(From earlier blog)
These are a few issues we encountered.
1) Peers. We have had difficulty finding children of Chinese heritage for our daughters to speak to and play with in the US. From my observation of children of Chinese heritage (CCH) from non-southern CA areas, their Chinese colloquial skill peak at around 4 to 7 years old. Afterwards, their Chinese are not fluent enough for them to express themselves well; so, they will switch to English. Also, in a group of such children with variable fluency in Chinese, English is their common language; so, the group switch to English as their language of choice, no matter what their parents ask them to do. As my children are still in grade school, it is my hope that, in a few years, they will meet the many newly arrived immigrant children (fresh off the plane) from China who come to attend US high schools and will be able to speak more Chinese with them. Until then, I will be content with them speaking Chinese with us, Chinese tutors (often young ladies in mid 20s), grandparents, and oversea in Taiwan.
2) Time. By about third grade, it got more difficult to keep up their Chinese lessons. By this time, kids start to have more extracurricular activities, which are almost all held in English. So, despite our best effort, their exposure time to Chinese became less. So, their Chinese language acquisition did slow down some at this stage. Fortunately, by this stage, our daughters have achieved good grasp of Chinese already and can move along relatively smoothly in their learning.
3) Price. There is a “price” to pay for emphasizing Chinese to this extent. Our daughters’ English language art lag behind their peers for a couple of years in elementary school but they have been catching up over time. My two daughters have pretty much caught up by now. You must have patience and faith in the process.
4) Third language.
Do not bother with learning a third language seriously in elementary school. As Chinese and English are from completely different linguistic families, it takes tremendous effort to learn these two languages well (or well enough). We tried serious study of Spanish for a year to two, including hiring a Colombian live-in au pair, but had to put it off till later. Most likely, your children won’t have enough exposure to a third language, after all the extracurricular activities.
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.