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.”