Here is a Chinese website giving a great summary of the difficulty of Chinese language education for oversea Children of Chinese heritage: 海外華裔兒童中文教育的有效解決之道. Now, I don’t agree with the “solution” proposed by this author, for I think it is very helpful to learn zhuyin or pinyin early on to allow independent reading early on; but that’s a different topic.
Specifically for us, we have used or attempted all means imaginable to us to achieve our goal, including:
- We speak to them in Chinese all the time, except for occasional English words and phrases and have them speak almost strictly Chinese to us.
- We have them spend 3-4 months a year (split to two trips) in Taiwan with their grandparents since they are one, till about 6, then about 6-8 weeks (one trip) annually afterwards. There, they attended preschool and public school, up till 4th grade.
- We raised them on Chinese version of Disney, Dream Works, Pixar, and Japanese animation cartoons and movies.
- They started listening to Chinese pop songs and watch Chinese music videos, well before they started to listen to English songs. 先入為主! We have fun listening to and singing Chinese karaoke as a family.
- As my wife and I both work full time, taking hospital calls, and work some weekends, we needed a nanny for our daughters. Between the ages of 4 to 10 for my elder daughter, we hired five Taiwanese au pairs and one Colombian au pair through AuPairCare and EurAuPair. The Taiwanese au pair spoke to the children only in Chinese and give them Chinese lessons five days a week.
- We homeschooled our daughters for a year and half with two classes in Chinese (Chinese and math), from second half of third grade through fourth grade for Charlotte and second half of kindergarten through first grade for Georgia. We relied heavily on our au pairs and another homeschool mother (Caucasian, taught ELA) to help us with our program.
- Every year, we purchased and brought back from Taiwan various Chinese educational materials, DVDs, tons of books (fiction and nonfiction), comics, novels, etc.
- We introduce various forms of Chinese language expression, such as jokes, riddles, poems, stand-up comedies such as 相聲, cartoons, TV shows, movies, songs, etc… This provides a more well-rounded exposure and experience and made learning Chinese more fun and relevant.
- We tried our very best to have Charlotte achieve and maintain relatively “excellent” Chinese as long as possible. She became fluent in Chinese before becoming fluent in English. The goal is for Charlotte’s colloquial Chinese to be better than her English for the first 6-8 years, such that she continues to speak to Georgia, her younger sibling, in Chinese. I thought from the very beginning that once the children converse with each other in English early on, it is almost game over. So, it was paramount that Charlotte’s Chinese is better than her English for a number of years.