Closing the gap (English)

As I had mentioned in previous posts, it takes A LOT to achieve Chinese literacy level above ILR level 3 (age adjusted).  The way I had suggested is to “open the gap” between Chinese and English reading proficiency, by strongly emphasizing Chinese literacy and proficiency before working on English.  The result is that the child will have to “close the gap” and catch up in English as s/he approaches middle school.  This can be a VERY stressful few years for the parents, ourselves included.

I am going to use dd#2 “Georgia”‘s reading comprehension as an example.  Since third grade (7 years old at time, as she skipped a grade), Georgia has taken TerraNova test annually at school.  It is a national normed standardized achievement test.  Compared to other third graders at the time, she scored in the 78th percentile in reading comprehension.  I had expected that her reading comprehension, along with other more English intensive parts of the test, would improve over time.  I spent a good bit of time working with her on her English assignments, gradually letting her do more and more independent work on her own.  In fourth grade, her reading comprehension score improved to 92nd percentile.   However, by fifth grade (spring of 2016), she did worse in almost all areas and scored 45th percentile in reading comprehension.  That really threw us off and put us in “DEFCON 2” “emergency mode”.

After some “root cause analysis” early summer, we decided that Charlotte really needs to read English more.  She had not picked up English reading previously, preferring to read her Chinese comics.  So, upon her return from 6 weeks of educational trip to Taiwan in mid-July, we worked on her English more and made a few changes to her routine.  We figured that the time she spent on iPad, YouTube, TV, and Chinese comics have had a negative impact on her interest in English reading.  So, we cut out most of her electronics time and put away most of her Chinese comics, except for the science/history/finance comic series.  Georgia did not take it well initially, with a few tears shed.  I asked that she does a certain amount of English reading (Harry Potter series) almost every day and started reviewing her homework assignment with her more intensively again.

After 3 months of effort, Georgia now enjoys English reading much more and has done much more reading as well.  She quickly got used to the new routine and is a happy camper again, which is very important to us, of course.  To assess her progress, I decided to get her tested privately, outside of school.  Since TerraNova can only be administered by school or homeschoolers, I chose BASI, which is another standardized and normed achievement test that is administered at testing centers.  Georgia took the two hours computer test today.  She thought the test was difficult but had “fun” taking it.  We are pleased that her reading comprehension has rebounded to 90th percentile, up from 45th percentile just a few months ago!  What a sigh of relief!  (And this is normed to students who are on average one year older than she is.)

We hope that with continuing concerted effort, her English reading comprehension percentile score will improve further by the end of the school year.  I may get her tested privately again in 3-4 months to monitor her progress.  So, if things go well, we won’t need to pull her back a grade.

(In case some parents are wondering, her math rebounded also and she scored 95th percentile compared to other sixth graders.  That should improve further over time, as she will do better on word problems with improving English and maturity.)

At the mean time, we had continued our Chinese lessons, though at a slower pace.  Georgia continues to read youth novels from 東方世界少年文學 series several days a week.  She continues to practice Chinese reading-aloud with video recordings as shown on this blog.  We haven’t done much Chinese writing recently though.  On the side, she continues to take guitar group lessons at school and is the “top” player for her grade level, though she is still a novice player.  She also enjoys tennis lesson once a week.




One English milestone reached!





Strange as this may sound, though it should not as this is a blog on raising Chinese-English bilingual/biliterate children, dd#2, who is almost 10 and half, finished reading all ~ 730 pages of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire today!!  She loved it!  Yay!!!

This is the fourth book in the Harry Potter series, with Lexile Rank 880 and of 5-6th grade reading level.  This is the first of the Harry Potter series of this heft.  The first three books are much shorter.  Some children probably read this book around 8-9 years old, but most of them probably didn’t spend as much time learning Chinese.  As I explained in an earlier post, Foreign Service Institute (FSI) estimates that it takes an English speaking adult about 1.5-2 years (88 weeks) of full time instruction, studying, and practice to achieve ILR level 3 in speaking and reading.  Though dd#2 is a child, I think it is a reasonable estimate that she devoted a full 1.5 to 2 years of time learning Chinese to an overall ILR ~ 3.5-4 level.

Accounting for these factors, had my dd#2 not spend this much time learning Chinese, she probably would have been able to read Harry Potter #4 at between 8 to 9 years old.  The difference, of course, is one of the “price to pay” to learn Chinese to this level, at least for our family.

For nonacademic research purpose, it will be most interesting to survey families to find out the age of their child when s/he finishes reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the Chinese ILR level that the child has achieved by that time.  There are obviously many other factors involved, but may be such quick survey can help us understand the whole process better.


Battle of the Books: catching up in English

It took “Charlotte” ~3 to 3.5 years of work (1.5 years of homeschooling and ~1.5 to 2 years of regular private school, from second half of 3rd grade till ~middle of six grade) to get her English competency back to native peer level (matched for age and intellect, I would say).   She just made the first of two cuts for Battle of the Books program at school.   She reads English novels fast.  She writes well too….I think.  Well, at least she loves to write and writes profusely.  And she did quite well in the language portion of one of those national standardized tests toward the end of last school year.

So, once again, that’s what worked for us: little emphasis in English early on, with focus on Chinese competency up till ~ 8-9, and then catching up in English afterwards.  By end of third grade, the goal is to reach end of second grade reading level in Taiwan or ~ second grade first semester level in mainland China (more advanced there).  Yeah, it’s no easy task.  It’s hard.  But so is spending 15-20 hours a week playing the piano or doing gymnastic.  But it is doable.

And if one of the parents in the family can’t comfortably read my writings here, it is highly unlikely that the said parents will be comfortable slacking off in their child’s English early on to make room for enough Chinese.  Maybe that’s one good reason that I am not in a hurry to translate all these into Chinese, yet.