A few weeks ago, we visited my parents and siblings. Watching the children interact with my parents and their friends completely in Chinese, I was reminded why I wanted the children to learn Chinese; foremost is the ability to converse comfortably with native speakers, second is ability to read, and lastly writing.
It also really hit me during our visit that Thumper is really ten. That was the age that I immigrated to the U.S. Though day to day, it feels like we’re doing the same thing on the CLE front, that I still obsess about how to teach Chinese and whether or not the kids are learning enough, I realized during this trip that in the back of my head I had always had age 10 as a crossover point.
At age 10, I had full on English immersion in school, though I continued reading Chinese books at home, writing letters in Chinese for 2 years (then subsequently forgot how to write Chinese completely), had a very Chinese environment at home, and served as translators for my parents. My English was good enough because I read so much. But in hindsight, it was not quite enough for the level of writing that my sister always seemed to have just by virtue of immigrating here at 7 instead of 10. Only after college did I feel like I had a good command of the language.
Someone told me once that it takes about 10-15 years to master a language to a native level. Apparently from some research somewhere. (Don’t quote me on it.) And looking at my experience, I have to agree. It really did take me 15 years to finally understand the pattern of English speech and writing.
As Thumper gets to the teenage years, I find myself using English to explain concepts that, while I might be able to say in Chinese if I really really tried, they feel inherently an English (American culture) idea, and English seems a better fit to express them.
All this to say, during this trip I made peace with the fact that we’re switching over to English this year for Thumper. In fact, because I’m also working on Astroboy‘s spoken English, I feel like I’m saying a sad little goodbye to Chinese while all these new parents sprout up on FB, sharing ideas on implementing CLE, wishing I were at the same place they are.
So what to do about Chinese after 3rd grade?