CLE update: Chinese Language Ecosystem (中文語言生態系)

Chinese proficiency aside, which I had posted here on this blog, I am glad that my DDs (“Charlotte”, 14, and “Georgia”, 11) continue to enjoy the cultural experience still.  This June, they had a lot of fun touring different parts of metro Taipei and Taichung in Taiwan.  I think they had the most fun goofing off and shopping at Taipei’s 西門町!  Here is one such photo (truth be told, this one was my idea….).

“Charlotte”, now at 14, just started high school and continues to enjoy the Chinese cultural experience.  She is taking Chinese III class on-line to do more expository writing (typing really) and to learn reading simplified Chinese.  “Georgia”, now at 6th grade in a new large middle school (we recently relocated), is half way through reading the Chinese edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s stone, whose English edition she read a few times before.

She should have finished this book a while back, as she reads it at 400-450 characters a minute or about one chapter in 15 minutes or so.  But she has not, as she is mostly reading English novels these days, an English Language Art (ELA) class requirement.  She probably has caught up to most kids of her age in terms of English reading and is taking Advanced 7th grade ELA at school.  With all the extracurricular activities these days including debate class, weekend 7th grade Chinese class (simplified), tennis league, guitar, etc., I have to set aside time for her to read Chinese novels.  She does, however, continue to enjoy reading Chinese comics on her own at meal time, now reading 機器娃娃與怪博士, which I also loved reading as a child.

At the mean time, the three of us watched the famed 2015 Chinese TV series 琅琊榜 over the last three months and we absolutely loved it!!  They are now big fans of 王凱, who played 靖王蕭景琰 in the TV series!  They probably prefer 靖王蕭景琰 over 梅長蘇/林殊 since beauty standard is different between Chinese and Western culture and they grew up in the US.  Charlotte learns to play 紅顏舊, one of the theme songs, on the guitar herself.  (“這明明有ㄧ顆痣!”…….非禮啊…..LOL)  She does that for the Chinese songs she enjoys listening.

We also rewatched 那些年,我们一起追的女孩, a hit 2011 teen romance film, and 我的少女時代,a hit 2015 teen romance film, both of Taiwan.  These two movies always cheer them up ~

We are now starting to watch 女医明妃传 (The Imperial Doctress), a top 2016 TV series from mainland China about a young lady determined to become a life saving Chinese medicine doctor despite the limitation of Ming Dynastic’s conservative feudal ethics in the 15th century.  The backdrop of Ming dynasty, limitation of its conservative feudal ethics on women, and the practice of medicine seem like a good fit for us.

So, that’s what they have been up to these days in terms of Chinese.  They continue to converse with each other in Chinese 80-90% of the time at home.


Maintaining interest

Over the years, my daughters (10 & 13) had watched a number of kungfu TV shows, which certainly help pique their interest in the Chinese language.  Recently, the benefit of those TV shows seem to have run its course and I figure it is time to watch some modern drama that explore cultural issues and employ languages  (as in language usage) more relevant to their daily lives.

I therefore recently introduced them to Love Cuisine, a Taiwanese romantic comedy TV show with two culinary school teachers as the main romantic interests and teenage student romances as the side show.  There are 22 episodes, each about 80 minutes long.

Well, the show is a hit!  My dds love it from the very first episode!  They would scream with excitement or cringe at times watching it.  After watching just a couple of episodes, they were already talking to me and each other about the funny parts.  Riding in the car during our winter break family trip, I find them talking about the show for extended periods of time, all in Chinese of course.  The dialogue from the show, particularly the more dramatic ones, has visibly made a positive impact on my dds’ colloquial proficiency.  They are able to hold conversation in Chinese longer before having to code-switch to English, particularly when they talk about English based experiences.  One of the reasons is that my dds now have one more interesting shared experience to talk about, that are entirely in Chinese.  Another reason is that the setting of the show is a school with teenage students, young love, and your standard romance plot, which my dds (particularly my 13 year old) have increasing exposure to through multimedia and interaction with other middle schoolers (not personally, in terms of dating, of course, LOL).  It certainly helps that they are familiar with the general and peer group social interactions and overall surrounding in Taiwan through their sojourns and several short stints in elementary school there.

The point I hope to make is that, as the children grow up, it would be ideal that they have adequate language proficiency and cultural knowledge/appreciation to be able to take advantage of native multimedia programs that suit their shifting interests, which will further enhance their understanding, appreciation, and proficiency.  Being able to share these experiences in a social context help maintain the CLE (Chinese Language Ecosystem), even into their teens.  The CLE can continue to run parallel to the ELE, as long as the social context continue to provide a net positive experience.  (I can see that it may be much more difficult for siblings who are more than a few years apart in age or of different gender with very different interests.  Parents may have to help establish other social groups.)

Lastly, given that I explain to my dds the reason and method of my Chinese language pedagogy, my 13 year old dd understands that few peers share similar Chinese-English bicultural and bilingual experience, unless they are youth (1.25 to 1.75 generation) immigrants.  Furthermore, thinking ahead (and this part maybe controversial), she understands that a future non-Chinese speaking spouse for her will likely mean that either she will have to take substantial amount of time away from her career to raise her children in similar way, or that she likely won’t be able to replicate similar experience for her children, which of course, means that her children will likely have substantially lower Chinese proficiency growing up.  Certainly, having two Chinese speaking parents by itself in the US means little in terms of their children’s Chinese proficiency, but that’s an entirely different issue.

66% for CLE vs. 20% for ELE

In one prior post, I noted that it takes about 2/3 of the waking hours for CLE (Chinese Language Ecosystem) exposure for the children to achieve a minimum of ILR level 3 speaking proficiency between the age of 3-8, as compared to ~ 10-20% English Language Ecosystem (ELE) exposure to achieve the same level in English.

Now, why is that?  Does anyone really think that colloquial Chinese is intrinsically more difficult to learn as a native speaker in Chinese speaking country, as compared to English in English speaking country?  Do average 6 year old children in China have worse command of colloquial Chinese when compared to the command of colloquial English of average 6 year old children in the US?

To my untrained mind, the answer is a NO.  They are more likely than not equivalent.

I postulate that the reason for much higher required exposure time for CLE is that the QUALITY of CLE is not as good as the quality of ELE that typical children get in English speaking country.  So, to compensate for such deficiencies, more exposure TIME to CLE is required.  I think we all know this to be true.  I will try to list the difference in the quality of CLE and ELE.

Features of typical ELE that 3-8 year olds are exposed to are:

  1. High level interactivity.  Children typically and frequently play with peers who are mostly fluent in English.
  2. Variety of teaching method:  Children in different school or extracurricular classes or activities are exposed to different instructional styles, such as lecture-authority, demonstrator-coach, facilitator-activity, delegator-group, etc.
  3. “Native” or “faster” pace of advancement in language and subject instruction and usage.
  4. Wide breadth of language exposure in a variety of topics and subject matters in school.


Features of typical CLE that 3-8 year olds are exposed to are:

  1.  Lower level interactivity.  Children have few peers to play with who are fluent in Chinese and such play are harder to come by as well.
  2. Limited teaching style: Children in typical CLE are exposed to classes or activities with less variety of instructional methods.
  3. “Non-native” or “slower” pace of advancement in language and subject instruction and usage.  This limits the depth and breadth of children’s Chinese.
  4. More narrow breath of language exposure with a more limited range of topics and subject mattes.  At home, conversations often centers on activities of daily living and schooling.  Parents, often the main source of Chinese language exposure, may not have established a habit of extended conversation with the children in a variety of subject and topics.  The children also spend a big chunk of time doing things that do not require active use of the Chinese language.


With such major differences in the QUALITY of the two language ecosystem, it is not a surprise that more TIME in the CLE is needed to achieve equivalent proficiency.

Therefore, parents with hopes of higher Chinese proficiency level for their children would do better by IMPROVING not just the percentage of CLE exposure but also the QUALITY of such exposure.  INTERACTIVITY, BREADTH, and PACE of exposure are so very important.

To this end, I spend much time talking to my daughters on a variety of subjects and topics.  I would say that one important thing that I talk about with my daughters is their friends, friendships (school drama….I mean girl drama), and their personal struggle as they grow in maturity over time.


What’s your opinion on this topic?

~2/3 CLE exposure time for ILR level 3 or above

Over the last few days, I revisited my prior observation that a minimum of 50% exposure to CLE (Chinese language ecosystem) before age of 8 is required to reach ILR level 3 or above in terms of speaking proficiency.  Having seen how a few of the younger fellow parents’ children have blossomed in terms of their Chinese proficiency over the last two years since I started my FB group Raising Bilingual Children in Chinese and English and joined 中英文雙語並進的養兒育女手記 another similar group composed mainly of adult immigrant parents, I reached out to some of them and made revision and refinement to my observation and expanded it to specifically reading proficiency.

Now, there are very few parent members of my FB group having pre-college children with ILR level 3 or above in terms of reading proficiency above the age of 9 or so, except for my daughters and maybe a couple of other children.  The main reason, I believe, is as follows:

  1. Few success stories.  There are few heritage parents who were as “aggressive” in pursuing reading proficiency for their preschoolers around 6-10 years ago – so there are few “success” stories to share by their tween/teens.
  2. Selection bias.  Most heritage children older than 8-9 learning Chinese have speaking, reading, or both IRL proficiency level lower than 3, and most those parents are resigned to the “reality” that their children will not achieve ILR level 3 or above in the foreseeable future, without spending extended time in the “motherland”.  So, these parents don’t seek out and join FB groups such as the two mentioned.
  3. Social media usage bias.  There are likely fewer older heritage parents who use FB or other social media.   Also, adult immigrant parents from mainland China may use WeChat or other social media sites more, seeing that Facebook is not accessible in China.   So, that is another selection bias.

My observation shifts as I gather feedback from other parents and their children.  So, please give me some feedback!

In any case, with these biases in mind, my current observation is as follow:

I)  Speaking proficiency.  It takes a minimum of ~66% exposure to CLE from at least 3 to 8 years old to achieve and maintain speaking proficiency of ILR level 3 and above between those ages.  That would be about 2/3 of the waking hours immersed in CLE.  The higher the percentage, the higher the IRL level.  Having said that, a children immersed in ~ 66% CLE time probably can achieve ILR level 3-3.5 by 8.  This does not necessarily extend to higher age groups, at which time language complexity and range of expression is increased.  To maintain or increase age-matched ILR level would require additional instruction and/or exposure to active/passive usage of more advanced vocabulary and expression, such as spending extended time with pretty much native level speakers or consuming multimedia programs (video/audio).  In addition, active learning/instruction likely decrease the CLE % time requirement.

A child can be doing an English based assignment at home but communicates to the parents or care giver in Chinese.  I would include that time as part of CLE also.  However, watching English TV programs at home likely would not count.  On the other hand, watching Chinese TV programs at an English speaking household would count as part of CLE.  The main determinant would be whether the child is actively using or learning Chinese.

  1. Chinese immersion schools count as 50% CLE for those hours at best, as the children plays in English and active use of Chinese is mostly done by the teacher, according to my understanding.  Past second grade, this percentage likely decreases as more English is used and added to the curriculum.
  2. Half day preschool counts as 1/3 of the waking hours.  Full day school counts as 1/2 of the waking hours.  Don’t forget to include the weekend, holidays, and winter/summer break.  Generally speaking, there are 180 days of school instructions.
  3. With the above understanding, for non-Chinese speaking families, full day Chinese immersion school since kindergarten only counts as no more than 15-20% CLE time (50% CLE efficiency x 50% of each day x 50% of the year) without additional enrichment, with some homework/studying time added in.  That’s why immersion school by itself is insufficient to achieve proficiency level of ILR level 3 or above.
  4. Heritage children at Chinese speaking household who attend English only schools likely have “maximum” 75% CLE time, but likely frequently get much less, if they consume mostly English based multimedia and play with other children in English.  Their proficiency frequently go dramatically downwards past 6-7 years of age as the slower pace of Chinese language instruction they receive at weekend Chinese school is not enough to maintain age-matched IRL level 3.  These children mostly speak English or a mix of English and Chinese (“Chinglish”) to their parents, who speak Chinese to them.
  5. Heritage children attending Chinese immersion school with Chinese speaking household can have up to ~80% CLE time, if Chinese is strictly used outside of school.  However, the slower pace of Chinese instruction at immersion school to accommodate non-heritage children will likely decrease their age-matched IRL level over time. Extracurricular activities conducted in English can put a big dent on CLE time but that is the case for any children.
  6. My daughters who have had spent half of their days in English only day care, home day care, preschools, kindergarten and up since birth pretty much (except for ~ one year and half when we homeschooled) plus sojourns abroad in Taiwan with 100% CLE, probably have CLE time of ~ 70%.  They receive Chinese instruction at home using Chinese language art curriculum from Taiwan at relatively fast pace in terms of reading (~1/2 to 2/3 of the pace in Taiwan, foregoing most of the writing practices) and consume Chinese multimedia in “concentrated” form (and thus less time consuming), as I gathered for them multimedia that highlight the intricacies and salient features of the languages in its various forms.
  7. Heritage children who are homeschooled in Chinese in Chinese speaking household likely can achieve CLE exposure time north of 80%.
  8. Multi-ethnic children with one Chinese speaking parent who are homeschooled in Chinese but exposed to parents communicating in English and who communicates to one parent in English and the other in Chinese probably have CLE exposure of ~ 60-70%.
  9. Multi-ethnic children who attend Chinese immersion school with one non-Chinese speaking parent may achieve ~40-70%, depending on the amount of Chinese used at home and extra Chinese language based enrichment, including playdates.

With the above in mind, it seems general English speaking proficiency of ILR level 4-4.5 “only” requires ~ 20-30% exposure time.  If one lowers the standard to ILR level 3-3.5, exposure time of ~15-20% will likely suffice for English.

The above brings to mind that bilingual proficiency in English plus another category 1 language in a household where both of those languages (say, English-Spanish or English-French) are used is relatively easy, compared to English-Chinese bilingualism.

As for trilingual families, a child attending English speaking schools in English-French-Chinese household where the parents speak in English and one parents speak to the children in Chinese and the other in French can achieve ILR level 5 (native) in English and French, at the expense of Chinese proficiency, since CLE exposure time would likely be less than 50%, which would tend to decrease further as child grows older.  On the other hand, a Chinese heritage child with Chinese speaking parents attending English-Spanish immersion school may have up to 70% CLE time if Chinese is strictly used at home.  However, further maintenance of Chinese ILR age-matched level past ~ 8 can depend on Chinese language instructions.  Similarly, a trilingual-biracial family (say, Polish-English-Chinese) in Taiwan who homeschools in the three languages may achieve CLE time of ~70%, which may indeed be sufficient for trilingual proficiency at or above 4 in all three languages over time.

My observation that it takes ~ 66% language ecosystem exposure time to achieve Chinese ILR level ~3 speaking proficiency vs.~15-20% exposure time for English (or French, Spanish likely) to achieve similar IRL level, or a ~4 fold difference, would be in line with what the Foreign Service Institutes of the US Department of States suggested (~ 4 times as long) for English speaking adults to learn Chinese to ILR level 3 vs. a category 1 language.

(to be continued……)

Some thoughts from before

I spoke with another parent on my way back from work.  Here are highlights of some of the points that I had not discussed before.

1) Education is the most important thing (well, besides the usual talk of wanting your kids to be happy and that sort of things). Schooling is a mean to the end. Education is SO much more than schooling. When schooling interferes with education, go see about switching school.

2) When weekend Chinese school (or immersion school for that matter) interferes with your kids’ Chinese education, such as focusing way too much on writing and testing, and you have a viable alternative such as home instruction, drop weekend Chinese school. Neither its scope nor curriculum is sufficient for level 3 proficiency and up any ways. A lot more is required. And if you DO do the “a lot more” part at home, you may figure out that you can be better off with home instruction.

3) Testing. I had never given my daughters any Chinese test. When we homeschooled, it seems the au pair did give them tests, but there were pretty much no stress involved, according to my kids. I didn’t know that they even had tests till just now. Why bother with test on Chinese at this age, as a Chinese-speaking heritage family? The language skill is for long term practical use, amongst other things. Test results means nothing, if one can’t speak competently or read a book. We just keep focusing on learning more and more and do more reading and conversing. There is no required pre-defined and adhered-to schedule to keep. Every day and every moment is a teaching opportunity.

4) Learning together. Here in the US, besides independent reading and watching Chinese cartoons, my daughters pretty much did all their Chinese learning with the au pairs, tutors, or me next to them. If I can manage to get some patient chart work done while they study, I try to do so, but I am there to help and guide them every step of the way. Sometimes, I would tell them to copy the text or do some reading comprehension exercises while I take a nap or something like that, but that’s infrequent. We watch all these funny Chinese YouTube videos and movies together. This allows the three of us to be our own CLE (Chinese language ecosystem), that we can retell jokes and stories months later. WE ARE OUR OWN CLIQUE and we have fun together.

5) Too much time spent with other heritage English speakings children (almost all heritage children after 7-8 years of age) most likely adversely affects your kids’ Chinese proficiency.  But parents have to balance that with the child’s identity issue, if any.  If you are so fortunate to be able to get one or two Chinese speaking playmates for your child after 8 years of age, more power to you! Keep them!