Thursday, June 5, 2014

General Advice for Parents

As I am not a linguistic expert, the following are my two cents of opinion, under constant revision and editing.  I hope interested parents set a realistic goal for their children and achieve good return on the investment of their various resources.

Based on my experience as a young immigrant at the age of 11 in the mid 1980s and 11 years of experience of raising my daughters bilingual and bi-literate (and counting) and constant search for exemplary families, I put forth the following observation and recommendation regarding what I called the three phases of Chinese language acquisition, with the goal of 5-6th grade verbal fluency and literacy in Chinese by 18 years of age.  At this point, my elder daughter (11 years of age) remains a fluent native Chinese speaker and reads young adult novels without phonetics in Chinese.  My younger daughter (8 years old) is about two years behind in her Chinese.  You can tell from the blog the amount of resources that we had to allocate to achieve this.  As I have daughters, I will use she/her to refer to both a male or female child.

Before I start, I want to touch on what I perceive as the benefit and nature of bilingualism in Chinese and English in the US.  Certainly, bilingualism has many benefits, including family bonding (assuming one is of Chinese heritage), travel, cultural knowledge, expanded social (acquaintances, friends, spouse) and employment options (not necessarily better), and possibly higher neurological and cognitive function.  It is my belief that, for children raised in the US, becoming bilingual and biliterate in Chinese and English has, on average, limited financial benefit, with significant opportunity cost.  I will explore these issues more throughout this article.  In addition, with the advent of artificial intelligence and amazing recent advancement in real time speech-to-speech translation (see other posts) that will likely significantly raise the opportunity cost of non-fluent language learning by 2035, I am dubious that there is a net financial benefit for our children to become a non-fluent Chinese speaker by adulthood, on average.  To put it crudely, what I am suggesting is that don't have your children learn Chinese for the money!

Having stated the above, the followings are the goal I set out for my children:

1) Listening: Understand colloquial conversation and mass media at ~ 5th-6th grade level. This likely include most TV shows/movies, soap opera, and basic news reporting, which include common sense technical terms taught in grade school.
2) Speaking: Converse fluently for extended period of time on activities of daily living and grade school subjects, adding only occasional English words and phrase, especially if they are technical terms.  Also, the child should be able to convey personal emotions and common expressions accurately.  Fluency and correct syntax are more important than truly authentic accent.  
3) Reading: Read comic books in Chinese fluently and chapter books, non-technical magazines, and young adult novels comfortably at ~6th grade level, without phonetics.  I believe this would encompass romance/kung fu novels AND novels like Chinese edition of Harry Porter, which is about 5-6th grade level in English.  Many slightly gifted students in the US are able to read the English version by second or third grade.
4) Writing: Know how to write Chinese characters with the right stroke sequence even without having learned the character before, be familiar with writing the most commonly used 500 characters, and be able to do simple writings at about third grade level.

With these in mind, the following are the three phases:
I.  Phase 1: 0 to ~7 years old.  Induction phase.  Difficulty level: moderate (but more difficult for parents not fluent in Chinese).  There are different curriculum and materials for this phase with a good bit of information out there.  As language skill is comprised of four components (listening, speaking, reading, and writing), there are two main goals in each phase:

1) Listening and speaking: Comprehend conversation involving activities of daily living and achieve FLUENCY in such expression.  Once again, fluency is much more important than authentic accent.  Obviously, the main difficulty for goal #1 is 1) lack of fluent speakers (ideally two or more) at home for those families where English is spoken amongst the adults, and 2) as peer to peer interaction and learning become increasing important after four years old, finding young fluent Chinese speaking children for play-dates is a constant struggle for parents and feels like a second job!  

Though some of these difficulties can be dealt with through sufficient fund and pure resolve by hiring Chinese speaking nanny or au pair, the lack of practice with peers often is the limiting factor for the great majority of children (except for exceptionally gifted children probably).  Therefore, once a year, or even better, twice a year sojourn for 1-2 months each time in private preschool and kindergarten in Asia starting at 3-4 years old would make this process SO MUCH SMOOTHER, even for most families where Chinese is the language spoken at home (including my own).  For families where household members (parents, nannies, grandparents, etc.) all converse in a language other than Chinese (regardless of the background or ethnicity of the members), I regard these sojourns to be INDISPENSABLE for the children to ACHIEVE AND MAINTAINING VERBAL FLUENCY by the end of this phase.  Obviously, the logistic and high cost of sending children abroad for such sojourn, both in terms of time and monetary commitment, are often prohibitive.  

2) Reading and writing: Learn pinyin or zhuyin down pat (like know it cold!) and to learn about 100-200 characters (or more) toward the end of this phase.  Writing mechanism is a developing skill at this phase.  The main difficulty for goal #2 is that this is a time consuming process, though it is still doable by knowledgeable immigrant parents or parents of Chinese heritage (e.g. ABC, ABT, etc.).  Spending a couple of months in kindergarten abroad will make learning the phonetic so much easier.

At this stage, the child and environment that she is exposed to are still, more or less, under the control or influence of the parents.  Frequently, the Chinese of American born parents gets better first, after relearning the material once learned in their own youth.  Achieving verbal and reading fluency at the end of this phase will get the next phase off to a good start.

II.  Phase 2: ~7 to 12-14 years old.  Consolidation phase.  Difficulty level: extremely high. 

Once again, there are two main goals in this phase:

1) Listening and speaking:  It is very important to maintain FLUENCY till past about 9-10 years of age.  This is the time when the child's pattern of language use can be made more semi-permanent.  It will almost certainly require exposure to native level children since the range of expression of one's emotion and feeling needed to be expanded for the child to be able to express herself fully in Chinese.  Otherwise, the child will start expressing herself in English, which is what happens to just about every child of Chinese heritage, born and raised here or immigrant child who moved to the US at a young age (say, before 8).  More reading and studying are required to acquire the additional vocabulary and expression needed for verbal expression at this phase.  Having the chance to play and interact with native level children allows the child to practice those expression verbally.  Without the verbal fluency at this phase, the child often looses interest in reading/studying Chinese, which becomes a double whammy.  The verbal skill and the reading/studying go hand in hand, for the great majority of the children.  The most common scenario is that the family finds it too traumatic and/or difficult to continue to require the child to converse with the parents in Chinese.  After that, the child will speak mostly English or a combination of Chinese and English, depending how good her Chinese is.

2) Reading and writing: In terms of reading, the child will need to learn a total of about 1,000 to 1,500 words.  This would probably be equivalent to going from first grade to middle of fourth grade.  Besides the traditional method of learning phonetics first and then the characters, 馬立平's curriculum is an alternative choice, for children adopting the pinyin/simplified character route.  It is important that your family has access to a wide variety of Chinese books, comics, and junior novels.  With 1,000 to 1,500 characters, the child can likely recognize about 95-97% of the characters in casual readings.  However, it is not simple recognition, it is the fluency.  It is extremely important that the child can read junior novels (or at least comics) fluently by sometimes during middle school, to reinforce her desire to learn Chinese and to expand the breadth of her language skill.  In terms of writing, knowing how to write using the correct stroke sequence, familiarity with writing the most commonly used ~500 words, and simple essay (third grade level at most) would likely suffice.  I would say that, at the end of this phase (if reached), the child's Chinese language per se is AP level at least.  However, this is not to say that the child will do well, if she is to actually take the AP test (not feasible due to age restriction, I think), since the subject matters on the test is more geared toward late teens, with more adult type materials.

This is the toughest phase for the following reasons:

1) It is next to impossible to find fluent Chinese speaking peers in the US by this age.  Most children either were born here or immigrated here at a young age.  Highschool international Chinese students are not peers whom children this age interact with.
2) Most extracurricular activities are in English and there are many more activities parents have their children involved in.  So, the exposure time to Chinese drastically goes down.
3) Weekend or after-school Chinese classes, in those areas that offer them, are almost always insufficient in terms of the time allotted and materials covered, for good reasons.  As the children, even in the same class/grade, have variable Chinese skill and English is the common denominator that almost all are fluent in, the children speak English to each other almost exclusively.  If your child is fluent in Chinese and attempt to speak it with their non-fluent peers, it would be frowned upon and everyone end up speaking English.
4) Slowing down of Chinese character acquisition with less time devoted to Chinese, such that the child can not get past 3rd grade level (~ 1000 characters) to do extracurricular readings for pleasure comfortably.
5) Most children and parents see it more worthwhile, at this stage, to spend more time doing something else, like math, science, sport, or music.
6) Relative lack of access to a good collection of books in Chinese (novels, magazine, comics, self-help books, etc.), 
7) The logistic and high cost of sending children abroad for Chinese summer camps.  In addition, the Chinese camps for this age group are typically meant for oversea children, which means that interaction with native speaker children are more limited and English is the main language these children use to converse with each other.  Some lucky families maintain legal residency oversea and have access to intermittent public school education abroad, which is ideal, though there maybe conflict of school schedule between the two places.

THIS PHASE TAKES A TEAM and a combination of different sources of language exposure.  This may include oversea relatives who can supervise the children over the summer while they attend camp or school there, Chinese speaking live-in nanny or au pairs, Chinese tutors, dual immersion school (not enough by itself, with dearth of older students fluent in Chinese), homeschooling for a year or two, and other fluent speaker(s) at home (we have done almost all of these).  It is unlikely that parents can find fluent Chinese speaking peers in the US for the child at this stage (I gave up looking).  It also takes a lot of work for parents to create an enticing environment for the children to want to continue to learn Chinese.  Some parents who can afford to do so simply bring the children back to Asia for 1-2 years of studying (second and third grade recommended).  This phase can be achieved only by the most resourceful families and/or through extraordinary circumstances.  If the child is exceptionally gifted (say, IQ ~ 145 and up or fewer than 1 in 1,000), the reading part may be achieved much more readily and with less resources devoted.  Achieving verbal fluency still require frequent interaction and practice with fluent speakers.   

If the child is still not fluent in speaking Chinese by the end of this phase, it will likely take longer term full immersion (at least 2 years) of living and studying in Chinese speaking regions (like China, Taiwan, Singapore, etc.) to be fluent in Chinese. By then, studying in regular local school won't be an easy option, since the subject matters and language requirement would be quite difficult. 

So, I consider the consolidation phase to be the key for a successful Chinese program for US based parents and, unfortunately, the most difficult phase.  The opportunity to periodically interact and play with fluent Chinese speaking peers is typically the linchpin for all three phases.  It takes a most determined and resourceful family to see this through.  For families with fluent Chinese speaking parents, this phase is very difficult still, unless the child is at least highly gifted.  For families without two fluent speakers at home, this phase is exceedingly difficult without yearly sojourn and study in Asia. 

III.  Phase 3: ~12-14 to 18 years old.  Maintenance phase.  Difficulty level: low.  There will often be teenage immigrants or Chinese speaking international students, who are already fluent in Chinese, with whom the teenager can associate.  The Chinese pop culture, movies, novels, and magazines will be easy supplemental materials.  This is past Chinese AP level already.  Occasional shorter trips to Asia would be a nice bonus and affirming.  This phase becomes more or less auto pilot with some adult supervision and coaching.  Preparing for the AP exam should be fairly easy.

If a child can't get past phase 2, she will be in what I call palliative phase, with slow progress in her Chinese, until she expresses an interest in preparing for Chinese AP test or get interested in Chinese in high school, college, or after.  And you all know the rest of that story.  If one is lucky, the accent may be pretty decent, though verbal fluency is typically lacking and the child can not express herself well in Chinese and so speak Chinese only to the parents, if at all, with English added in frequently.  Typically, the topics spoken in Chinese would be limited to activities of daily living.  For topics in other subjects or when dealing with feelings and emotions, the child will frequently switch to English.  To me, there is absolutely nothing wrong going this route, as it is the least resource intensive, with acceptable return on parents' more limited investment.  In college, she may express interest in furthering her study in Chinese and/or take oversea trips to Asia for this purpose.  As an adult, if employment circumstances calls for relocation to Asia, after two to three years of stay there and with further study in Chinese, she may be able to achieve verbal fluency and may be able to get past 4-5th grade level in reading/writing.  

In general, I recommend that the great majority of the parents attempt phase 1 and beginning of phase 2, and then switch to palliative phase.  For most parents, they really have little choice but to accept this path.  I think most parents should just treat Chinese as a CSL skill (Chinese as Second Language).  Frankly speaking, I think most families get the best bang for the buck this way.  We only have 24 hours a day and there is opportunity cost to consider, in terms of time, other opportunities missed, and resource allocation.  

For commercial and professional use in the US, it's important to be fluent enough in Chinese so that one can express one's thoughts and feeling correctly.  Since the laws and customs would mostly be American, Chinese cultural knowledge requirement is relatively low.  If one is to use the Chinese language in Asia professionally, the cultural knowledge requirement is different and much higher.  One will have to know the culture and habits and that will take STUDYING and immersion.  Things in Asia are not infrequently done differently, both on the surface and underneath.  A mentor would be ideal.  So, having the child learn Chinese to (only) 2-3 grade level by age 18 is likely a prudent decision for most families.  Even for a child who has reached 6th grade level by 18 years of age, she will have to live and study more Chinese/culture in Asia, if she is to work there and use Chinese professionally (not just teaching English).  

I know all these sounds frustrating, but I ask that you see the big picture.  English is THE global business, cultural, and technical language and will remain so for many years to come.  The benefit of learning Chinese in English speaking countries typically PALES in comparison to the benefit of learning English in Chinese speaking countries.  If one lives in Asia, learning English can be of critical importance in job advancement.  Regardless of geopolitical issues, learning English is promoted socially and culturally across the board, with much more comprehensive materials and ancillary support.  Interaction with the west is more straight forward also, with much more defined and adhered legal standard and more familiarity in cultural exposure and understanding.  The same thing can NOT be said about learning Chinese in the US.  In fact, the OPPOSITE can often be said about learning Chinese here.

There are plenty of people who immigrated from Asia to English speaking countries (US, UK, Australia, etc.) around their tweens and are bilingual and biliterate in Chinese and English by 18, though intricacies in English expression are likely still a few years away.  And there are many college students in China who have excellent English.  I was truly impressed with the command of English of HS and college participants in Chinese TV shows featuring English debate/speech competitions.  Even the international Chinese students who came to the US to attend HS has much better English nowadays.  And there are ever growing number of Chinese who come to the US to study and then live/work but the same can not be said the other way around.  So, these days, in Chinese speaking countries, there are quite a few locals who are now functionally fluent in English given prior study and work experience in the west, who are hired locally by Chinese or global companies for their operations there.  My understanding is that they are now typically preferred over foreign nationals, given their cultural knowledge and connections.  So, I have been told that expat package are much less common these days.

In conclusion, for the various reasons that I discussed above, I don't think it is practical or feasible for the majority of families in the US to set phase 3 by age 18 as their goal. The resource needed and diverted is quite substantial.  For those with the necessary resources and who are committed to this path, I hope we can support each other through my FB group and beyond indeed.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

April updates

New books for my elder daughter, after she finishes the Twilight series. Maybe she will get to one of them next week during Spring Break.

Books for my younger daughter. Most of them are still too difficult for her but she is reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid in Chinese now.

Books for my almost middle school daughter, who is NOT enjoying all the preteen/teen girl drama at school, to say the least. Welcome to "mean girls" and bullying years. It does not help that she is born and raised DIFFERENT from the typical children in the south. We have been exploring these issues and recently watched TV movie "Odd Girl Out" about school bullying, which was extremely helpful to her. She is more analytical and much less emotionally vested in the school drama now.

I have set up a Facebook group for interested parents and have been getting good feedbacks.  Interested parents can check it out at

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March updates

Bilingual in Chinese and English

The more I write about this topic and answer readers' question, the more I realize how important and critical it is to learn Chinese well in the first decade of the child's life, if the parents want to devote serious attention to this.  I estimate that my 10 year old daughter can probably get a 3-4 in Chinese AP test now and should reach a solid 4 in another year or so.  My understanding is that a 5 in Chinese AP is equivalent to two years of college level Chinese in the US.  To me, the dedication we devote to their Chinese is equivalent to the dedication one friend devote to their 11 year old daughter who is now level 9 in gymnastic or tiger mother Amy Chua having her daughter play 3 hours of piano a day, including during vacation (at least that's what I remembered reading).  At the end of the day (and there are only 24 hours a days no matter what), parents have to ask themselves, "what does my child enjoy doing and what would I prefer my child be able to do at age 25 and beyond?"  For my family, the answer is clear.  Since my daughters do not have very strong affinity for sport or music (they do enjoy their guitar and tennis class), we chose to devote more of our attention to their Chinese for the first decade of their life.

Something interesting happened that I did not expect.  It is COOL these days to know Chinese.  I remember the craze for Japanese language course (6-8 credits a semester?)  in college during the 1990s.  My older daughter was reading Twilight in Chinese on her Kindle at school and fellow students and a teacher were amazed and asking her things left and right.  I think it is great that she can read these American novels in Chinese, such that she is culturally "connected" to her American peers while linguistically "connected" to Taiwan/China at the same time.

OMG!  We did such a great job creating a Chinese immersion environment for our daughters that Charlotte, my soon to be middle schooler daughter, is not schooled in American pop culture and has a bit of tough time making friends at her new school.  And it is at this age when friends become important.  In my defense, I did in the past try to get her to watch American pre-teen sitcom and learn about/watch team sport such as football, but she wasn't interested.  Since knowing is half of the battle, now that she knows, she is enjoying watching "Good luck, Charlie" reruns on Netflix.  We are going to get her up to speed in no time!  Things should get better the closer it gets to high school, when students segregate themselves into different crowd based on interest or academics.

Charlotte is done reading the first book of the "Twilight" series in Chinese.  It took her almost three weeks, with school works and things.  It also took her some time to get used to reading the translated English names.  The next book she plans to read is the Chinese edition of "My Sister's Keeper".  The subject maybe a bit tough for her age.  We'll see how it goes.

Links on a Chinese summer program in Taiwan

Charlotte is now working on the third book of the "Twilight" series.  She wants to read the Chinese edition of "My Sister's Keeper" afterwards.  I have the Chinese edition of "Mocking Jay", the third book of Hunger Game, ready for her.  I am going to try to get a copy of the Chinese edition of "Divergent" for her also.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Charlotte finished five short Chinese novels in the last 10 days and is now captivated by the Chinese edition of the novel Twilight (暮光之城).  Amazing.  Our hard work over the past 10 years is finally paying off.

Here is one section of the first novel without zhuyin that she read:




Upcoming project for 7 year old Georgia: reading till fluency of selected chapters of the Gospel of Matthews in Chinese with phonetics assistance first and then without.

Friday, February 21, 2014

"How about scheduling?" asks a reader.

Due to increased school work for my fifth grader, our main scheduled Chinese lessons are now reduced to Saturday or Sunday mornings, consisting of 45 minutes of reading aloud, 45 minutes of writing practice, and 45 minutes of karaoke singing.  My younger daughter has less homework as a third grader, so I give her Chinese lessons to work on weekday evenings IF she is done with school work.

However, to me, these short "formal" Chinese school work are only half of the story.  Since their Chinese are fairly good already and they grew up surrounded by Chinese environment, they are learning by osmosis also.  They listen to Chinese pop music (iPod shuffle, no screen to distract them), sing Chinese pop songs (and a few English ones) while riding in the car, watch Chinese soap opera and cartoons in Chinese on some mornings and evenings during the week and on weekends, and read Chinese comics and books (novels, story books) with and without zhuyin.  All these other things, they do it WILLINGLY and EAGERLY for FUN.  Not that Jay Chou's Chinese pronunciation is good, but all these other things make Chinese relevant, which to me, is one of the most important and difficult aspect of such bilingual upbringing.

So, that's why I think it is CRITICAL to get the children's colloquial AND formal Chinese to decent level of fluency early on (by 7-8), before other things in their life take more priority, so that they will ENJOY these other aspects of Chinese.  Otherwise, parents like us are just fighting a loosing battle.

Many parents have children whose Chinese is not strong enough, thus speaking more and more English, shunting Chinese home work, or not interested in extracurricular reading of books in Chinese.  Since the rate of improvement in the Chinese of children of Chinese heritage almost always lags behind that of English, the situation is likely to get worse.  I suggest that the parents perform a jump start in their Chinese program, if their resource allows.  This would typically take the form of an extended immersion trip where the children gets formal instructions in Chinese and daily exposure to peers and people of various age group and background who speak Chinese to them.  The required length of these trips obviously depends on the level of the children's Chinese.  For my children, I think 6 to 8 weeks a year is good enough.  For children whose Chinese is very rudimentary, it may take up to a couple of years.

I hope this helps.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Well, these posts summarize most of what I have to share at this point.  I will provide update periodically of new things I learn from experience or fellow parents and my daughters' progress, if anyone is interested.  Besides setting priority and commitment to this very challenging goal, I think the key to "success" is as follows:

1) Surround your children with a full spectrum of Chinese language expression early on.
2) Get their colloquial Chinese to near native level early on, before they get sidetracked by too many English speaking peers and busy extracurricular schedule, and maintain it till at least 8-9 or so, particularly for the eldest child, if the younger children are to have a fighting chance.
3) Build up their character recognition (probably at least 1,000 to 2,000 characters) and reading comprehension as soon as feasible by age 9-12, so that they can enjoy broad based reading on their own.
4) This will most likely require periodic immersion trip oversea, in addition to faithful study in the US.  It is the textbooks and extracurricular readings that will bring depth and fullness to their expression.
5) Make it fun and relevant, whatever your resources are.  Use your imagination!

As I hail from Taiwan, I told myself and my children, "Since we can't raise you in Taiwan for you to study Chinese, we will bring Taiwan to you in whatever way we can."  So we did.  It is like my daughters were attending Taipei American School, with English spoken at school and Chinese everywhere else, right here in rural America, with blue sky, smog free air, and little worry for tainted food.

I would love to read any suggestions and constructive comments.  And PLEASE share your success stories.  Every parent who read this blog, including myself, could use lots of encouragement and testimony.

Thank you for reading.

One Chinese learning resource 僑委會中文教材 and Chinese AP test

A friend pointed this out as a Chinese study resource: 僑委會中文教材  I don't think all the links on the web page work but most seem to.

Check out Chinese AP oriented readings on the higher level section.
I think the materials there are probably harder than the actual AP Chinese Cultural and Language Exam.

For what I can tell, AP materials from 僑委會中文教材 are probably more like 5-6th grade level in Taiwan.  I looked over the AP materials from College Board and it seems to be more like 4-5th grade material.  I read somewhere that getting a 5 on the Chinese AP test is like two years of college Chinese classes in the US.  Does anyone know if that's true or not?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Can you say 周杰倫 Jay Chou and S.H.E.?!!  I thank them and other Chinese pop singers for bringing my girls so much joy, fun, and relevance to their Chinese learning.

Extracurricular readings 課外讀物

Here are some of the books we have available for my daughters to read for enjoyment.

My InuYasha 犬夜叉 collection.  I only have the first half of the cartoon episodes in Chinese; so, the girls don't know what happens afterwards.  Charlotte really enjoyed reading these to find out what happens next.  Georgia, on the other hand, just skipped to the very last volume!  She probably will come back to the others when she is a little older (7 only now).  

I have several chapter books on cartoon movies by Hayo Miyazaki, such as Totoro 龍貓。

These are series of science and travel-history-geography comic books.  They love these.  

Most of these are traditional Chinese stories and the girls don't like these as much.  Arsene Lupin 亞森羅平 was a bit too scary for Charlotte last year.

Here are a few others, including some children's reference books.

Current studying materials

Charlotte is using fourth-grade second-semester Chinese Language Art textbook from Taiwan while Georgia is using second-grade second-semester Chinese Language Art textbook.  I ask that they be able to read the main text fluently and then be able to copy select chapter text.

Here is a picture of third-grade second-semester and fifth-grade first-semester textbooks.

Here is a picture of the third chapter in the fifth-grade textbook.  Charlotte will hopefully get to it this fall.

Chinese summer camp in Taiwan 國語日報華語研習營

My girls will be going back to Taiwan for 6 weeks this summer to stay with their grandparents. 

Georgia will attend a month of public school.  As she skipped a grade here, she will fall back to second grade in Taiwan.  Charlotte is in fifth grade here.  Last year, she attended about about 5 weeks of fourth grade public school in Taiwan (second semester) and it was a bit rough for her.  We thought of having her fall back to fourth grade this June but eventually decided to try out three weeks of Chinese summer camp in Taipei instead.  It seems pretty intense from 9:10AM to 4:50PM, with five classes in Chinese and two cultural classes.  They give you placement test ahead of time.  I hope it will be more suitable for her at this stage.  Her Chinese reading level is likely at first semester of fourth grade and writing, first semester of third grade.  We hope she will be able to advance to 6th grade level over the next 6 years.

If you have been to this camp, please let us know how you liked it.  Thanks!

Here are some other summer language camps that I found:,r74-1.php

Saturday Chinese school

We did try Saturday Chinese school for a year or so a few years back.  It was a good social gathering for our daughters, though the students pretty much all speak English to each other, of which most of you parents are aware.  Since our daughters' Chinese are significantly more advanced and we like to take naps on weekend afternoons (and therefore not available to volunteer or stick around), we decided to have them do something else with that time.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fun project on Frozen (冰雪奇緣)

If you have a young daughter in the US, I bet she has seen Disney's "Frozen" in the theater. Here is a shortened version of "Do you want to build a snowman" in Chinese that my girls did together for fun the other day.  Please forgive some of the pronunciation on the fast passages.  This was just for fun.  I think projects like this makes learning Chinese more relevant. 

Phonetics 注音符號

In case you use zhuyin (bopomofo) to teach your children Chinese, you should install Chinese font with zhuyin. This will allow you to print out anything you want your children to read with phonetic assistance, till they can read on their own. You can find such fonts at sites like this:  Here, I would install 明體注音 and 明體破音

For example, I would copy a story written in Chinese from a webpage and paste it to MS Word and select those fonts. I would print it out and use it as my daughters' Chinese lesson for them to read. Then, I can use the other websites mentioned earlier to print out practice pages for them to practice their writing. In this way, the materials available to them to read will be limited only by your imagination and not by limited published text.


Below is one of the most useful web pages that I have used for the past couple of years.  It is particularly useful for Chinese learners still working on getting the correct stroke sequence.

This is one page that my 7 year old daughter worked about a month ago:

Real time speech to speech English to Chinese translation

This is Microsoft's English to Chinese speech to speech translation technology in 2012. Start at 7:30 min and listen for yourself.  You will be amazed.  In 10-20 years, technologies like this may make it more difficult to justify most "casual" Chinese (or most second language) learning. Unless the goal is to achieve near native level fluency, most language learners probably have better return on investment with their time learning other things.

On multilingualism

Certainly, multilingualism has many benefit, in terms of family bonding, travel, cultural knowledge, social prospects (acquaintances, friends, spouse), and possibly neurological and cognitive function.  In terms of employment benefit, language art is a tool, a tool to communicate and express oneself, and a mean to promote and sell products, be it goods, services, or ideas.  The more valuable the products are, the more helpful it is to have mastery over one or more languages.  The more local one's products are (like healthcare), the less useful it is to know a language different from the local tongue. 

Therefore, a local insurance company pays their Spanish/English bilingual help desk staff a miserly extra US$0.60 per hour ($13.60 vs. $13), compared to plain English speaking only staff.  Likewise, interpreters or language instructors/teachers earn, at best, middle class wages. Physicians like ourselves would have gained much more financially if the time required for decent mastery over a second language is used to acquire additional medical knowledge or skills. 

On the other hand, for upper middle/upper level employees of multinational companies or aspiring international entrepreneur, multilingualism can certainly open up new doors and opportunities, though, I suspect, it would require more in-depth knowledge of local customs or extensive travel/living abroad arrangement.  However, such arrangement do not necessarily lead to greater long-term financial reward, though it does offer other unique experiences.

Overall, I believe that bilingualism in Chinese and English in America have many benefits and that's why we chose to take this very arduous path; however, the absolute benefit of financial reward is probably overstated.

If you have other thoughts on this, I would love to hear from you.

On the transient effect of language immersion trips at young age.

On the transient effect of language immersion trips at young age:

For several years, my daughters used to spend about 2 months with their grandparents in Taiwan twice a year, where they attended local preschool. So, they would have about four months' gap in between their trip. One time, after about three months went by back in the US, my elder daughter, who was probably in kindergarten or first grade by then, started to slip in more and more English at home and we had to keep reminding her to speak Chinese only. I said to myself then, "yap, it is about time for them to go back." The effect of the previous immersion trip started to wear off by then (~ 3 months), despite speaking Chinese only at home and taking Chinese lessons at home about 5 days a week. 

As she grew older and her knowledge of Chinese solidified further with more lessons and exposure to Chinese pop music, cartoons, movies, jokes, comedies, comics, etc., the effect of subsequent immersion trips lasted longer and longer. These days, my elder daughter is the Chinese language "police" at home, reminding her younger sister to speak Chinese if she slips in English.

Monday, February 17, 2014


These are a few issues we encountered.

1)  Peers.  We have had difficulty finding children of Chinese heritage for our daughters to speak to and play with in the US.  From my observation of children of Chinese heritage (CCH) from non-southern CA areas, their Chinese colloquial skill peak at around 4 to 7 years old. Afterwards, their Chinese are not fluent enough for them to express themselves well; so, they will switch to English. Also, in a group of such children with variable fluency in Chinese, English is their common language; so, the group switch to English as their language of choice, no matter what their parents ask them to do.  As my children are still in grade school, it is my hope that, in a few years, they will meet the many newly arrived immigrant children (fresh off the plane) from China who come to attend US high schools and will be able to speak more Chinese with them.  Until then, I will be content with them speaking Chinese with us, Chinese tutors (often young ladies in mid 20s), grandparents, and oversea in Taiwan.

2)  Time.  By about third grade, it got more difficult to keep up their Chinese lessons.  By this time, kids start to have more extracurricular activities, which are almost all held in English. So, despite our best effort, their exposure time to Chinese became less.  So, their Chinese language acquisition did slow down some at this stage.  Fortunately, by this stage, our daughters have achieved good grasp of Chinese already and can move along relatively smoothly in their learning.

3)  Price.  There is a "price" to pay for emphasizing Chinese to this extent.  Our daughters' English language art lag behind their peers for a couple of years in elementary school but they have been catching up over time.  My two daughters have pretty much caught up by now.  You must have patience and faith in the process. 

4)  Third language.  Do not bother with learning a third language seriously in elementary school.  As Chinese and English are from completely different linguistic families, it takes tremendous effort to learn these two languages well (or well enough).  We tried serious study of Spanish for a year to two, including hiring a Colombian live-in au pair, but had to put it off till later.  Most likely, your children won't have enough exposure to a third language, after all the extracurricular activities.

5) Extracurricular reading.  This is probably THE major obstacle to learning Chinese for children of Chinese heritage (or anyone learning Chinese as second language really).  One probably needs to know 1,000 to 2,000 characters to recognize about 85-98% of the characters used in the real world.  The pace that typical CCH learns the characters in Chinese school is too slow, such that the children can not enjoy extracurricular reading by 10-12.  In that case, which occurs almost all the time in the US, English takes over.  We are able to overcome this only through biannual immersion and schooling trips to Taiwan and/or daily Chinese lessons (M-F) in the US early on, such that Charlotte, our elder daughter, can read junior novels comfortably without phonetics a few months before she turns 11.  That came as BIG relief for us and the family celebrated big time!  We expect Georgia, our bright younger daughter, to make that milestone by nine and a half, if not sooner.

6) Priority.  There is only 24 hour a day.  How each devote his/her time to acquiring new skills is different.  I would rather that my daughters have superior Chinese (for a CCH) than becoming a typical accomplished pianist (or whatever it is that they pursue) when they leave for college.

Our methods

There are many websites about raising bilingual children.  Here is one site that provides a good list of tips: Bilingualmonkeys.

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.

Specifically for us, we have used or attempted all means imaginable to us to achieve our goal, including:

1)  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.

2)  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 2 months (one trip) annually afterwards. There, they attended preschool and public school.  For a number of years, it did require 4 adult trips to send them back to Taiwan twice a year.  For one of those trip, the whole family flies back together and my wife and I would return about 10 days later.  Then, I would take one Thursday and Friday off a couple of months later, fly back to Taiwan, rest for a day, and then bring them back, with the whole trip concluded in three and half days.  For their next trip, I will take two days off work again and drop them off with my parents in Taiwan.  My parents would then bring them back for us.  Yes, I did accumulated quite a few frequent flyer miles then.  

2)  We raised them on Chinese version of Disney, Dream Works, Pixar, and Japanese animation cartoons and movies.

3)  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.  

5)  As my wife and I both work full time, taking hospital calls, and work some weekends, we needed a nanny for our daughters.  Over the last 6 years, we had 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 hired the first au pair from Taiwan who signed up with AuPairCare.  However, over the last year, we have not been able to find new Taiwanese au pair candidates who sign up with either company.  There are a few au pairs now from China.  FYI, the annual expense is ~ US $20K, plus room and board.  That's for up to 45 hours of child care a week and up to 5.5 days a week, with various restriction, rules, and regulations from the US State Department.  BTW, au pairs are live-in nannies and can only do light house work related to child care only.  They are NOT maids and cooks.  So, the au pair's main job is child care and we want them to concentrate their effort on talking to and playing with our young children in Chinese, not cook and clean. 

6)  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 on our au pairs and another homeschool mother (Caucasian, taught ELA) to help us with our program.  Homeschooling was an eye opener for us and is limited by one's resource and imagination.  It was a great experience.  

7)  We purchased and brought back from Taiwan various Chinese educational materials, DVDs, tons of books (fiction and nonfiction), comics, novels, etc.  I love going to the flagship Eslite 誠品 bookstore in Taipei, where they have a large children's section.  When I was growing up, I had to read comics behind my dad's back.  Now, I buy comics for them to read.  Also, I would purchase and bring back materials ahead of their needs, since it is difficult to get them oversea on short notice.

8)  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.

9)  We tried our very best to have Charlotte (elder one) 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.

Decision and priority

This is my third blog but I have yet to blog about how we have raised our children bilingual.  The reason is that there is something more fundamental than the particular ways we raised our children.  It is the decision we made and the priority we give to raise our children bilingual.

In the age of helicopter parents, tiger mothers, and over-scheduled childhood, it is not unusual for children to spend hours after hours every week on some academic or extracurricular activities, be it math, an instrument, a sport, art, etc.. In this increasingly competitive and globalized world, I think we, as parents, try to balance the utilitarian aspect of their upbringing and the joy of childhood and life. 

When our daughters were born, we decided that we would try our very best to make Chinese one of their forte.  If they can learn Chinese to ~ 5-6th grade level, it can be a skill that they can use for decades to come and can benefit their own children as well.  Unless they have particular talent and inclination for another area and the two conflict in terms of resource utilization (time, money, man-power, etc.), we would devote more of our resources to their Chinese, especially since things like math can wait a little without affecting the long term path of the child. After all, I suspect most of us don't use higher level math or make a living playing piano, violin, or basketball (Jeremy Lin did show particular inclination for basketball, at least that's my understanding. He also went to Harvard... What a guy!). 

So, I attribute our success in our Chinese program so far not just to the resources we fortunately have (like parents in Taiwan willing to care for them for a few months a year) but to our determination to make learning Chinese a major priority in their young life.

Background and Achievement

Here are our background and what we have achieved so far.  Both my wife and I emigrated from Taiwan after 5-6th grade.  We graduated from either Ivy League or other top tier undergrad and are both physicians in rural east coast city of 50,000, where the closest small to medium sized enclave of Chinese speaking immigrants is one hour away.  We are fluent in Mandarin Chinese and can read most mass media publication with variable fluency, depending on the subject.  I read through most of 金庸's kung fu novels in my teens.  Since we hardly write Chinese these days, it does takes some effort to compose in Chinese.  We speak Mandarin Chinese mostly at home.

We have two daughters who are almost 8 and 11.  My elder daughter Charlotte (pseudonym) is in fifth grade and my younger daughter Georgia (pseudonym) is in third grade, a year ahead.  They both enjoy playing guitar (1 year lesson so far), tennis (1 year), and painting (~ 3-5 years).  In the past, they have participated in swim team, equestrian, tumbling, and piano and enjoy various camps in the summer.

Achievement in Chinese:
Charlotte speaks Chinese with us about 95% of the time while Georgia does so about 80-90% of the time. They speak Chinese with minimal or no accent and most people would think they immigrated to the US not long ago.  The two of them converse in Chinese about 80-90% of the time (80% for Georgia and 90% for Charlotte).  They enjoy singing and listening to Chinese pop songs on an almost daily basis.  They enjoy watching 還珠格格, 犬夜叉, 真珠美人魚, and 神雕俠侶 cartoons, all in Mandarin Chinese.  Charlotte can read comics in Chinese fluently and just last week started to read junior short novels in Chinese fluently WITHOUT phonetic (zhuyin).  More specifically, she read 打開豹籠 and 斑羚飛渡 by 沈石溪, each in a couple of hours.  So, I would say that she is solidly past third grade level in terms of reading.  Georgia enjoys reading comics in Chinese without zhuyin also, recognizing about 60-70% of the words and likely still has another 1.5 to 2 years to go before she can read novels without zhuyin.  Their Chinese writing is about second to third grade level.

Here is a sample of their spoken Chinese:


I hope this blog will help and inspire parents who are trying to raise bilingual and bi-literate children in Chinese and English in the US.  

The information contained here is geared mostly to families where at least one parent speaks Chinese fluently at home.  I shall refer their children as children of Chinese heritage (CCH).  As most of you parents are very much aware, it is extremely difficult even for families with TWO native speaker parents to raise their children to speak Chinese even semi-fluently still by late teens, regardless of intelligence, resource, or will.  Their Chinese reading and writing skill are more often than not even more lacking or almost nonexistent.

Obviously, success in Chinese education is in the eyes of the beholder. My definition of success in Chinese education is as follows.  By the time the children enroll in college, they can STILL do the following:

1) Listening: understand colloquial conversation and mass media at ~ 5th-6th grade level. This likely include most TV shows, soap opera, and basic news reporting.
2) Speaking: converse in Chinese fluently and comfortably for extended period of time on activities of daily living and grade school subjects, adding only occasional or some English words or phrases, especially if they technical terms.  I think good fluency and correct syntax/expression are more important than truly authentic accent.  
3) Reading: read comic books in Chinese fluently and at ~5th grade competently WITHOUT phonetics.  I believe this would encompass romance/kung fu novels AND novels like Chinese edition of Harry Porter, which is grade school material in English or Chinese.
4) Writing: know how to write Chinese characters with the right stroke sequence even without having learned the character before and be able to do simple writings at 3-4th grade level. 

I believe this level of command in Chinese would be equivalent to about 4-5th grade level in predominantly Chinese speaking countries or territories and will allow the next generation to be able to teach their own children the basics in Chinese also.

Obviously, these are extremely high standards in the US, achieved by few families and children.  Over the past 20 years or so in the US, I have, unfortunately, yet to personally know a single person born and raised in the US who has achieved this.  But then I don't live in California or southern California for that matter.  Obviously, I am not referring to children who received a few years of schooling in Chinese speaking countries.  

I have visited a few websites whose authors offer advices on bilingual parenting in Chinese and English in the US.  However, I have yet to find one whose author appears to be having success on this path or has succeeded to some extent.  At this point, my daughters are almost 8 and 11 and I am proud to say that we have had success so far (keeping my fingers crossed).  It is my hope that, through this blog, I can learn from families who have successfully navigated this path before, connect with other families on this path, explore commonalities that contribute to each family's success, and, finally, offer these knowledge to other families trying to get on this path. 
I want to emphasize that I am NOT a scholar in bilingual education, just a parent intent on successfully navigating this path.

If you are a parent passionate about raising your children in such bilingual manner, please visit my Facebook group page: