Maintaining interest

Over the years, my daughters (10 & 13) had watched a number of kungfu TV shows, which certainly help pique their interest in the Chinese language.  Recently, the benefit of those TV shows seem to have run its course and I figure it is time to watch some modern drama that explore cultural issues and employ languages  (as in language usage) more relevant to their daily lives.

I therefore recently introduced them to Love Cuisine, a Taiwanese romantic comedy TV show with two culinary school teachers as the main romantic interests and teenage student romances as the side show.  There are 22 episodes, each about 80 minutes long.

Well, the show is a hit!  My dds love it from the very first episode!  They would scream with excitement or cringe at times watching it.  After watching just a couple of episodes, they were already talking to me and each other about the funny parts.  Riding in the car during our winter break family trip, I find them talking about the show for extended periods of time, all in Chinese of course.  The dialogue from the show, particularly the more dramatic ones, has visibly made a positive impact on my dds’ colloquial proficiency.  They are able to hold conversation in Chinese longer before having to code-switch to English, particularly when they talk about English based experiences.  One of the reasons is that my dds now have one more interesting shared experience to talk about, that are entirely in Chinese.  Another reason is that the setting of the show is a school with teenage students, young love, and your standard romance plot, which my dds (particularly my 13 year old) have increasing exposure to through multimedia and interaction with other middle schoolers (not personally, in terms of dating, of course, LOL).  It certainly helps that they are familiar with the general and peer group social interactions and overall surrounding in Taiwan through their sojourns and several short stints in elementary school there.

The point I hope to make is that, as the children grow up, it would be ideal that they have adequate language proficiency and cultural knowledge/appreciation to be able to take advantage of native multimedia programs that suit their shifting interests, which will further enhance their understanding, appreciation, and proficiency.  Being able to share these experiences in a social context help maintain the CLE (Chinese Language Ecosystem), even into their teens.  The CLE can continue to run parallel to the ELE, as long as the social context continue to provide a net positive experience.  (I can see that it may be much more difficult for siblings who are more than a few years apart in age or of different gender with very different interests.  Parents may have to help establish other social groups.)

Lastly, given that I explain to my dds the reason and method of my Chinese language pedagogy, my 13 year old dd understands that few peers share similar Chinese-English bicultural and bilingual experience, unless they are youth (1.25 to 1.75 generation) immigrants.  Furthermore, thinking ahead (and this part maybe controversial), she understands that a future non-Chinese speaking spouse for her will likely mean that either she will have to take substantial amount of time away from her career to raise her children in similar way, or that she likely won’t be able to replicate similar experience for her children, which of course, means that her children will likely have substantially lower Chinese proficiency growing up.  Certainly, having two Chinese speaking parents by itself in the US means little in terms of their children’s Chinese proficiency, but that’s an entirely different issue.

Progress updates

Here are the updates for what my daughters are doing in terms of their bilingual education

1)    dd#1 “Charlotte”:  She is 13 and in 8th grade of a regular private school in a small town in North Carolina.  She takes regular 8th grade classes (Latin, English, Algebra, NC History, Physical Science, guitar).  She does well in classes overall though they do take up a lot of time.  She participates in various clubs and extracurricular activities (MathCount, Battle of the Books, club guitar with high schoolers, NC history something, tennis during the fall, etc.).  With all the school work and activities, she only does a few hours of Chinese on the weekends, reading up on current trends in China ( and continuing reading kungfu novel 倚天屠龍記 when time allows.  I try getting her to sing Chinese pop songs with guitar accompaniment but she is not interested, as she can’t share that with her classmates at school.  Instead she is playing mostly English pop songs, cords and fingerpicking, though she plays a few Chinese pop songs and songs from Japanese animation 天空之城 (Castle in the Sky) and 霍爾的移動城堡 (Howl’s Moving Castle).

My plan for her Chinese is to get them in during the summer and see if the school can let her sign up for online Chinese IV and then Chinese AP in 9th and 10th grade.  There is no hurry to take Chinese AP before 10th grade, as AP content is high school/adult material though the Chinese language level is 4-5th grade.  She can then take Spanish afterwards.


2)     dd #2 “Georgia”:  She is 10 and is in 6th grade in the same school.  Since we didn’t have any decent gifted program here, we let her skip a grade a few years back.  She takes all the regular 6th grade classes and is doing very well in school these days without breaking a sweat.  Though she is in regular 6th grade math, I am trying to see if she can finish pre-Algebra on our own before the end of school year, so that she can be tested out and then take Algebra in 7th grade.  She does tennis and guitar also.  Since we drastically limited her computer access and took most of her Chinese comic books away a few months back (very unhappy about this, she is) to encourage more English reading, she has gotten much better in English.  She is almost done reading (eagerly so) the first 7 books of Harry Potter, probably 2 years behind similarly gifted peers.  Better late than never, of course.  Since gifted middle schoolers in school districts elsewhere with differentiated or gifted programs seem to be two years ahead in math and science (or more for the few highly gifted students) without needing to resort to grade skipping, we are working with Georgia’s school to see if they will allow her to fall back a grade to her age peers before high school but still take mostly advanced classes.  If the school approves of it, she will have a second 8th grade year though she will take mostly 9th grade classes.  In this way, she will have equivalent course load when compared to gifted students elsewhere at time of college application.  She then will be able to take calculus by 10th grade and rack up more AP classes this way.  I think she will be able to take both Chinese and Spanish AP this way.  Leveling the playing field, that’s all.  Otherwise, she is at a disadvantage when applying for the very top colleges, since they could care less about skipping one grade.

As far as Georgia’s Chinese is concern, this is going well though we are slowing down Chinese this year, to make room for English and math.  She continues to read 三十六計 aloud and reads the World Literature Series mentioned in prior blogs (currently reading Phantom of the Opera).  On the weekends, she reads Chinese stories such as 包公傳 and 聊齋誌異 and current trends in China (selected age-appropriate readings from with the tutor.  We also continues to study 4th grade Chinese textbook from Taiwan at a slower pace.  Since she has had big improvement in English reading, I am “giving back” some of the Chinese comics that she loves (mainly 哆拉A夢 and 亂馬1/2).

The girls continue to speak mostly Chinese with each other at home, as I am frequently around (big brother is always watching!!).  Charlotte adds some English while speaking with me (and therefore I have to instruct her more in colloquial Chinese), as there is a lot of middle school drama that she tries to convey.  Georgia only adds English phrases every now and then and can mostly avoid adding whole English sentences.   I hope they can keep this up for the next 4-6 years.  Though they are actually 2.5 generation Americans, they act more like 1.5 generation in terms of their Chinese.  It gives us immense joy that everyone speak mostly Chinese with each other at home.

Lastly, we have been watching “Fresh Off the Boat” on Amazon Video and they love it, as it validates their own experience!  Georgia has been watching fewer kungfu TV shows lately as a result.  Next summer, besides the usual trip to Taiwan (a couple of weeks only this time), I will be taking them to mainland China for a 10-14 day educational trip.

Well, that sums up what we have been doing these past few months.  With running the household, parenting, and work plus primary hospital call every third day, I am getting kind of burned out after doing so for 10 years.  I plan to cut back to a part time position next spring for a couple of years, to enjoy my children for a couple of years before they don’t “need” much of me anymore, work on a few projects that I have been putting off for years, and, uh…., get that six packs that have eluded me for the past 25 years !!

Readings in Chinese current trends and culture

My daughters have been reading and discussing selections from on the weekend with their Chinese tutor.  The website has great articles on Chinese culture and trends in China, in both simplified and traditional characters.  They are appropriate for advanced readers age ~ 9 and up, depending on the articles.  I copied many of the articles down in traditional characters and added zhuyin so that my dds wouldn’t get stuck while reading them.  These articles are a fantastic way to learn about current Chinese practices.  Parents NOT from PRC need to know that the articles are written from the Chinese perspective.

Here is the PDF file: slow-chinese-articles-pdf



p.s.  If the authors from objects, I will be happy to remove the file.  I am thankful of their effort and website.

Adult talk

Yeah!  We finally got our weekend Chinese tutor back this weekend!  For one reason or another, we haven’t been able to have her over for three months now.  We are fortunate to have the tutor for several hours each weekend, two to three times a month.  On Saturdays, the tutor also takes the girls out for lunch, when they can relax and chitchat, in Chinese of course.  They sometimes go out for a walk in the park or ride bicycles.  These activities help build relationships and reenforce the girls’ language skill and cultural identity.  The added bonus is that my wife and I can have “date” lunch ourselves once in a while!

Starting today, I ask the tutor to start a new phase of reading with 13 year old DD#1 “Charlotte”.  This phase is for Charlotte to become familiarized with some of the modern cultural knowledge, social trend, and the associated language usage in China.  After all, Charlotte will be starting high school next year and needs to learn how to talk the talk as adults in Chinese.

For this purpose, I am trying out articles from, which are free and are available in both simplified and traditional characters.  I copy and paste the articles I am interested in unto word processor and then change the font to add zhuyin.  The addition of zhuyin is to facilitate Scaffold Reading Experience, to allow Charlotte to read and process new vocabulary, terminology, and expression, without stumbling on the pronunciation.

Today, Charlotte went over and discussed four articles with the tutor in about one and half hour.  The tutor also explained some of the terminology differences between mainland China and Taiwan.  These articles are:

#160: 風水

#162: 北京的四合院

#163: 疫苗事件

#164: 《琅琊榜》與中國美

Tomorrow, Charlotte will read over a few more, one of which discusses our excessive reliance on smartphone.  The article is as follows:

#147: 手機依賴症



在之前的播客中,我們介紹過一個社交應用,叫微信(WeChat)。現在幾乎每個使用智能手機的中國人都會用微信和朋友們保持聯絡。最近的一項調查顯示,中國成年人平均每人每天在微信上閱讀的時間超過40分鐘。如果你在中國坐地鐵,會發現地鐵上90%以上的人都在低頭看手機。很多人去餐廳吃飯,菜上齊以後先拿手機拍照,再把這些誘人的照片傳到微信朋友圈(the Moments of Wechat),即使在吃飯的時候也總想著看看朋友們的回復。我認為這樣就喪失了人與人之間面對面交流的樂趣。有人開玩笑說,世界上最遙遠的距離,莫過於我坐在你面前,你卻在玩手機。



As you can see, articles such as these can facilitate our children to reach ILR ~ 4.5 in general speaking even into adulthood, instead of “kitchen” Chinese.

Closing the gap (English)

As I had mentioned in previous posts, it takes A LOT to achieve Chinese literacy level above ILR level 3 (age adjusted).  The way I had suggested is to “open the gap” between Chinese and English reading proficiency, by strongly emphasizing Chinese literacy and proficiency before working on English.  The result is that the child will have to “close the gap” and catch up in English as s/he approaches middle school.  This can be a VERY stressful few years for the parents, ourselves included.

I am going to use dd#2 “Georgia”‘s reading comprehension as an example.  Since third grade (7 years old at time, as she skipped a grade), Georgia has taken TerraNova test annually at school.  It is a national normed standardized achievement test.  Compared to other third graders at the time, she scored in the 78th percentile in reading comprehension.  I had expected that her reading comprehension, along with other more English intensive parts of the test, would improve over time.  I spent a good bit of time working with her on her English assignments, gradually letting her do more and more independent work on her own.  In fourth grade, her reading comprehension score improved to 92nd percentile.   However, by fifth grade (spring of 2016), she did worse in almost all areas and scored 45th percentile in reading comprehension.  That really threw us off and put us in “DEFCON 2” “emergency mode”.

After some “root cause analysis” early summer, we decided that Charlotte really needs to read English more.  She had not picked up English reading previously, preferring to read her Chinese comics.  So, upon her return from 6 weeks of educational trip to Taiwan in mid-July, we worked on her English more and made a few changes to her routine.  We figured that the time she spent on iPad, YouTube, TV, and Chinese comics have had a negative impact on her interest in English reading.  So, we cut out most of her electronics time and put away most of her Chinese comics, except for the science/history/finance comic series.  Georgia did not take it well initially, with a few tears shed.  I asked that she does a certain amount of English reading (Harry Potter series) almost every day and started reviewing her homework assignment with her more intensively again.

After 3 months of effort, Georgia now enjoys English reading much more and has done much more reading as well.  She quickly got used to the new routine and is a happy camper again, which is very important to us, of course.  To assess her progress, I decided to get her tested privately, outside of school.  Since TerraNova can only be administered by school or homeschoolers, I chose BASI, which is another standardized and normed achievement test that is administered at testing centers.  Georgia took the two hours computer test today.  She thought the test was difficult but had “fun” taking it.  We are pleased that her reading comprehension has rebounded to 90th percentile, up from 45th percentile just a few months ago!  What a sigh of relief!  (And this is normed to students who are on average one year older than she is.)

We hope that with continuing concerted effort, her English reading comprehension percentile score will improve further by the end of the school year.  I may get her tested privately again in 3-4 months to monitor her progress.  So, if things go well, we won’t need to pull her back a grade.

(In case some parents are wondering, her math rebounded also and she scored 95th percentile compared to other sixth graders.  That should improve further over time, as she will do better on word problems with improving English and maturity.)

At the mean time, we had continued our Chinese lessons, though at a slower pace.  Georgia continues to read youth novels from 東方世界少年文學 series several days a week.  She continues to practice Chinese reading-aloud with video recordings as shown on this blog.  We haven’t done much Chinese writing recently though.  On the side, she continues to take guitar group lessons at school and is the “top” player for her grade level, though she is still a novice player.  She also enjoys tennis lesson once a week.




倚天屠龍記 (The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber)

Thirteen years old DD#1 “Charlotte” has been reading 倚天屠龍記 on and off recently.  Typically, I have to assign her time to read the kung-fu novel; otherwise, she would much rather attend to things that truly interests her, such as practicing guitar or writing her English novel.  Tonight, I asked her to take some time to read the novel and write down ten words or phases that she didn’t understand.  After about 30-40 minutes, she read ~ 30 pages (15 pages if counting front/back, content shown at end) and wrote down ten such words and phrases:

  1. 捋虎鬚
  2. 躡著
  3. 稚弱
  4. 清神
  5. 鞍轡鮮明
  6. 保鑣
  7. 只是思念無忌成疾
  8. 憑著
  9. 梳洗漱沐
  10. 慷慨磊落

I was very impressed that it took ~ 30 pages of reading for her to pick out 10 words or phrases.  Charlotte and I then went over those 10 words and phrases.  I have to say, with my 5th grade formal Chinese education, I had to look up a few characters for the correct pronunciation despite knowing its meaning from reading them in context in the years past.

Now, I am sure Charlotte doesn’t know the meaning of EVERYTHING else contained in the rest of the 30 pages, particularly the technicalities of the martial art moves.  One doesn’t need to understand the technicalities anyways to know what’s going on.  I think she understands the gist of the narratives.

I went over the following paragraph in detail with her and I think she gets about 70-80% of meaning.  With more reading, lessons, and passage of time, I think her reading comprehension should improve further.












































三十六計之第二/三計:圍魏救趙 & 借刀殺人

DD#2 “Georgia” (10 years old) is catching on.  I think we spent a little more than an hour from beginning to the end on each of these.  I started by explaining to her the scenario and reading it once for her.  She then practiced reading it for 20-30 minutes or so.  I worked with her to fine tune the prosody (the patterns of stress and intonation in a language) or 抑揚頓挫.  We then spent about 20 minutes recording the video.  We take about two days to record each story.  I think she is going to get faster and faster with each subsequent chapter.

Stratagem #2: 圍魏救趙

Quizlet vocabulary link

Stratagem #3: 借刀殺人

Quizlet vocabulary link

On a different note, I can’t figure out why any publisher would think the complexity of the language and story would be appropriate for young kids.  Do you not think this is more appropriate for kids at least in the third grade?

三十六計之第ㄧ計: 瞞天過海

Children can learn so much about Chinese language and culture from reading aloud short stories on Chinese proverbs.  However, there is nothing “childish” about these stories.  Here is dd#2 “Georgia” reading statagem #1 of the Thirty-Six Stratagems.  This recording only took about a dozen take, LOL, to get only one mistake in pronunciation (at least that’s what I think).

Quizlet vocabulary link

Wikipedia on Thirty-Six Stratagems (三十六计):  The Thirty-Six Stratagems was a Chinese essay used to illustrate a series of stratagems used in politics, war, and civil interaction……..  The Thirty-Six Stratagems are divided into a preface, six chapters containing six stratagems each, and an afterword that was incomplete with missing text. The first three chapters generally describe tactics for use in advantageous situations, whereas the last three chapters contain stratagems that are more suitable for disadvantageous situations. The original text of the Thirty-Six Stratagems has a laconic style that is common to Classical Chinese. Each proverb is accompanied by a short comment, no longer than a sentence or two, that explains how said proverb is applicable to military tactics. These 36 Chinese proverbs are related to 36 battle scenarios in Chinese history and folklore, predominantly of the Warring States period and the Three Kingdoms Period.

The Chinese culture is rather pragmatic.  Children raised in America read and listen to Disney and Mother Goose fairy tale stories.  Though children in society of Chinese heritage read fairy tale stories too, they have the Thirty-Six Stratagems, amongst other cultural stories, proverb books, and poems.  Children’s book on Thirty-Six Stratagems come in different levels too, some claimed to be more suitable for kindergarten and young grade schooler according to the publishers.  In terms of content, adult readers of western culture may mistake such books as ones for college course on Chinese political theories, similar to the way students of Western political theory course study The Prince by Nicollo Machiavelli.