilin­gual kinder­garten and pri­mary school as well as var­i­ous ex­tracur­ric­u­lar cour­ses in­clud­ing Chi­nese dances, mu­si­cal in­stru­ments and cho­rus.

“So their life has re­ally been sort of all Chi­nese all the time,” Ms Berat said.

“Liv­ing in New York, it’s been pos­si­ble to im­merse them deeply in Chi­nese lan­guage and cul­ture. “The New York metropoli­tan area is home to the largest Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion out­side Asia, with the num­ber of Chi­nese Amer­i­cans es­ti­mated at about 800,000.

In­ter­est­ingly, when Ms Berat’s youngest ones, twin sis­ters Lo­gan and Lach­lan at­tended the bilin­gual Pre-K at the age of four, both of them eas­ily passed the Chi­nese test but failed in the as­sess­ment of English.

It was such a “highly ir­reg­u­lar thing” for chil­dren whose par­ent’s home lan­guage was English. They would have been sent to a school for chil­dren with “se­vere learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties” if the teacher and the prin­ci­pal had not known the sto­ries of their older sis­ters.

“I have to say you have no idea how proud I am of that be­cause to me, it meant that they were re­ally work­ing hard with their brains for Chi­nese. It kind of indicates the de­gree of our com­mit­ment to the Chi­nese.”

Apart from Chi­nese, all her girls have also learnt Span­ish and French, and can speak Al­ba­nian, which is Berat’s mother tongue.

GLOBAL CEN­TURY

For the rea­son why she put on such a high pri­or­ity for her chil­dren to learn Man­darin, Berat sounded very for­ward look­ing and very deep in thought.

“I feel very strongly of tech­no­log­i­cal change in invention that this cen­tury is the global cen­tury,” she said.

“And to be a global cit­i­zen, you re­ally have to know the world, and the more lan­guages and cul­tures that you re­ally know in­ti­mately, the bet­ter it is (for you),” she em­pha­sised. “My hope for them from the be­gin­ning has been that they will be cit­i­zens of the world, we’re push­ing them in that di­rec­tion,” she said. The emerg­ing economies in­clud­ing China, In­dia have been chang­ing the po­lit­i­cal, economic and cul­tural land­scapes of the world in the past decades, said Ms Berat, who has been to more than 120 coun­tries so far.

Though In­dia “isn’t quite awak­ened yet,” the speed of China’s devel­op­ment is “very im­pres­sive,” she said.

“No one had ex­pected” that China would be­come the sec­ond largest econ­omy af­ter the United States when she first vis­ited China’s cap­i­tal city of Bei­jing, Ms Berat said. “When one didn’t know what would hap­pen with China at that stage, ob­vi­ously we can see now how things de­velop,” she said. Nat­u­rally, Man­darin Chi­nese is get­ting pop­u­lar in the United States and other parts of the world, she said.

“Chi­nese is the ‘flavour of the month’ in many ways,” said Ms Berat, bor­row­ing an ex­pres­sion of lo­cal ice cream store push­ing “the fla­vor that’s pop­u­lar at the mo­ment.”

LIFE­LONG COM­MIT­MENT

“I thought I was a tiger mum,” Ms Berat, chuckled when asked how she man­aged to have all of her girls keep on learn­ing Chi­nese.

“It’s not ne­go­tiable. They don’t com­plain be­cause they know there’s no hope. But then they do it. That’s it.”

“It’s not just text­book learn­ing. You know, this has been their life. Their friends are Chi­nese. They’ve been in the Chi­nese cul­tural knowl­edge com­pe­ti­tions... it’s re­ally been, for them, a life­long com­mit­ment,” said Ms Berat, who her­self is a strong lover of Chi­nese cul­ture and his­tory.

“You know, it re­ally even for me is an as­ton­ish­ing way. But I feel all this ef­fort has been worth it be­cause they do get it. I think what’s ex­cep­tional about them is be­cause they’ve been deeply im­mersed in Chi­nese cul­ture,” she said.

“I think they are also be­gin­ning to un­der­stand that they have a very unique set of life skills,” she said. “I think that’s a great gift. I don’t know how much they re­alise it’s the gift that they have. But I think as they get older, in­creas­ingly they will ap­pre­ci­ate it.”

Her old­est daugh­ter Lind­say is study­ing in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics in Chi­nese as a sopho­more at the Shang­hai cam­pus of New York Univer­sity.

She as­pires to find a job in the United Na­tions af­ter grad­u­a­tion. “I am very thank­ful to my mom. Learn­ing Man­darin has opened new win­dows for my life, and I got many more op­por­tu­ni­ties than my peers to ex­pe­ri­ence the world,” Lind­say told Xin­hua in flu­ent Man­darin.

Chi­nese teacher Lin (first from left), speaks with Lynn Berat’s (sec­ond from left), daugh­ters dur­ing a Man­darin class.

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