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?