Chinese-English biliteracy: the narrow road

第二,三代的華裔小孩要中英語雙語和“雙文”實在是件艱難的事。如果要大學前中文學到還不錯的水準(能看金庸小說,基本的報紙,大概頂多國ㄧ程度?),以我的估計,大約三分之二的中文教學需在國ㄧ前就完成。先注重中文,再來補英文 ,至於多寡就依人而定。當然,英文落後會影響其他學科,但孩子小時,可以拉的回來。

大女兒在三年級時英文是爛的要命,中文也還得加強,所以就在家自學~ㄧ年半,兩項都大有進步,後來就轉回私立學校。這幾年學基測驗(TerraNova),英文從88百分位(5年級)升到去年的95百分位(六年級)和今年的98百分位(7年級),而其他科目也逐漸升到今年的96-98百分位。總之,她有照預期的在中學時漸漸拉上來,而在中文方面也在看金庸小說了(今天又自己再次看瓊瑤的“六個夢”),也在學業及才藝社交方面大致上都是自理,令我們做父母親的欣慰。

至於小女小三歲又跳ㄧ年級念,挑戰更大,尚在努力當中,還在有時會讓我抓狂的過渡期,(我)還需要忍耐ㄧ兩年!

這些都讓我想起馬太福音7:13-14: ”你們要進窄門.因為引到滅亡、那門是寬的、路是大的、進去的人也多。引到永生、那門是窄的、路是小的、找著的人也少。“

這條路有夠難走。

Achieving Chinese-English bilingualism and biliteracy for a child is no easy task.  Well, let me rephrase that: achieving Chinese-English bilingualism and biliteracy for a child is a very difficult task.  I am reminded that just about every single day.

As I have written in previous posts, in my opinion, one just about have to let English slide in the beginning.  To achieve Chinese ILR level reading level ~ 4 by early teens, I estimates that roughly 2/3 of the Chinese instructions and learning have to be front loaded and compressed into pre-middle school years.  Then, around the time when Chinese reading proficiency is at least minimally proficient (at least able to read comics for leisure), start catching up in English, with the goal of reaching age/intelligence matched level sometimes in middle school.  If the child can read Harry Potter or the likes in English before they can read interesting books in Chinese, that can be recipe for trouble, in terms of Chinese literacy, as the child can quickly loose interest in Chinese reading.

On the flip side, the lack of English proficiency can affect other subjects, which may put tremendous stress on the children and the parents, particularly when the children attends all-English school, like mine.  As the children were still young at that age, I was not overly concerned about the other subjects, though math word problems, which have a strong language component, can present quite a challenge.  It had been my hope that with catching up in English and adequate math practice, the child will outgrow that phase.

As mentioned in prior posts, the English proficiency of my elder daughter “Charlotte” was terrible when she was attending third grade in the small private school she attended (more “limited” public school options in more rural NC).  Though it was so by my design, I just about couldn’t take it then, particularly when I supervised her homework time.  And her Chinese was still not strong enough.  So, I pulled both of my daughters out mid-school year and have them homeschooled for about 20 months.  Charlotte’s Chinese and English both improved much through homeschooling.  She then returned to another private school starting 5th grade.

Like most students in NC, Charlotte is required to take a national standardized achievement test every year, which is TerraNova for her current school.  Her language composite score was 88 percentile (5th grade), 95 percentile (6th grade), and 98 percentile (7th grade) over the past three years.  I did work with her some more on her English up till ~ first half of her 6th grade, after which I determined that “she’s got it!” and let her fly solo.  In short, she has caught up during middle school, as we had hoped for.  We are pleased with her progress and hope that she keeps up her good work.

As for my younger “Georgia”, she have had the dual challenges of learning Chinese well and skipping a grade.  I think she would have qualified to be enrolled in HAG public school program if we had one.  Since we live in a small and relatively rural county, we don’t have one such program; so, I resorted to letting her skip a grade when she returned to private school.  Her English has improved quite a bit over the past two and half years but remains a challenge in 5th grade, which is starting to affect her other subjects more.  As she will be starting middle school in the fall, we will be working on her English over the summer, upon her return from 6 weeks of stay in Taiwan, where she will attend a month of public school in the 4th grade.  It will be back to homeschool mode for much of the rest of the summer.  I think this will be her last summer of attending school in Taiwan for the month of June.  Next summer, I think she will just spend a couple of weeks in Taiwan having fun, instead of attending a month of 5th grade.  The other time, we will devote to catching up in English to the level of her grade peers, who are at times two years older than she is.  We hope that  she doesn’t have too much on her plate.

All of these just reminds me of Mathew 7:13: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  

3 thoughts on “Chinese-English biliteracy: the narrow road

  1. Hi, thank you for sharing this information.
    Really appreciate that you shared your experience along the way to all of us.

    However, the point would come down to “how to help them catch up English?”
    Asking them to memorize vocabularies every day? reading 2 books/day? If so, what kind of English books?
    How to concrete the idea into daily practice? Do you have a monthly/quarterly schedule that you plan to ask them perform/achieve?

    Thank you again.
    I am just an anxious mom that worries about kids’ Chinese and English learning.
    Thanks a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think there is a single right answer for this. I think it all comes down to exposure time and practice. Since there is a often a time crunch, “deliberate practice” is important, to get the most out of available time. It helps if the child is motivated to learn and/or enjoys learning; otherwise, the parents have to talk/convince them into deliberate practice. Since English is the language medium of communication, evaluation, and testing for all practical purpose except for Chinese or other second language usage, one needs to work on all areas of the English language, including spelling, reading, grammar, writing, analysis, etc. Younger kids work more on the first few categories. As for daily practice, it is important to make sure they are learning the materials taught at school and to spend extra time going over them. Reading is obviously very important. I don’t have a schedule but we just keep working at it. During the summer, I get extra help and hire school teachers to help out with reviewing and consolidating what they learned already. Online websites such as StudyIsland.com comes in handy also. I hope that answers your question somewhat.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. Definitely helps a lot. My first language is Mandarin. So my kids’ Chinese level is not bad so far, comparatively. However, As an adult immigrant, I am kind of afraid that I can’t really efficiently help them catch up English when necessary. Hiring school teachers may be a good option too. Thanks a lot. Hope I can make this work and do it as well as you are doing now.

        Liked by 2 people

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