Help for boy who wasn't taught to speak

Updated: 2012-05-08 07:37

By An Baijie and Sun Ruisheng in Taiyuan (China Daily)

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Children usually learn to speak around age 1, but for 3-year-old Tang Jiahao, in North China's Shanxi province, speaking and singing were seemingly impossible tasks.

Tang, from Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi, is being brought up by his grandparents, who can neither speak nor hear.

His mother is a migrant worker who has not been home for nearly two and a half years.

The family lives in a small apartment, measuring less than 40 square meters. The staircases in the old apartment building are covered in thick dust, and cockroaches are rampant in the closet.

In March 2009, Tang's mother, Li Yanping, who is able to speak and hear, gave birth to him in remote Southwest China's Chongqing municipality, where she worked at the time. She was 18 years old at the time and unmarried - the legal marriage age for women in China is 20.

Tang's father was a migrant worker from a village in the Wanzhou district of Chongqing. He was sentenced to jail when Tang was about six months old, said Wang Shengtang, the boy's 77-year-old great-grandfather.

Tang's mother brought him to her hometown of Taiyuan after her husband was sentenced. She left the boy with her parents when he was eight months old and went back to Chongqing.

The child has been living with his grandparents without any oral communication since his mother left.

"His mother used to communicate with me through text messages, but she has not sent me any messages for nearly half a year," his grandmother told China Daily, by writing on a piece of paper. "We don't know where she is or what kind of job she is doing."

His mother promised to come back home before the Spring Festival this year, but she did not keep the promise, said his grandmother.

His mother told China Daily by telephone that she is scheduled to come back to see her son in mid-May. She declined to comment on her disappearance.

Tang's grandparents, both in their 50s, could not find a job and the family has no income.

The couple is worried because they cannot teach the boy to speak, and he has begun to imitate them by expressing himself with his hands.

To develop his hearing ability, his grandmother used the mobile phone's music tone to wake him up. The grandparents also turned up the volume of the small 14-inch television, the only source of human voices in the family most of the time.

Li Shumin, a doctor who is familiar with the boy, said that now is the key time for him to develop language abilities.

"Children of Tang's age have already started to learn to speak from their parents, and he is already lagging behind," she said. "But it's not too late, if he can learn to speak as soon as possible."

His grandmother tried to send him to the local kindergarten, but he was refused enrollment because he does not have a hukou (household registration) due to his birth outside of marriage.

Li Yanping, director of the residents' committee at the residential community where the boy and his grandparents live, said community workers have appealed to the local public security bureau to give Tang the hukou.

"He is expected to go to kindergarten in the autumn semester if everything goes smoothly," she told China Daily.

A local family with a 4-year-old son learned of Tang's plight last week through a local newspaper article and decided to help. Since last Thursday they have taken him in to stay with their family and play with their son. They teach him to speak on weekdays, and he returns to his grandparents on the weekend, Li said.

The supportive family even managed to send Tang to the local kindergarten on Friday for the first time, Li said.

"He managed to say 'close the door' and 'thanks' on Friday, which made us feel quite confident about his language abilities," she said.

Contact the writers at anbaijie@ and

(China Daily 05/08/2012 page7)