The Window To the World

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“Speak English, Mommy.”


Obviously, my plan wasn’t working.


When we moved to Asia, I began studying Chinese and wanted my preschool daughters to do the same. Yet, every time I spoke Mandarin to them, I heard the same three words: “Speak English, Mommy.”


Frustrated, I sent them outside to play while I went back to memorizing my Chinese proverb of the day.


“To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world.”


“Xué yì mén yǔyán…Oh, good grief,” I said aloud.


I was still thinking about my girls. Learning a second language at their age would be so much easier than what I was struggling through. How could I get them interested in becoming bi-lingual? Even today’s proverb testified that they needed language to navigate today’s world!


I looked up from my contemplation to see my two-year-old coming back through the door.


“Mmmfirsty,” she mumbled.


I sighed. She’d been outside for ten minutes and was already coming in for a drink.


“Excuse me?” I snapped.“Your mouth is full. Swallow before speaking please.”


Somewhere in-between my last two sentences, I realized that whatever was in Hilary’s mouth was a mystery to me. I hadn’t given it to her and, to date, we hadn’t bought the dog anything that color.


“What are you eating?” I demanded suspiciously as I watched blue syrup drool off her chin.


With a loud, juicy gulp, she grinned to expose other curious shades between her teeth. “It’s candy,” Hilary beamed and pointed outside before I could ask where she got it. 


Together, we started out the back door of our two-story duplex and entered the courtyard area. We’d moved into this particular location of Taipei three months prior, not only because there were other English-speaking families there, but also because it was just a block away from our language school. Dubbed “the compound,” our gated community contained housing for five families. Since the time that these homes were built in the 50’s, high-rise buildings had popped up all around, creating a fish bowl effect. It was common for us to look up and see someone at an office window peering down to view the antics of our “foreignness.”


When I rounded the corner of our building, I immediately saw wrapped candies falling from the sky. As I sought the source, I noticed several open windows from the multi-level complex adjacent to our wall. As I craned upward, smiling Taiwanese executives tossed treats to the five fair-skinned preschoolers below — two of which were mine.


Like little birds, the children were chirping the first Chinese words I’d ever heard either of mine speak: “Wo yao tang guo! Wo yao tang guo!” (“I want candy! I want candy!”). Even with my rudimentary language, I easily got the translation.


As I stood in shock, the proverb of the day returned to my mind.


“To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world.”


But in the mouth of a preschooler, it could open more than just one at a time.