Learning Chinese: allocation of resources

It is fantastic that many people are interested in all things Chinese.  That is all too important for our country to continue to thrive in this world.  One of the things I ultimately would like to understand better is whether having children residing in the US without at least one Chinese speaking parent to learn Chinese is a wise way to allocate resources for the child, family, community, and country at large.

As a 1.5 generation immigrant from Taiwan and parent of two daughters who have learned Chinese better than the vast majority of heritage children, I am very much cognizant of missed opportunities and sacrifices needed for my children to learn Chinese well, while trying to do so without affecting pursuit of English proficiency, other subjects/knowledge, and other skill set too much.  I view Chinese language as one of their major extracurricular pursuits, which certainly displace other pursuits to variable degrees.  To have them learn Chinese well, my entire family has had to allocate much time, effort, and money for more than a decade so far.  It is fitting for me to say that, unless under unusual circumstances, if a family hasn’t paid, contributed, or “sacrificed” dearly in one way or another in order for their children to learn Chinese, the child has not learned Chinese well enough.  Of course, there are always exceptions, particularly families with exceptional circumstances (such as living in China for a few years) or the resource to employ additional enrichment practices and activities, like some of the non-heritage families in my FB group

Foreign Service Institute notes that it takes English speaking adults four times as long to learn Chinese, as compared to Spanish or other category 1 “foreign” language.  It takes motivated adults 2,200 hours of instruction time (plus ~ 1,800 hours of study) to reach ILR level 3 in Chinese, as compared to 600 hours of instruction for Spanish or other category 1 “foreign” languages.  I think it is fair to say that it takes children much longer.  Even though Spanish is far easier to learn and our countrymen have much more exposure to the Hispanic culture, the most common thing I hear American adults say about Spanish is: “Yeah, I took X number of years of Spanish in school, but…..”.  And adults who acquired only mediocre Chinese as children loose their limited proficiency very quickly without constant practice and exposure.  A friend of mine who is a high school Chinese teacher once commented that her non-heritage students lamented that they could only get a Chinese AP score of 2 despite years of Chinese classes and hours of hard work.  Imagine what they would have scored if they took up Spanish or French instead.

With the huge spike in Chinese immigration over the past 10-15 years or so, with no end in sight, and a projected 14% “Asian” population by 2065, with sizable percentage being of Chinese heritage, there are and will be many 1.25/1.5/1.75 generation Chinese immigrant adults who can fill employment positions that require solid bilingual/bicultural skill or even those requiring just ILR level 2 proficiency.  Will “Chinese” be the new “Spanish”, to a lesser degree of course, with plenty of native or near native bilingual speakers who can readily fill the corresponding positions, except it is four times as difficult to learn?

As the cognitive benefit of bilingualism (including global mindset) can be obtained much more readily by learning easier and no less consequential languages, do you think that it is a wise allocation of resources (children, family, community) for children of families without at least one Chinese speaking parent to learn Chinese, under the usual circumstances?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s