朗讀比賽(Read-aloud competition)

We recently moved from relatively rural eastern North Carolina to the suburb of a large southern metro city.  DD#1 “Charlotte”‘ is officially taking Chinese classes now.   Just less than one week ago, her teacher asked me whether my DDs would be interested in participating in a local Chinese read-aloud competition, sponsored by schools using traditional characters.  My DDs gladly accepted the challenge.

Today is the competition.  Here is DD#2 “Georgia”‘s performance in the intermediate level division  (Click link for the reading selection).

 

Below is “Charlotte”‘s performance in the advanced level division.  I only got part of it, since my phone ran out of memory…..

 

Here is Charlotte’s practice recording, if you are interested:

Since there are large number of contestants, the results won’t be announced for 1-2 weeks.

It is easier to read aloud fast but more difficult to read aloud slowly, which require more accurate prosody and pronunciation.  IMHO, reading aloud well is not a skill appreciated or emphasized by many parents, with competing demands.

CLE update: Chinese Language Ecosystem (中文語言生態系)

Chinese proficiency aside, which I had posted here on this blog, I am glad that my DDs (“Charlotte”, 14, and “Georgia”, 11) continue to enjoy the cultural experience still.  This June, they had a lot of fun touring different parts of metro Taipei and Taichung in Taiwan.  I think they had the most fun goofing off and shopping at Taipei’s 西門町!  Here is one such photo (truth be told, this one was my idea….).

“Charlotte”, now at 14, just started high school and continues to enjoy the Chinese cultural experience.  She is taking Chinese III class on-line to do more expository writing (typing really) and to learn reading simplified Chinese.  “Georgia”, now at 6th grade in a new large middle school (we recently relocated), is half way through reading the Chinese edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s stone, whose English edition she read a few times before.

She should have finished this book a while back, as she reads it at 400-450 characters a minute or about one chapter in 15 minutes or so.  But she has not, as she is mostly reading English novels these days, an English Language Art (ELA) class requirement.  She probably has caught up to most kids of her age in terms of English reading and is taking Advanced 7th grade ELA at school.  With all the extracurricular activities these days including debate class, weekend 7th grade Chinese class (simplified), tennis league, guitar, etc., I have to set aside time for her to read Chinese novels.  She does, however, continue to enjoy reading Chinese comics on her own at meal time, now reading 機器娃娃與怪博士, which I also loved reading as a child.

At the mean time, the three of us watched the famed 2015 Chinese TV series 琅琊榜 over the last three months and we absolutely loved it!!  They are now big fans of 王凱, who played 靖王蕭景琰 in the TV series!  They probably prefer 靖王蕭景琰 over 梅長蘇/林殊 since beauty standard is different between Chinese and Western culture and they grew up in the US.  Charlotte learns to play 紅顏舊, one of the theme songs, on the guitar herself.  (“這明明有ㄧ顆痣!”…….非禮啊…..LOL)  She does that for the Chinese songs she enjoys listening.

We also rewatched 那些年,我们一起追的女孩, a hit 2011 teen romance film, and 我的少女時代,a hit 2015 teen romance film, both of Taiwan.  These two movies always cheer them up ~

We are now starting to watch 女医明妃传 (The Imperial Doctress), a top 2016 TV series from mainland China about a young lady determined to become a life saving Chinese medicine doctor despite the limitation of Ming Dynastic’s conservative feudal ethics in the 15th century.  The backdrop of Ming dynasty, limitation of its conservative feudal ethics on women, and the practice of medicine seem like a good fit for us.

So, that’s what they have been up to these days in terms of Chinese.  They continue to converse with each other in Chinese 80-90% of the time at home.

 

Question on assimilation and Chinese language learning

One parent asked on my FB group: I noticed many other parents have voiced concerns about social isolation in the quest for CLE (Chinese Language Ecosystem)……..  I am curious to hear from parents or parents of kids who are happily assimilated without compromising Chinese language/culture. Is this utopia possible for us in small town USA?

My answer:  It is entirely feasible. My girls (11 & 14 now) grew up in a small city of 35,000 in rural eastern North Carolina. Though there are some new immigrant Chinese families in the restaurant and poultry industry, we travel in completely different circles as we immigrated here several decades ago and are in the medical field.  Except for ~20 months of homeschooling, my daughters attended all English small private schools (class of 9 students for dd#2 and ~ 16 for dd#1 initially then another school with each class of ~ 60 students, ~90% white). Our CLE is conducted at home and through summer sojourns in Taiwan, comprising ~2/3 of their waking hours as school is only ~ 25% of their waking hours.  Except for a few Asian/Indian/Pakistani American classmates and friends amongst their two classes, all their friends are white.  These friends are not the most popular queen bee types, just nice southern girls.

For many years, I was very frustrated that we couldn’t find any Chinese speaking playmates for them. Then, as their Chinese got better by mid-elementary school, I grew more confident and decided along the way that my DDs don’t really need Chinese speaking playmates anymore.  They have each other.  Besides their summer sojourn abroad, we watched many Chinese movies, cartoons, and TV shows, which they enjoy tremendously.  They read Chinese poems, literature, a few classic Chinese pieces, comics, and many Chinese books (many translated edition of English books).  They listen to Chinese pop songs by Jay Chou, S.H.E., and others and sang some karaoke.  Their Chinese language proficiency and cultural awareness are almost certainly much stronger than most heritage children.

At the same time, over the past few years, I strongly encourage them to develop and maintain friendships with their white classmates. Their best girlfriends are all white and they are a lovely bunch. They have play dates, sleepovers, birthday parties, and pool parties on occasion. DD#1 had several white guy friends in middle school also. My DDs enjoy watching some popular American TV shows and listen to English pop music also.  All their extracurricular activities are taught by white instructors (that’s pretty much all we have here really…).  DD#1 played middle school  JV tennis with all white teammates. Here in our small relatively rural southern city, I feel that they are able to be somewhat of a “chameleon”.

So, yeah, it is absolutely possible in small town USA to be happily assimilated without compromising Chinese language/culture.  In fact, it is probably easier to assimilate in small town USA, as cultural cliques can readily develop in large metro cities with larger Asian population.  This rural city didn’t stop them from developing relatively strong Chinese language/cultural proficiency and our CLE didn’t stop them from assimilation.  The two are parallel ecosystems, “happily coexisting”.

I hope this helps.

朗讀 Read aloud

I think many kids (and parents) under-appreciate one very important way to learn Chinese: read aloud.

For our purposes, there are two types of Chinese reading: pleasure reading and focused reading.  They are for different purposes.

  1.  Pleasure reading.  This is learning through large quantity of reading exposure, part of CLE and more of first language type of learning, at least in my mind.  The readers don’t have to know everything when doing pleasure reading.  Don’t smother their interest for pleasure reading by demanding that they read these aloud.  I believe dd#2 started reading comics in Chinese when she recognized half of the characters in the comics at 7 years of age.
  2. Focused reading.  Focused reading is for “intentional and intensive studying” and the amount of materials covered is much less.  This mainly consists of passages in their Chinese textbooks.  One gets maximal benefit when one takes the time to learn to read these ALOUD to fluency.  Unless there is time constraint, I ask my DD to read textbook passages aloud to fluency first, in blocks over a few days, before doing any kind of writing assignment for the day.  Kids just want to get their writing assignment done and be finished with it, missing out on one important (if not the most important) part of learning: reading proficiency.  You would be surprised how many students can’t read their Chinese textbook passages competently.  It takes a lot of practice to do it right.  Since most children are learning more as second language learners, it is absolutely essential that they are doing high quality learning with the limited content presented.  Improving reading fluency through read-aloud greatly improves their general speaking proficiency also and is the most EFFICIENT way to do so.   Also, make sure that the child read ALOUD SLOWLY, with the right prosody.  That is CRITICALLY important.  The child’s Chinese proficiency will pick up by leaps and bounds if they take the time and effort to read aloud Chinese textbook and short reading passages to fluency.  You don’t even need supplemental materials!!  Reading aloud to fluency requires repetitive exposure to the same characters and sentence structures, such that the proficiency level for the same characters, expressions, and sentence structure go up IMMEDIATELY.  Do that for all the Chinese materials from school all the time and their Chinese proficiency will shoot up in no time.  I guarantee it!

This link provides some examples of dd#2 reading aloud over the years.

Reading metrics

Here are some reading metrics based on our experiences that may help you decide the relative pace of Chinese and English instruction for your children.

Comics stage: DD#1 started reading comics at ~ 8-8.5 years of age and DD# 2 started reading comics at 7.

Character only short novels or novels: DD#1 started reading 沈石溪’s animal stories at ten and half (10.5) and was able to advance to reading 金庸 by ~ 12.7 (select novels whose plot she knows already through watching TV, via initial Scaffolding Reading Experience or SRE). DD#2 was able to read Narnia in Chinese at ~ 9.8 years of age and now (~ 11.3) can read Harry Potter book#1 in Chinese (i.e. books that he read in English already) without SRE.  Since DD#2’s Chinese has always been about a year to a year and half ahead of DD#1 in terms of reading, I have now slowed down DD#2’s Chinese to focus more on English since I know that she should be able to read 金庸 by 13.

I hope these metrics help you choose the relative pace of instruction for both Chinese and English.

Pains in our bilingual and biliterate journey

The biggest pain for us in our Chinese-English bilingual and biliterate journey over the last 14 years are:

  1.  It takes a LOT of resources and time to create and maintain CLE (Chinese Language Ecosystem) throughout the years, in order to maintain their interest.  I have to watch a lot of Chinese videos with them as a result.  I was consumed with figuring out how to get more Chinese in for about 12 years.
  2.  Similarly, it takes a LOT to provide Chinese instruction in sufficient pace to enable them to read comics or interesting books independently by ~ 7-9 years old.
  3. It is extremely difficult to find local peers, whom you are comfortable with, for them to interact with in Chinese.  The most difficult age group is probably in the 8-13 years of age, when locally raised kids lose more and more of their Chinese proficiency.  By 8 years old, I would say 99% of heritage kids won’t or can’t carry a conversation in Chinese with another kid.  In high school, one can find teen immigrant Chinese speaking peers if one wants and needs to.
  4. The logistics and cost of sojourn abroad and acquiring a Chinese book collection at home!
  5. Devoting so much time to Chinese requires less time devoted to other extracurricular activity and requires the parents to take the long view (20-30 years).
  6. They need to devote additional time for regular American cultural exposure and appreciation for friendship and peer interaction purposes, particularly around middle school years.
  7. To ensure that dd#1’s Chinese is proficient enough for her to speak Chinese with dd#2, I didn’t work on her English much early on and she was more proficient in Chinese by age 8-9.  We had to spend a few years in upper elementary and middle school to “close the gap” in English.  That was a nerve-racking period, despite knowing that her English would catch up over time, based on the experience of youth immigrants.
  8. With their education and Chinese language focused upbringing, they appreciate a much broader range of culture but often in less depth than functionally monolingual kids.  So, it can make it even harder to make friends with peers (particularly non-Asian ones) of different backgrounds who may have very different concern and appreciation, particularly as they enter middle and high school.  They have to look a little harder to find friends.
  9. Based on the experience of those of my generation who were raised here, I knew from the start that this would be a difficult journey.  I couldn’t find anyone back in the early 2000s who “succeeded” to guide me, before the days of widespread internet use and creation of social media.  Well, I was wrong.  It turned out to be much more difficult than I had imagined.

Simplified Chinese for dd#2

Recently, a situation arose that my dd#2 is able to attend a simplified Chinese weekend school near my house.  So, we sent her there last Saturday.  I figure it is time she learns simplified Chinese and start doing more writing.  I also want to outsource parts of the Chinese instruction now.  She got bumped up a grade to 7th grade after cold reading 7th grade textbook for the teacher.   After the first class, the teacher said that dd#2 was the best student in class.  So, that’s good to hear.   The following are some pics of the textbooks that the class uses.

Since dd#2 had spent much more time reading than writing before, she is working on being able to write out the entire story as I read along the text.  I print out character worksheets of every unique characters with stroke sequence for her to practice.  It is coming along and she should get basic writing up to speed fairly quickly after a couple of chapters.

Otherwise, she is reading Chinese comic books every day and now seems to have little problem reading the first book of Harry Potter in Chinese.