Family Language Alive - Children Learning Chinese

Situation #1.3: Our family members speak very little English at home. It is getting more difficult these days to communicate with my child now that he is only speaking English that he learns from scho

June 18, 2017

Are You a Banana or an Egg? Language Shapes Our Cultural Identity

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Being overseas, we inevitably belong to multiple cultures simultaneously. It would be deceiving to think we actually can opt out from being Chinese and be completely American or British, as many native-born Chinese may at times want. Inarguably, language largely defines our identity. As the main article states, “one’s soul, mind, spirit and kinship to one another reside in the language.” Resistance to acknowledge one’s own identity can be counterproductive. Rather, embracing our various degrees of belonging in multiple cultures can be a blessing and open up opportunities otherwise not available. When a child actually becomes natural in switching languages when the situation calls, he has succeeded in serving the needs of others, accepting others as they are. Being truly bilingual is not solely academic. It is merely what life calls us to be. Language and culture go hand in hand. The talk of one without the other is as absurd as the use of one chopstick.

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March 27, 2016

Including Academic Subject Content in Chinese Learning

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Water Cycle in Chinese learning

When children are young, providing meaningful context in language learning is much more natural. Our daily living almost automatically serves that platform, that is, as long as we are more intentional about it. When they grow older, however, especially when schooling and peer influences start to dominate in English, children tend to stay at that level of proficiency, at best.

 

It seems more intention is in order. Subject-related content in Chinese is crucial in continuing their level of competency, especially in science, mathematics and history. Research shows that there may be cognitive costs due to language switching. But as in all extent of bilingualism, the long-term benefit may outweigh today’s pace of learning. It is a value your family needs to hold fast to while under the pressure of comparison.

 

As much time as your family can allow, in all academic content, a child will benefit to know the vocabulary equivalence in Chinese, both in terminology and in concept. Today, ample modern resources are widely available to complement our incompetency in many subjects.

 

In science, narrating simple processes such as the water cycle, photosynthesis and earthquake is a good start. Doing a nature walk will provide that backdrop of topics to discuss. In mathematics, multiplication table and fraction operations are areas to explore, even at a meal time setting: we have only two hot dogs on the table, and we have three people, how much hot dog can we eat? (All spoken in Chinese of course!) Playing card games such as Uno in Chinese can be another fun way to practice numeracy. (You may also make up many math games using the Uno cards.) For history, a family dinner table discussion over current events, political movement, or the past can be more wholesome and effective than an actual lesson.

 

We must be aware that teaching academic content does not need to be all didactic. It can continue to be meaningful and fun, as it used to be when the children are younger. The key is your intention and persistence. Fostering curiosity and imagination in a real context is still key to teaching the habit of lifetime learning.


 Math in Chinese learning. Comparison of Math in Chinese and English. Compare the English and Chinese equivalence in learning numbers. The word third is also used as an ordinal number, making the fraction terminology confusing in English. At one glance, use English in your head to memorize this sequence of numbers say it out loud without looking. Now use Chinese. This skill becomes extremely useful in mental math.

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