The psychology of “Crazy Rich Asian” on children learning Chinese

It’s such an exciting time to be an Asian American kid these days! New possibilities and slow but growing acceptance! Of course, the new movie “Crazy Rich Asians” is the all the buzz recently.  DD#1 read the book back in March (though I did buy her the book back in 2016) and loves it.  Our whole family watched the movie today and we all loved it! 

In my opinion, the movie ties in with the psychological aspect of empowering children of Chinese cultural heritage in their willingness to learn the Chinese language and culture.  It is uplifting for kids like my own and makes them feel that being of Chinese cultural heritage in an Anglophone country can still be cool, which can make them more willing to learn the language.  This psychological part is just as important as the Chinese language instruction itself, particularly as the children get into the tween and definitely teen years and their willingness to continue more intensive Chinese language learning wanes or simply drops off the cliff.  

 

Fellow members of my FB group on “Raising bilingual children in Chinese & English” asked DD#1 to write her thoughts or insights on the movie.  The following is her quick thought on the movie:

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As an Asian American, I think that Crazy Rich Asians is a must watch, being the first movie in over 20 years to feature an all Asian cast.  The movie’s plot actually follows the book pretty well, and everything, from the outrageous style to the expensive cars to the extreme spending habits in the film really illustrates the posh and glamorous lifestyle of the characters from the book.

Even though Crazy Rich Asians only focuses on the life of the exceptionally wealthy in Asia, I think the overall Asian representation in the movie is something to be proud of, since it was almost unheard of to have an Asian actor/actress as the main lead in a Western film until now.  After finishing the movie, I felt empowered by the progress that the Asian community has made in America, and hopefully in the future more is to come.  As a kid, it was always thrilling to have an Asian actor/actress featured in a Western film, even though in action movies they were still the first ones to die/be killed off.  Another point is that finally, Asians were not stereotyped as being the nerdy, quiet, or shy character in Crazy Rich Asians; instead, they were loud, they were lively, and they were crazy.

How much can one feel connected to a culture/ethnic group without speaking the language?

Do most second or third generation Indian American children attend special schools for one of their parents’ mother language?

Reflecting on Indian and Indian American attitude toward English and their regional language

 

Why India Must Move Beyond English

2014

A couple of weeks ago, a major (though seemingly contrived) controversy broke out in India over the increased use of the Hindi language on social media. Language is a contentious issue in India, and has been since Article 343 of the Indian Constitution declared “Hindi in the Devanagari script” the official language of India in 1949. English, which was official during the British Raj, has remained co-official with Hindi, despite efforts to phase it out.

English remains entrenched in India and is widely used by India’s elite, bureaucracy, and companies. It is particularly important in its written form, as the official versions of most documents use English. Most pan-Indian written communication as well as many major media outlets use English. However, at the spoken level, English is much less prevalent and Indian languages are more widely used, with Hindi serving as a lingua franca for most of the country except the its northeast and the deep south.  It should be noted that English is spoken or understood by about 150 million Indians, or about 10 percent of the population. This means that around 90 percent of Indians do not understand or speak English.

English’s association with the elite and corridors of power and its status as the language of documents and serious literature has led to a craze for English-medium schools across India. Proponents of the English language in India argue that English will serve as the vehicle of India’s economic growth and lead to the empowerment of hundreds of millions of individuals. Nothing, however, could be more incorrect. India’s obsession with English holds back both its economic development and the quality of its education.

(Click link above for the rest of the article)

Here is a Quora entry I found:

Why do Indians prefer to send their children to English medium rather than Hindi medium school?

2016

Gopalkrishna Vishwanath

Let’s face it. The bitter truth (sweet for some) is that English has conquered all the other languages of the world.

Even those countries that were traditionally hostile to English and shielded their people from gaining knowledge of English have started opening out to English and accepting it as a language that one must learn and know to survive and make progress in the world.

Traditional rivals of the English, like the French and the Germans are learning English, while most Englishmen and Americans are not learning German or French. The former realise it is necessary. The latter don’t feel knowing French or German is necessary. The same is true in China. More Chinese people are learning English than English speaking people are learning Chinese.

It is not just Hindi speakers in India who prefer an English Medium education in India.

This is the situation in every state in India. Those who study in regional language schools do so because they could not get admission in English medium schools or could not afford it. Given a choice every parent will like to admit his child into an English medium school.

State Government politicians pay lip service to the regional language and pretend to be in favour of the local languages as medium of instruction at the primary school level but their own children go to English medium schools.They know the standard of education in regional language schools is not up to the mark.

English medium education gives you a status in society that you don’t get when you study in regional languages. The regional language is studied in addition to English not instead of English.

The standard of Education in English medium schools in India is vastly superior to the quality of education in the majority of schools that teach in the local languages.

English medium education facilitates entry into the elite sections of society. You are taken more seriously, when you are dressed in a pant and shirt and speak English rather than in a Dhoti and speak the local language. Those who speak English well do better in job interviews.They find it easier to do well abroad.

Nearly all the people who matter in India speak, read and write English as their first language.

The middle classes know this. Some grudgingly admit it. Others unconvincingly deny it.

Only in politics, arts, religion & culture and during elections are the local languages more important because you need to have mass contact, which is not possible if you speak to the masses in English.

 

Debjit Banerjee

My take:
1. ) There is not an iota of doubt that English is the global language when it comes to the professional world. So proficiency in English gives an edge when it comes to career.
2. ) The only language that binds India is English. Especially, it has been very successful in bridging the great South and the North India divide. So today a north Indian can communicate effectively with a south Indian without knowing any south Indian language and vice-versa. And in today’s fast developing India, our kids are not restricted to her or his own state. I have been living and working very comfortably in southern India for 9 years now without knowing any south Indian language.
3. ) Some may disagree but we still have hangover from the British rule. Many parents still think that knowledge of English makes their kids look smarter and more presentable to others.


Nandha Kumar

You don’t have to investigate deep into this to find an answer.

That English is the preferred language of progressive Indians is well established though not all will agree on this. English is nowadays considered as much Indian as Gujarati, Tamil or Telugu, and more importantly it helps to find good jobs all over the world.

Competing languages like Hindi especially is artificially propped up by the central government in India to give advantage to north Indians over south Indians. This makes English unpopular outside the southern states. More over, those unable to acquire even a working knowledge in English wish to pull down others to the same level to make it easy for them to compete in the job market, but seldom succeeds.

Having realized that English is the future of India, Indians prefer English because it a language suited best for communication within the country and at international level as well.

In short we can summarize that Indians prefer English over Hindi because it gives them special position over native language speakers and parents want this advantage for their children.

 


Yash Agrawal

Because they think that Hindi medium schools will not teach English properly. They know the importance of English, but they don’t know the importance of education in one’s mother tongue, that it is more effective for their children. It is also that English is not taught in a good way in some Hindi medium schools but this is not so in all the Hindi medium schools.

 

Do second and third generation Indian Americans take interest in learning any Indian language?

 

Dead Poet Society

 

The girls and I watched “Dead Poet Society” over the weekend.  It was one of my favorite films almost thirty years ago.  “Charlotte”, who is 15 and a rising sophomore, really liked the film.  Before her bedtime, I engage her in an half hour discussion, in Chinese, on some of the themes in the movie, on parenting, passion, individuality, pursuit of happiness, etc..  I am glad we’ve got to enjoy watching this movie together.

As is written in the second clip, “Thank you, Robin, for making us laugh, for making us cry, for touching our souls.”  RIP.

 

做好榜樣 Setting a good example

This post is, for a change, about me!  We moved to Georgia last summer and I was recently invited to give a 30 minutes presentation on chronic kidney disease to the general Chinese speaking public in the area.  All in Chinese, with a few English medical terminologies allowed in between.  As a youth immigrant, I learned everything from middle school and up in English, including everything in medical school and medical residency of course.  To my Chinese-speaking friends, family, and the few Chinese-speaking patients that I have had so far, I can say a few sentences about their medical issues in Chinese with little problem.  But to give a 30 minutes talk in Chinese about a medical subject, well, that’s a completely different ball game.  Besides it being a good community service and promotion for my medical practice, I figure that it would be a good way to let my girls see how knowing Chinese well can be a good way to connect with the local Chinese speaking community, even for youth immigrants like myself.  This talk would also be a good way to force myself to improve my own Chinese.

After getting all my slides done (in Chinese mostly), it took me more than 10 hours just to practice delivering this talk in Chinese.  Like any talks, I have to add in some jokes and interesting things to liven it up a little, in Chinese of course.  I also added a couple of Chinese idioms, proverbs, and a reference to an ancient Chinese medical story.  Public speaking was never my thing and my girls helped out, providing critiques during parts of my practice.  DD#1 “Charlotte” is a natural in public speaking and wrote several PAGES of notes for me.  She even suggested more suitable Chinese words for me to use, can you believe it?!  (She can compose in Chinese better than I can.)  DD#2 “Georgia” was just laughing her heads off, jotting down more than a hundred of my “uh…uh….” in just a few minutes of my initial practice runs!  I was starting to get very annoyed at her, LOL!  Since I had a busy work week, I stayed up till 4AM the day of my talk (Sunday) to practice.  In the morning, I practice two more times and felt fairly confident by the time we left the house.

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I was a little nervous waiting for my turn as I was to deliver the latter of the two talks.  An adult immigrant China and US trained physician delivered the first talk on cancer screening and treatment.  Well, my talk went very well, I am so relieved to say.  No more “uh….uh….”, LOL.  The audience asked many questions and a number of them asked me for my business card afterward.  My wife was very proud of me that I asked her “所以,妳認我是妳的先生了?!“ (So, you would now acknowledge that I am your husband?!)   LOL.  It took me a whole hour afterward just to feel all that stress leave me.

My girls were very proud of me too!  Mission accomplished!

 

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Question on assimilation and Chinese language learning

One parent asked on my FB group: I noticed many other parents have voiced concerns about social isolation in the quest for CLE (Chinese Language Ecosystem)……..  I am curious to hear from parents or parents of kids who are happily assimilated without compromising Chinese language/culture. Is this utopia possible for us in small town USA?

My answer:  It is entirely feasible. My girls (11 & 14 now) grew up in a small city of 35,000 in rural eastern North Carolina. Though there are some new immigrant Chinese families in the restaurant and poultry industry, we travel in completely different circles as we immigrated here several decades ago and are in the medical field.  Except for ~20 months of homeschooling, my daughters attended all English small private schools (class of 9 students for dd#2 and ~ 16 for dd#1 initially then another school with each class of ~ 60 students, ~90% white). Our CLE is conducted at home and through summer sojourns in Taiwan, comprising ~2/3 of their waking hours as school is only ~ 25% of their waking hours.  Except for a few Asian/Indian/Pakistani American classmates and friends amongst their two classes, all their friends are white.  These friends are not the most popular queen bee types, just nice southern girls.

For many years, I was very frustrated that we couldn’t find any Chinese speaking playmates for them. Then, as their Chinese got better by mid-elementary school, I grew more confident and decided along the way that my DDs don’t really need Chinese speaking playmates anymore.  They have each other.  Besides their summer sojourn abroad, we watched many Chinese movies, cartoons, and TV shows, which they enjoy tremendously.  They read Chinese poems, literature, a few classic Chinese pieces, comics, and many Chinese books (many translated edition of English books).  They listen to Chinese pop songs by Jay Chou, S.H.E., and others and sang some karaoke.  Their Chinese language proficiency and cultural awareness are almost certainly much stronger than most heritage children.

At the same time, over the past few years, I strongly encourage them to develop and maintain friendships with their white classmates. Their best girlfriends are all white and they are a lovely bunch. They have play dates, sleepovers, birthday parties, and pool parties on occasion. DD#1 had several white guy friends in middle school also. My DDs enjoy watching some popular American TV shows and listen to English pop music also.  All their extracurricular activities are taught by white instructors (that’s pretty much all we have here really…).  DD#1 played middle school  JV tennis with all white teammates. Here in our small relatively rural southern city, I feel that they are able to be somewhat of a “chameleon”.

So, yeah, it is absolutely possible in small town USA to be happily assimilated without compromising Chinese language/culture.  In fact, it is probably easier to assimilate in small town USA, as cultural cliques can readily develop in large metro cities with larger Asian population.  This rural city didn’t stop them from developing relatively strong Chinese language/cultural proficiency and our CLE didn’t stop them from assimilation.  The two are parallel ecosystems, “happily coexisting”.

I hope this helps.

朗讀 Read aloud

I think many kids (and parents) under-appreciate one very important way to learn Chinese: read aloud.

For our purposes, there are two types of Chinese reading: pleasure reading and focused reading.  They are for different purposes.

  1.  Pleasure reading.  This is learning through large quantity of reading exposure, part of CLE and more of first language type of learning, at least in my mind.  The readers don’t have to know everything when doing pleasure reading.  Don’t smother their interest for pleasure reading by demanding that they read these aloud.  I believe dd#2 started reading comics in Chinese when she recognized half of the characters in the comics at 7 years of age.
  2. Focused reading.  Focused reading is for “intentional and intensive studying” and the amount of materials covered is much less.  This mainly consists of passages in their Chinese textbooks.  One gets maximal benefit when one takes the time to learn to read these ALOUD to fluency.  Unless there is time constraint, I ask my DD to read textbook passages aloud to fluency first, in blocks over a few days, before doing any kind of writing assignment for the day.  Kids just want to get their writing assignment done and be finished with it, missing out on one important (if not the most important) part of learning: reading proficiency.  You would be surprised how many students can’t read their Chinese textbook passages competently.  It takes a lot of practice to do it right.  Since most children are learning more as second language learners, it is absolutely essential that they are doing high quality learning with the limited content presented.  Improving reading fluency through read-aloud greatly improves their general speaking proficiency also and is the most EFFICIENT way to do so.   Also, make sure that the child read ALOUD SLOWLY, with the right prosody.  That is CRITICALLY important.  The child’s Chinese proficiency will pick up by leaps and bounds if they take the time and effort to read aloud Chinese textbook and short reading passages to fluency.  You don’t even need supplemental materials!!  Reading aloud to fluency requires repetitive exposure to the same characters and sentence structures, such that the proficiency level for the same characters, expressions, and sentence structure go up IMMEDIATELY.  Do that for all the Chinese materials from school all the time and their Chinese proficiency will shoot up in no time.  I guarantee it!

This link provides some examples of dd#2 reading aloud over the years.

Reading metrics

Here are some reading metrics based on our experiences that may help you decide the relative pace of Chinese and English instruction for your children.

Comics stage: DD#1 started reading comics at ~ 8-8.5 years of age and DD# 2 started reading comics at 7.

Character only short novels or novels: DD#1 started reading 沈石溪’s animal stories at ten and half (10.5) and was able to advance to reading 金庸 by ~ 12.7 (select novels whose plot she knows already through watching TV, via initial Scaffolding Reading Experience or SRE). DD#2 was able to read Narnia in Chinese at ~ 9.8 years of age and now (~ 11.3) can read Harry Potter book#1 in Chinese (i.e. books that he read in English already) without SRE.  Since DD#2’s Chinese has always been about a year to a year and half ahead of DD#1 in terms of reading, I have now slowed down DD#2’s Chinese to focus more on English since I know that she should be able to read 金庸 by 13.

I hope these metrics help you choose the relative pace of instruction for both Chinese and English.