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


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?


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?


Simplified Chinese for dd#2

Recently, a situation arose that my dd#2 is able to attend a simplified Chinese weekend school near my house.  So, we sent her there last Saturday.  I figure it is time she learns simplified Chinese and start doing more writing.  I also want to outsource parts of the Chinese instruction now.  She got bumped up a grade to 7th grade after cold reading 7th grade textbook for the teacher.   After the first class, the teacher said that dd#2 was the best student in class.  So, that’s good to hear.   The following are some pics of the textbooks that the class uses.

Since dd#2 had spent much more time reading than writing before, she is working on being able to write out the entire story as I read along the text.  I print out character worksheets of every unique characters with stroke sequence for her to practice.  It is coming along and she should get basic writing up to speed fairly quickly after a couple of chapters.

Otherwise, she is reading Chinese comic books every day and now seems to have little problem reading the first book of Harry Potter in Chinese.


Update for 2017-2018 school year

The hectic summer finally settled down.  Here is an update after not posting for a while.  My 14 year old daughter just started high school and I had her enroll in an online high school Chinese III class, to get some official course work and credits. That’s the only way I can get her to do some “boring” expository writing (typing), as she is only interested in writing fictional / fantasy stories. Next year, in addition to online Chinese IV, she can take Chinese AP at the local Chinese school if time allows, and then get Chinese AP test out of the way afterwards. At the mean time, the three of us (2 daughters and I) are all enjoying watching the famed 2015 feudal period TV series 琅琊榜. It is rated 9.9 out of 10 on one of those websites and is totally addictive! The two of them, 11 and 14 now, continue to converse in Chinese 80-90% of the time at home, which is awesome.

瓊瑤之六個夢:再次閱讀(Rereading Six Dreams)

13 year old dd “Charlotte” is now rereading Six Dreams, a six short stories collection by Chiung Yao (瓊瑤), often regarded as the most famous romance novelist in the Chinese speaking world, with her novels adapted into more than 100 films and TV drama.  Charlotte read a few of the stories a couple of years ago, without zhuyin, and the fate of women in an era gone by (about 100 years ago) left a deep impression on her.   This time, I ask Charlotte to read the stories aloud to her weekend Chinese tutor, comfortably on the couch, who then provides her cultural background information and discusses nuances of the dialogues with her.  With a bit more maturity (lots of middle school drama at school, LOL) and guided reading this time, Charlotte has a deeper understanding this time around and greatly enjoys it.  At this point, she is finishing up reading the first short story: 追尋, which I printed out with zhuyin on the side to aid her reading aloud.


The first story started out like this:





It is not your fault!

You are a parent (most likely a parent of Chinese heritage), trying to raise your children to be bilingual / biliterate in Chinese and English.  Come the time when your child is 6, 7, 8, 9… years of age.  And you are frustrated, literally pulling out your hair, about either the crawling progress of his Chinese proficiency (or often, regression of his colloquial Chinese), or the amount of time and resource diverted to keep it up Chinese.  And everyone in family, probably including your spouse who is ever so supportive, is getting worn down by the bickering or arguing about Chinese.  And you don’t know what to do!

Should I just lower my standard or just drop the whole thing?  That thought cross your mind, like everyday.

Well, it is not your fault.

As it is said on radio station NPR: let’s do the numbers (or at least the ballpark figures).

According to Wikibooks:

“The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the US Department of State has compiled approximate learning expectations for a number of languages based on the length of time it takes to achieve Speaking 3: General Professional Proficiency in Speaking (S3) and Reading 3: General Professional Proficiency in Reading (R3). The list is limited to languages taught at the Foreign Service Institute, minus languages which don’t have their own Wikibook. Note that this only states the views of The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the US Department of State, and many language learners and experts would disagree with the ranking. It must also be kept in mind that students at FSI are almost 40 years old, are native speakers of English and have a good aptitude for formal language study, plus knowledge of several other foreign languages. They study in small classes of no more than six. Their schedule calls for 25 hours of class per week with three or four hours per day of directed self-study.

Well, Mandarin Chinese, along with a number of other languages such as Korean, Japanese, and Arabic, takes 2,200 class hours, with “about half that time preferably spent studying in-country”.

Wait a minute!  Did FSI just suggest that it takes 2,200 class hours, at 25 hours of class per week?  Assuming 5 days of class a week, that work out to be 5 hours of class a day and 88 weeks of instruction.  IN ADDITION, did FSI suggest that these almost 40 years old adults spend an additional 3-4 hours per day of directed self-study.  Assuming 5 days of self-study a week and 4 hours of studying a day, that works out to be an additional ~ 1,760 hours of studying.

Adding the two together (2,200 hrs + 1,760 hrs), and you get ~4,000 hours of time.  

Adults and children obviously learn languages differently.  Children will win out in pronunciation though adults can make it up in other aspects through efficient and intentional practice/study.  Give an adult and child of similar intellect the same amount of time to learn a new language (say a month) and it is a good bet that the adult will win in overall proficiency.  And let’s not forget about all the CLE (Chinese Language Ecosystem) time used to make Chinese relevant and interesting to the child.  Factoring all those things in, a child need to spend at least ~ 5,000-6,000 hours of time on this pursuit, to get to ILR level 3 in speaking and reading.

 Assuming the following:

  1. 6 years of concerted effort from kindergarten through elementary school
  2. 48 weeks of instruction/learning a year (yeah, you get 4 weeks off!)
  3. 5 days per week of instruction/learning

That works out to 240 days of instruction/learning a year or ~ 3.5-5 hours a day of Chinese.

Now, that’s a big and extended commitment for any child and family.

Of course, these are just ballpark figures, meant to shed light on the overall magnitude of this effort.  Sure, we can talk about how we can work the instruction time, self-study time, and CLE time into our daily school structure (immersion school, homeschool, weekend school, home tutoring, etc.), work-flow, and lives.  But, we simply can not wish away the opportunity cost.  If the child is learning Chinese, he is not learning English and whatever other subjects/skills that can’t be effectively combined with Chinese. Furthermore, the majority of the students perceived to be the “real world” scholastic “competitors” for your child don’t spend nearly as much time on Chinese or another foreign language, if at all.  It is also a legitimate concern that there is a huge discrepancy in effort required to get the same score for Chinese and a level 1 foreign language AP test, such as Spanish.  Does college admission officer put more weight on Chinese AP test?  Is your child’s effort discounted if he is a heritage student?

That’s enough to discourage any parents, including myself.

Another way to look at it is as follows: 88 weeks of full time instruction + study = about TWO full academic years of studying Chinese, to get to ILR level 3 !!!   This is not accounting for CLE and other inefficiencies related to the age of the child.  Therefore, the decision parents have to make is which other priorities the parents (yes, mostly a parental decision at this level) are willing to exchange or sacrifice.

This will apply even to gifted students.  Below is a cautionary tale of ours:

Homeschooling my girls for about a year and half several years ago confirmed our suspicion that my younger dd (now 10, 6th grade) is gifted, which we initially noticed shortly after she turns one year of age.  This is confirmed by her tested IQ, well above 99th percentile.  Though she is by no means brilliant, she is a fast learner.  So, upon returning to private school, we let her skip second grade (no good gifted programs in our small city), as she had gone through most of the materials already at home.  I figure, whatever English deficiency, she will catch up in a couple of years.  Over the last three years, though she has done well at school, it wasn’t without much effort.  I thought she would have cruised through it.

Now reflecting back on the experience, I would put it like this.  My dd was born in a month close to the end of the school year; as such, her current classmates are on average 1.5 years older than she is.  Adding in an estimated 1.5 years of time spent on learning Chinese so far (or more, as she is ~ ILR level 4-4.5 in reading/speaking), she started out ~3 years behind compared to her classmates in her English and related course work (reading, composition, math word problem, etc.).  So, she has been playing catch up for a few years and will continue to do so for a couple of more years.  I think her English has caught up to her original grade level (5th this year) but it will likely take the entire middle school to catch up to her classmates and students all over the country one year older than she is.

It would have been much easier for her (and me) if we didn’t let her skip a grade. Spending time to catch up on English and the related coursework means that she has less time for extracurricular activities, an obvious choice of ours but we didn’t know to account for the combined effect of grade skipping plus time required to learn Chinese well.  But, hindsight is 20/20, as there weren’t previously published roadmap (to Chinese ILR 3 and above) to follow.  So, I am now entertaining the idea of holding her back a year while we still can, by adding back a homeschool year to work more on English, Chinese, extracurriculars, and other interesting projects.  This can mean the difference between a good high school experience vs. a superb high school experience, with the corresponding transcripts, knowledge, and skill of course.  After all, few people, if any at all, care that one skips a grade.

In conclusion, learning Chinese well to ILR level 3 and above caries some real sacrifices.  If you feel like switching to lower gear, it’s not your fault.  It’s not you or your child!  It’s just that Chinese is sooooo darn difficult to learn in an anglophone society.