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.


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。



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。“


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.”  


“免費”電影線上看-我的少女時代…… totally not saying anything about the legitimacy and quality of the video. But you will love it! My girls surely did.  Another hit for our CLE (Chinese Language Ecosystem)!  Sorry, boys may not be interested in this.

Go toward the bottom of the post where it says: