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Mandarin Immersion - advice from the been theres and done thats

  1. #1
    smglobal is offline Registered User
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    Mandarin Immersion - advice from the been theres and done thats

    For parents who put their kids who were non-native Mandarin speakers through Mandarin immersion schools through primary (specifically KCS), any thoughts? Or for those who chose not to, any thoughts? We plan to return to the US when the kids are not quite finished with primary.

    A few of my personal beliefs on what the challenges would be that I hope someone can address:

    1. My kids being able to socialize well; my kids are mixed race and socialize more with expats at this point. Want them to be able to make friends in school.

    2. Is being 'behind' in English really a real risk since we are a native English speaking household?

    3. Will my kids have challenges with the curriculum if I can only provide mediocre help (my Mandarin is fluent but not native, and reading/writing is not great). I have seen advice on this point elsewhere and people say to get tutors; at what point does this become necessary and what type of tutoring is typical...once a week, or more than that? I know sometimes there are two sets of standards for guilow or mixed kids vs. local kids, and I want my kids to get the full experience, not be encouraged for wrong pronunciations because there is a lower expectation.

    Any opinions on this would be appreciated.

  2. #2
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    carang is offline Registered User
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    hope you don't mind my 2cents. my kids are not in mandarin immersion but in cantonese immersion, but i think the issues are much the same.

    -i'm canadian. hubby's local, so my kids are mixed, too. i can get by in cantonese, am not fluent. hubby is native cantonese.

    1) socialising/mixed race: you're kids are hardly the only mixed race kids around. mixed kids are a dime a dozen in hk. they won't stand out from the crowd. as for socialising mostly with expat kids, i'm guessing that will have to do more with who your friends are, what your kids are currently exposed to and them staying in their comfort zone.

    my son is quite shy and i was concerned putting him into a cantonese primary school. when he attended cantonese kindergarten, he gravitated towards the english-speaking kids as english is always his first choice. but he's been in primary school now for 4-5 months. he is in the chinese stream rather than the english stream of the local school. all of his english friends from kindergarten went into the english stream, so while he sees them at recess, that is the only time he sees them. it took him about an hour to find the filipino-mixed boy in his class. they spoke english from the beginning. but they quickly made friends with the other mixed kids and they continued to speak english....but he's also made friends with the chinese kids. and now my son is almost as comfortable speaking chinese as he is english. (he actually received higher marks in chinese than in english!!!)

    2. behind in english: i don't think so. my kids play at home in english, watch tv & movies in english, read english books and speak to mummy in english. i can't see them falling behind in english....

    3. so far, we haven't had to hire a tutor. the local school my son attends offers after-school homework help. this has reduced the amount of time we need to spend on homework at home. as he gets older, though, daddy may have to help more than he does now.

    as for accepting wrong pronunciation? i've never head of such a thing. your kids will be expected to meet the same standards as the other kids. again, your kids will NOT be the first mixed kids to attend the school.
    shwetakhanna likes this.

  3. #3
    thanka2 is offline Registered User
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    I'm in a similar situation to carang. I am not fluent in Mandarin but can hold a lengthy conversation. I cannot read and write extensively in Chinese but I know the basics from my studies in university. I think that for kindergarten and early primary school my level of Mandarin (and Cantonese) are enough to help my son navigate. He's in his second year of kindergarten at a local Cantonese-speaking school (where he also learns English and Mandarin).

    Quote Originally Posted by smglobal View Post
    A few of my personal beliefs on what the challenges would be that I hope someone can address:

    1. My kids being able to socialize well; my kids are mixed race and socialize more with expats at this point. Want them to be able to make friends in school.
    I agree with carang on this one. Why would your children being "mixed race" be an issue at all in Hong Kong? Maybe in some places where I'm from in rural North America but here in HK, "mixed" kids are common. My son is also mixed. If anything, he is more adaptive than his peers as he comes from a home with two cultures represented (three if you count our helper who is now teaching him some of her dialect and he enjoys that). Local people in HK generally have an affinity for "mixed" kids and when I lived in Mainland China (before marrying and having kids) my friends often would say, "It would be great if you married a Chinese man and had 'mixed' kids--we all think they are the most beautiful and smartest!"

    So, I find it strange to even think that one's child being "mixed" in HK would affect them negatively in a social sense in the classroom. Even in my son's very local, very small kindergarten there are quite a few mixed and expat kids (whose parents don't speak a word of Chinese) and also some overseas Chinese kids who have moved back (and also don't speak much Chinese).

    2. Is being 'behind' in English really a real risk since we are a native English speaking household?
    Most Chinese kindergartens also teach English--it's a standard part of the curriculum even if the medium of instruction for the school is Cantonese or Mandarin. My son is doing well in English and loves it at his school but I know which language he prefers because he always uses Cantonese when playing by himself with his toys. He speaks English well with me and our helper and other English-speakers--he even translates from Cantonese to English and vice versa--comes to him naturally! As far as the basics of English learning go--any good kindergarten or primary school will be teaching those--in primary school students aren't writing thesis papers with perfect grammar--as long as you help him get the basics of phonics and grammar down (and they REALLY go overboard on grammar here in HK!) and make sure he's keeping up with his English in school, he'll be fine.

    3. Will my kids have challenges with the curriculum if I can only provide mediocre help (my Mandarin is fluent but not native, and reading/writing is not great). I have seen advice on this point elsewhere and people say to get tutors; at what point does this become necessary and what type of tutoring is typical...once a week, or more than that? I know sometimes there are two sets of standards for guilow or mixed kids vs. local kids, and I want my kids to get the full experience, not be encouraged for wrong pronunciations because there is a lower expectation.
    At the primary level, the only reason to get a tutor is if your child is falling behind and the school (if they're good) should be running regular assessments to see how your child is doing with the language and should notify you if your child is not doing well in classes. Many primary schools in Hong Kong offer, as carang said, free remedial classes that are either part of the school day or directly after school--especially for students who won't be getting much help with homework at home. The school I teach in offers intensive remedial classes specifically designed for newly immigrated students (from all over the world) who need to catch up in Chinese or any non-local students who are struggling. At the primary level I believe this is sufficient. Local students often learn three languages simultaneously with little or no tutoring (Cantonese, English, Mandarin)--it's just expected that they will learn in school and they do. But, do seek out help if your child needs the extra support--I think it should be done on an "as-needed" basis.

    From talking to expat families who have had their children in the local system all the way through secondary school--it seems that secondary school is where tutorial classes (for locals and non-locals) become valuable. Secondary students need to prepare for very important exams and often need the extra boost to help them get through. Most of the students work with a tutor or a tutorial center 1-3 nights/week.
    “Many women have described their experiences of childbirth as being associated with a
    spiritual uplifting, the power of which they have never previously been aware …
    To such a woman childbirth is a monument of joy within her memory.
    She turns to it in thought to seek again an ecstasy which passed too soon.”

    ~ Grantly Dick-Read (Childbirth Without Fear)

    Mother of Two
    JMW, boy, born November 29, 2007, 9:43 pm, USA
    MJW, girl, born March 17, 2011, 4:14 pm, HK

  4. #4
    howardcoombs is offline Registered User
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    Quote Originally Posted by smglobal View Post
    For parents who put their kids who were non-native Mandarin speakers through Mandarin immersion schools through primary (specifically KCS), any thoughts? Or for those who chose not to, any thoughts? We plan to return to the US when the kids are not quite finished with primary.
    I did it 3 times with yellow haired and round eyed kids so I think I qualify. I'm a Canadian and my wife is a Brit. We dont speak Chinese.
    First off let me say that whatever your "plan" may be, it will change. I was planning on being in Hong Kong for 3 weeks. Its now 18 years later. This is a common theme that you will see again and again.

    1. My kids being able to socialize well; my kids are mixed race and socialize more with expats at this point. Want them to be able to make friends in school.
    The kids will socialize with whoever they connect with. I've never seen any issues with race at such young age.

    2. Is being 'behind' in English really a real risk since we are a native English speaking household?
    Yes, it is and I can almost guarantee it will happen.

    After 3-4 years, you will look at other kids who went to ESF or other high end English schools and you will worry that while they are reading Harry Potter at age 7-8 while your kids are barely getting thru Geranimo Stilton.
    You will also see the other kids forming complex sentences while your bunch will be speaking chinglish all the while asking you to "please advice me".

    As long as you have "normal" kids (no learning disabilities) I would not worry, it will pass. Stay strong and believe that multi-lingual education will expand their minds and they will pick up proper English later when they get into an English environment.

    My eldest 2 kids are now in secondary English schools. They've lost their chinglish and are indistinguishable from their ESF counterparts (save for the part where they can yap at full speed in Cantonese and Mandarin); the youngest is still speaking the cutest version of chinglish which will disappear when he starts secondary...

    3. Will my kids have challenges with the curriculum if I can only provide mediocre help (my Mandarin is fluent but not native, and reading/writing is not great).
    As long as you've got normal kids (no learning issues) you'll be fine all the way up to grade 3-4.

    I have seen advice on this point elsewhere and people say to get tutors; at what point does this become necessary and what type of tutoring is typical...once a week, or more than that?
    If you are fluent but native, you probably wont need tutors until around year 5 which is when they start getting into words with double&triple meanings, idioms, old writings and other language complexities.

    We have tutors in our household since the age of 2 as neither my wife nor myself speak/read Chinese and our kids were attending Cantonese kindergartens (Lingnan) followed by Mandarin primary (KCS)

    Any opinions on this would be appreciated.
    Are you not considering Cantonese? If not, I would urge you to rethink and reconsider. Cantonese kindergarten was one of the best things we did for the kids as it opens up a 1000 doors for them. You can follow it up with Mandarin in primary.
    Ai li, carang and miran like this.

  5. #5
    smglobal is offline Registered User
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    Thanks everyone for the replies. Yes, those doing Cantonese immersion from a similar background as us absolutely have valuable insights; didn't mean to limit my question to Mandarin only; simply didn't think along those lines.

    I will go by my original numbering system to reflect on what everyone said and respond to some questions -

    1. I'm glad to hear everyone agrees the socialization aspect is not an issue. I know there are a lot of mixed and Western looking kids in HK, but among the people I know, who are basically all expats, almost everyone is going the international school stream starting reception year so I didn't really have examples of expats going to local schools to look at.

    2. I appreciate the personal experiences regarding English proficiency. One of the reasons we are doing this is actually because we have observed how so many native Chinese speakers manage a very high level of English proficiency after learning it later in life, but how difficult it seems to be the other way around. Naturally some of this is due to the fact that English is still a much more widely used and international language, but I think everyone agrees that Chinese is a challenging language and therefore it is important to introduce it early. I am comfortable with the idea that English may be sacrificed a bit when the focus is Chinese, but that they can catch up later on.

    3. This is good news; I am glad we can put off the tutors for a bit longer. Howard, by year 5 you mean when my kids are 5, or do you mean year 5 in school?

    I wanted to also respond to the question on Cantonese - this is an interesting one. I have heard that kids at KCS who do not speak Cantonese pick it up at a conversational level by playing and communicating with friends. My father learnt Taiwanese that way, in fact, and my mother learnt Shanghainese that way. True, this is not going to be a very high level of Cantonese, but I think that is probably sufficient. I also heard that at KCS at least, the amahs who help with getting the kids on and off the bus and changing diapers and eating lunch and snacks are all Cantonese speakers, so the kids pick up Cantonese there as well. I have always thought of Cantonese as a local dialect; a conversational language. The way people speak in Cantonese in Hong Kong, for example, is not how you would write, and I have been told by some locals that they prefer their kids learn Mandarin because it helps them later on learn to write, since the oral language of Mandarin matches the written language grammatically. I get along fine in HK, including at wet markets, negotiating for goods at Ladies Market, etc. in Mandarin with a little Cantonese thrown in...sometimes the languages can be similar enough that a whole conversation can be carried on with me speaking Mandarin and the other person speaking Cantonese! :) But, being from a Mandarin speaking background, I recognize that I am also quite biased toward Mandarin and see it as being much more useful globally. I would be very interested to hear some more compelling reasons why learning Cantonese, beyond what my kids might just absorb naturally from living in HK, is important.

  6. #6
    howardcoombs is offline Registered User
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    Quote Originally Posted by smglobal View Post
    ..Howard, by year 5 you mean when my kids are 5, or do you mean year 5 in school?
    I mean grade 5 in school. Until then its pretty easy stuff. New characters, new words, study&memorize and make some sentences. When you get to 5 you get exposed to poetry and literature. Double and triple meanings. 15 different ways of saying "love" etc. To help with that kind of stuff you will need very high fluency, close to native level.

    I wanted to also respond to the question on Cantonese - this is an interesting one. I have heard that kids at KCS who do not speak Cantonese pick it up at a conversational level by playing and communicating with friends.
    Very hard and very rare. This is impractical for 3 reasons:
    1) Kids will pick the language that is most natural for them. Cantonese wont be natural to your one.
    2) KCS forbids Cantonese during school. If kids get caught, they may get punishment.
    3) Kids at school will get used to speaking Mandarin to their friends. Once they start, they will stick with that single language with the same person and it will be very hard to break it no matter what the incentive.

    I have been told by some locals that they prefer their kids learn Mandarin because it helps them later on learn to write, since the oral language of Mandarin matches the written language grammatically.
    Ofcourse they will say that - their home language is already Cantonese.
    Mine and yours are not.

    I would be very interested to hear some more compelling reasons why learning Cantonese, beyond what my kids might just absorb naturally from living in HK, is important.
    I'll give you 3 reasons:
    1) Learning more languages (no matter which one) is beneficial to kids and their growing brains. Countless studies have shown this.
    2) Learning Cantonese in KG and then Mandarin in primary will not harm in any way. Most kids coming into KCS or other Mandarin immersion schools are coming from Cantonese only backgrounds
    3) Here are the benefits:
    There is 1 Mandarin, 2-3 English and over 100 Cantonese scout troops in Hong Kong
    There is no Mandarin, around 10 English and over 100 Cantonese movie screenings in Hong Kong
    Are there any Mandarin swimming lessons? There is Harry Right for English speakers and hundreds for Cantonese speakers. You should check out the price differences.

    For any activity you can imagine (Sports, Music, Special interests, Church, Dancing, Chess, etc etc), you will find:
    - There are practically no Mandarin versions
    - There will be a few but much more expensive English versions
    - There will be a very large number of Cantonese versions from almost free (LCSD) to affordable versions.

    Mandarin is for the future and goes hand in hand with China's success.
    English is universal and will be needed no matter where you are.
    Cantonese is important for here and now as Hong Kong is Cantonese. Spending a couple of years in KGis a good way to pick it up and once they learn it, they will use it and wont forget it.

  7. #7
    thanka2 is offline Registered User
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    Quote Originally Posted by smglobal View Post
    I would be very interested to hear some more compelling reasons why learning Cantonese, beyond what my kids might just absorb naturally from living in HK, is important.
    While Mandarin is spoken by more people worldwide (considering the population of Mainland China), the worldwide Chinese community is greatly influenced by Cantonese and Southern Chinese culture. A good book on this topic is here.

    I think both Mandarin and Cantonese are valuable although I have a preference for Mandarin over Cantonese personally. I think the way things are going most children in this generation will grow up speaking decent Mandarin in addition to Cantonese but their English level (for children in HK who are not in EMI schools) will continue to decline.
    “Many women have described their experiences of childbirth as being associated with a
    spiritual uplifting, the power of which they have never previously been aware …
    To such a woman childbirth is a monument of joy within her memory.
    She turns to it in thought to seek again an ecstasy which passed too soon.”

    ~ Grantly Dick-Read (Childbirth Without Fear)

    Mother of Two
    JMW, boy, born November 29, 2007, 9:43 pm, USA
    MJW, girl, born March 17, 2011, 4:14 pm, HK

  8. #8
    thanka2 is offline Registered User
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    Quote Originally Posted by smglobal View Post
    I have always thought of Cantonese as a local dialect; a conversational language. The way people speak in Cantonese in Hong Kong, for example, is not how you would write, and I have been told by some locals that they prefer their kids learn Mandarin because it helps them later on learn to write, since the oral language of Mandarin matches the written language grammatically.
    It actually is a local dialect and it does not have a strong corresponding written script. For example, many times Cantonese words contain a "kou" (mouth) radical in front of them the same as interjections like "Ah!" and "La!" do. Basically when written these words have "no meaning" formally as a script--they derive meaning from the reader already knowing the oral context--if that makes any sense. So, yes, the only actual "proper" written Chinese script is that which corresponds with spoken Putonghua. But....even in Mainland China there are so many dialects as well--there are many Mainland Chinese people who also find the "official language" constricting as it doesn't really correspond with what they are speaking--although they understand and can both speak and write well if they need to.

    And because of the way the curriculum for primary schools is designed in Hong Kong there is a larger importance placed on literacy in all languages taught (being able to read and write well). So, at the primary level the focus will be on reading and writing and not as much on oral production and listening (although, of course this does make up part of the curriculum). So, I can see why many locals would want their children in a program that focuses more on reading and writing and it's likely that a Putonghua program would fit more naturally with this. It does make sense to me. Also, the general atmosphere right now in education in HK is preparing students for "their future" which many who are calling the shots feel is directly related to and dependent on Mainland China. I think it's not hard to find evidence of this in the "real world" as well (for example, the new MTR through train to Mainland China that's currently being installed nearby where I live). So, parents who think or feel that their children will need strong written and spoken (Putonghua) skills in the future in order to be successful want to start early, I think.
    “Many women have described their experiences of childbirth as being associated with a
    spiritual uplifting, the power of which they have never previously been aware …
    To such a woman childbirth is a monument of joy within her memory.
    She turns to it in thought to seek again an ecstasy which passed too soon.”

    ~ Grantly Dick-Read (Childbirth Without Fear)

    Mother of Two
    JMW, boy, born November 29, 2007, 9:43 pm, USA
    MJW, girl, born March 17, 2011, 4:14 pm, HK

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