In December Emilia Wright backpacked for 10 days around Taiwan with her parents Brooke and Mark. The purpose of the trip was to encourage Emilia to develop her foreign language skills (Emilia is learning Mandarin fulltime at her school in Singapore). Neither Brooke nor Mark can speak Mandarin, so the family was heavily reliant on Emilia to help them communicate with the locals. Emilia tells suitcases&strollers about her experiences acting as a translator – at the tender age of 6!
How did you feel before you started the trip, knowing you were the only person in your family who could speak Chinese?
Before our holiday I was feeling confident and excited.
Was it harder or easier to speak Chinese in Taiwan than you expected?
Harder! Because Mum and Dad didn’t speak any Chinese, that made it more difficult for me than when we travel to Australia for a holiday. In Australia it’s easy for them to get around.
Do you think your Chinese language skills helped your family while you were on your holiday?
Yes, without me we would not be able to travel around as much. I was the guide because I can talk to people. If you wanted someone in the family to help it would have to be me.
[For more travel tips on things to do with kids in Taiwan, see the suitcases&strollers story Hiking Taipei With Kids.]
What was the best part of being able to speak to the people in Taiwan in their own language?
I could help my family by talking to taxi drivers, buying the right train ticket, ordering lunch. And I was able to join Silks Place kids’ club activities in Taroko Gorge – clay making and cooking classes. I made chocolate snowmen to share for dessert.
What was the worst part of being able to speak to the people in Taiwan their own language?
The worst part was when I couldn’t speak that much and I needed some help but my mum and dad couldn’t help me to remember the words.
Were there any differences you noticed between the Chinese you speak at school in Singapore and the Chinese they spoke in Taiwan?
The people used the same words. There were lots of words I hadn’t learned yet. They talked in the same accent and they talked quite fast, like the people who talk on the radio. In Taiwan, they definitely could understand me but I didn’t learn all the words so sometimes it was a bit hard to explain myself properly.
Do you think going to Taiwan helped you to learn more Chinese?
I’m not sure. At school my teachers take time to teach me and help learn new things and I get practise in Singapore at school, with my tutor, in a taxi, when we visit the wet markets. In Taiwan the people were just talking, not teaching.
Do you think your foreign language skills helped you have more fun on your holiday in Taiwan?
Actually, I didn’t have that much fun in Taiwan. I had to do all the work for my family, so it wasn’t really the most fun holiday for me.
If your mum or dad wanted to take you on a trip to China so you could practice your Chinese, would you want to do it?
I’m not ready to go to China right now as I think I need to learn more. I would want to go back to Taiwan, maybe 2 or 3 more times, to practice my accent and learn more words. Actually, my accent is OK, I can still improve learning more words.
[To her mother]: And you, you really need to learn quite a bit more – it’s time to learn how to count numbers better and learn your accent. Then we can go to the Great Wall of China.
To read more about Emilia’s adventures learning a foreign language through travel, see the suitcases&strollers interview with her mother, Brooke Hayne.
To read more suitcases&strollers interviews with kids about their travel from a child’s perspective, click here.
For more travel tips on how to do the Great Wall of China with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.