Due to increased school work for my fifth grader, our main scheduled Chinese lessons are now reduced to Saturday or Sunday mornings, consisting of 45 minutes of reading aloud, 45 minutes of writing practice, and 45 minutes of karaoke singing. My younger daughter has less homework as a third grader, so I give her Chinese lessons to work on weekday evenings IF she is done with school work.
However, to me, these short “formal” Chinese school work are only half of the story. Since their Chinese are fairly good already and they grew up surrounded by Chinese environment, they are learning by osmosis also. They listen to Chinese pop music (iPod shuffle, no screen to distract them), sing Chinese pop songs (and a few English ones) while riding in the car, watch Chinese soap opera and cartoons in Chinese on some mornings and evenings during the week and on weekends, and read Chinese comics and books (novels, story books) with and without zhuyin. All these other things, they do it WILLINGLY and EAGERLY for FUN. Not that Jay Chou’s Chinese pronunciation is good, but all these other things make Chineserelevant, which to me, is one of the most important and difficult aspect of such bilingual upbringing.
So, that’s why I think it is CRITICAL to get the children’s colloquial AND formal Chinese to decent level of fluency early on (by 7-8), before other things in their life take more priority, so that they will ENJOY these other aspects of Chinese. Otherwise, parents like us are just fighting a loosing battle.
Many parents have children whose Chinese is not strong enough, thus speaking more and more English, shunting Chinese home work, or not interested in extracurricular reading of books in Chinese. Since the rate of improvement in the Chinese of children of Chinese heritage almost always lags behind that of English, the situation is likely to get worse. I suggest that the parents perform a jump start in their Chinese program, if their resource allows. This would typically take the form of an extended immersion trip where the children gets formal instructions in Chinese and daily exposure to peers and people of various age group and background who speak Chinese to them. The required length of these trips obviously depends on the level of the children’s Chinese. For my children, I think 6 to 8 weeks a year is good enough. For children whose Chinese is very rudimentary, it may take up to a couple of years.
I hope this helps.
5) Extracurricular reading. This is probably THE major obstacle to learning Chinese for children of Chinese heritage (or anyone learning Chinese as second language really). One probably needs to know 1,000 to 2,000 characters to recognize about 85-98% of the characters used in the real world. The pace that typical CCH learns the characters in Chinese school is too slow, such that the children can not enjoy extracurricular reading by 10-12. In that case, which occurs almost all the time in the US, English takes over. We are able to overcome this only through biannual immersion and schooling trips to Taiwan and/or daily Chinese lessons (M-F) in the US early on, such that Charlotte, our elder daughter, can read junior novels comfortably without phonetics a few months before she turns 11. That came as BIG relief for us and the family celebrated big time! We expect Georgia, our bright younger daughter, to make that milestone by nine and a half, if not sooner.
6) Priority. There is only 24 hour a day. How each devote his/her time to acquiring new skills is different. I would rather that my daughters have superior Chinese (for a CCH) than becoming a typical accomplished pianist (or whatever it is that they pursue) when they leave for college.