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: