Monday, February 17, 2014

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.


  1. Can you talk abit about how you homeschooled and also 相聲 resources? About how old can they start listening to them?

  2. I listened to these on tape when I was growing up. I found the video version on another website almost 2 years ago, when my children were 8-9 and 5-6. Here is Youtube's version. I watched it with them a number of times. It's so funny! My daughters love it and imitate a small section for laughs. Talking with them about that period of time in history also teaches them about the culture and
    history. The point is, surround the children with a well rounded Chinese environment of various types of Chinese language expression, to integrate Chinese into their daily lives. Make it relevant. Do so before the inevitable English environment takes stronger hold onto the children. I will talk more about homeschool later on.

  3. We started homeschooling our daughters midway through their third grade and kindergarten to give them more instruction time in Chinese, as their school would not accommodate our very modest request to do so during the last period of school. We still had a Taiwanese au pair then, who did math and Chinese with the girls and shuttled them around, as my wife and I both have full time or more than full time work. A homeschool mother and a few others helped out with ELA and science. I did some of the social studies and watched a lot of History Channel/BBC social studies program with my older daughter. We took the girls to 4H, girl scout, YMCA swim team, tumbling, painting classes, piano lessons, etc... Homeschooling was an eye opener and is limited by your resources and imagination. It is actually possible to get "too much" socialization if that's how one plans it. We planned to homeschool for 2.5 years but had to end it one year early when I could not find the right people to help out. The family got very close during that one and half year, during which time our younger daughter zipped through the rest of kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. They also went back to Taiwan for 2 months during that period. If you have more questions about further details, please let me know and I can answer them through private channel. How old are your children and are they of mixed heritage?

  4. would love to contact you kids are mixed but right now Chinese is their stronger language. (oldest is 6)

    I bought the 相聲 CD a few years back. But I wasn't sure if it was too old for the kids...So good to know!

  5. Hi I would be grateful for some advice. My daughter is Filipino - Singaporean and 4 yrs old this yr. I speak Eng to her & my husband alternates b/w Eng & Japanese. We are living in Tokyo and likely for the long term. Currently she is being homeschooled & all the lessons are in Eng. She can understand a little Mandarin but can't speak it. Yet she enjoys listening & singing / miming Chinese kids songs which I sometimes let her watch on YouTube.

    I would like to incorporate Mandarin into her homeschooled lessons but am at a lost on how to do so. How did u teach your children Mandarin when they were 4 yrs old ? Where can I go to get materials ? How long Shd I incorporate Mandarin lessons into her homeschool activities for ? She has 2 hrs of Eng lessons ( learning ABC + coloring + arts and craft + puzzles ) and 1 hr at the park daily. On certain days we go for play dates but these are also all in Eng.

    She will be entering a Japanese kindergarten most likely next yr and they do not teach Mandarin at all. I tried looking for a Mandarin teacher but most of them have said my area is too far out of the way. So the only way now is for me to teach her.

    Would greatly appreciate any suggestions / ideas you might have on this

    Many Thanks
    Samantha Leong

    1. Hi Samantha. This is outside of my comfort zone, given you are in Japan and neither of you speak Chinese to your daughter. I suppose you and your husband have interesting background, to be Filipino / Singaporean and speak English/Japanese to your daughter. Why are you trying to add a third language, when your daughter will have her hands full with learning two completely unrelated languages already (English and Japanese)? You can join this Facebook page on Raising bilingual /multilingual children.
      I wish you the best of luck in your endeavor.