It's been said that young children can learn more than one language with ease. That has been true for Hercules resident Laura Lee’s daughter Taylor, who is fluent in both English and Mandarin Chinese at the age of 2.
It also may help that mom, a singer, teacher and musician, is the author of Little Laura and the Birthday Surprise, a children’s story of a birthday girl who wanders through a magical forest and discovers a delightful surprise. The bilingual tale is told and sung in English and Mandarin, flowing back and forth between the two.
The Hercules Public Library will be celebrating Lee and her storybook work this week and next with two events. Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. is , where Lee will read from her book. On June 25 at 10:30 a.m. is the main event: the with a sing-along, question-and-answer session, book signing and cake cutting.
Lee says that when it comes to learning a language, music gives that experience a natural boost.
“Music sticks,” she says. “It is vocabulary within a song. Little children learn so easily through song. Music is an avenue to learn naturally. All children are musical and learning language through music is just a natural way to go about it.”
The book and accompanying CD developed over a period of years when Lee, a UC Berkeley grad in both music and molecular cell biology, was teaching a developmental music and movement program for children from newborn to 7. Parents of FCC (Families with Children from China) children came to her inquiring if she could teach their children about their native culture by incorporating Chinese language into her music program.
“I was fulfilling a need for them,” Lee said of her students.
From those lessons, and with the success she and her husband Alex had in creating a dual-language household with their daughter, the idea for the book was born.
Lee is a bilingual second-generation Chinese American, raised on the Peninsula but drawn to the East Bay after studying at UC Berkeley. Growing up, she played piano and flute for as long as she could remember. When she started college, she planned to minor in music "for pure enjoyment," she says. She liked it so much, though, that she decided to double major in music and molecular cell biology. At the time, she envisioned going to medical school, but her varied interests took her to architecture, working for her father's construction company, teaching sixth grade science, studying nursing, teaching piano and children's music classes.
"It seems that whatever I choose to do, my interests always naturally propagate toward music and children," she said.
Little Laura and the Birthday Surprise is written in English and Pinyin, the system for writing Chinese words with the Roman alphabet, and contains a glossary of English, Pinyin and Chinese characters.
What is next for this busy Hercules mom? She and her husband are expecting their second child, a son, in July.
“Music is such a natural avenue for children to learn,” Lee said. “Inserting language and music together is easy, it’s fun, and it’s not even work. Their work is their play.”