How Teaching My Kids Chinese Completely Derailed My Life

teaching chinese**You can find an updated version of this piece, along with exclusive new chapters, in the ebook, (affiliate link) So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese

If you told me seven years ago that I would be a Chinese homeschooling mom of three, that all our activities would be evaluated on the basis of whether or not it promoted Chinese fluency (and if it didn’t, whether it was worth it or not), that I would be spending ridiculous amounts of money on Chinese books that I don’t know if I can even read, and that 90% of all my friends and interactions would be with people of similar mind, I wouldn’t have believed you.

I would have thought you were crazy.

I mean, come on. Chinese is important. I get it. But to revolve our lives around it? To become a homeschooling mom? To spend that much of my time, energy, and resources on it?

That seemed a bit excessive.

I don’t know what I thought, exactly, other than I wanted my kids to be at least as bilingual in Chinese as I am. I just assumed I would speak to my kids in Chinese (like my parents did to me), have my kids go to Chinese school (like I had to), and then call it a day. Maybe throw in a few trips to Taiwan if I was feeling fancy.

I wasn’t going to go out of my way too much. I didn’t expect to go to a Chinese speaking church (like I did) or have only Chinese speaking friends (like my parents did). I thought about it, but it wasn’t that interesting to me.

I don’t know that I thought too deeply about the mechanics of learning Chinese or the inherent difficulties therein. All I knew was that I wanted my kids to be able to speak Chinese and I would probably try to find a Chinese preschool or something since all things Chinese were popping up in my area and getting a little more mainstream.

It wasn’t until I started seeing that other people were like me, and were expecting their kids to be literate as well, and that I joined the Raising Bilingual Kids in Chinese/English Facebook Group that I even saw that maybe, my children’s Chinese could surpass mine that I kicked it into high gear.

And now? Now, I find myself somewhat unrecognizable.

Here then, are some ways teaching my kids Chinese has completely derailed my life:

1) I am homeschooling. In Chinese.

2) Any classes and activities the kids can take, I always look for a Chinese option first.

3) Even though I believe fully in using the library and do NOT believe in buying books, I have spent thousands of dollars on Chinese books, DVDs, CDs, and classes. THOUSANDS. (Mostly because I am too lazy to go all over the Bay Area and borrow books from multiple libraries.)

4) My free time is spent hanging out with people who love Chinese and brainstorming and thinking about Chinese language acquisition. And that is all I ever talk about.

5) My social circle has narrowed down to families who have Chinese speaking children because I want my kids to play with other kids in Chinese (although usually, it is at best, half/half).

6) I listen to endless loops of Chinese stories and songs in the car.

7) I have been roped into creating and/or admin-ing several Facebook groups.

8) I hate traveling and dealing with people (especially in different languages and cultures), but now I take my children to Taiwan for weeks at a time, enroll them in local schools, and deal with a foreign language and culture and caring for my children by myself.

I know I seem super intense to some of you who are also wanting your kids to learn Chinese. Perhaps even crazy intense – even to fellow ABC/Ts.

I get it.

I know my path is not for everyone. Nor do I think that it is necessary for everyone. (After all, it depends on your goals and even if our goals are the same, there are many ways to get to where we’re going.)

So I thought that I would start a series on other families that are doing the Chinese thing with their kids. Once a month or so, I will feature a family and delve into why their kids are learning Chinese, to what levels, and what they are doing to achieve their goals.

It is my hope that from these varying families and goals and abilities, we can each glean ideas we can use for ourselves. (Or be forewarned about stuff we should look out for.)

While I do believe that kids who successfully master Chinese have parents who employed common methods, I don’t necessarily think that there is only way to be fluent. Again, success is dependent on each individual family’s goals and what they have in mind.

Also, many of us are at the beginning stages of our journeys. Guavarama mentioned to me how so many blogs about parents teaching their kids Chinese peter out and end. It makes sense because as kids get older, Chinese retention gets harder. Hopefully, I will find more families with older children and farther along this Chinese journey.

Anyhow, short post today. I will likely start the series with myself as a reference point (and because it is easier than interviewing someone). Happy Friday!

6 thoughts on “How Teaching My Kids Chinese Completely Derailed My Life

  1. Strangely enough, I can relate to this post. We have zero Chinese heritage and decided to experiment with hosting an au pair from China to see if bilingualism was doable. It worked so well with my oldest – whose most obvious gift is language anyway – that we now consider it to be a major long-term goal for both kids.

    Dance classes in Chinese, books by the hundreds shipped over from China, postponing learning to read English when it seems like everyone else’s kid is far ahead, watching the Monkey King episodes so often my husband can sing the entire theme song, etc. I’ve been toying with the idea of homeschool as well for the last year – something no one who knows me would ever guess. People already think we have lost our damn minds, no need to give them more reasons.

    My kids won’t ever speak Chinese like native speakers but we’ve resolved not to let the perfect become the enemy of the good. It’s a crazy journey, but I love hearing my daughter converse with ease in Chinese and point out the characters she recognizes in her books. I attribute every ounce of progress she’s made to her close, trusting relationships with her au pairs, each of whom tried her best to teach my kids(s).

    • So awesome! Isn’t the internet lovely in that we are not alone? You are totally right in not letting perfect be the enemy of the good, too. So great!

      How old are your kids again? Just curious on if other folks with no Chinese heritage can replicate your success.

      • The internet is amaaaazing in that respect! I’ve learned so much from you, Oliver and others that simply wasn’t available 5-10 years ago.

        My oldest daughter is 3yo but super verbal; the baby is 1. Both use Mandarin more than English. Interestingly, the 3yo speaks to the dogs and baby in Mandarin around the au pair and in English around English speakers. The dogs have learned “outside” and “eat” in Mandarin. I have only learned to recognize requests to read a book, help with a pee pee, or the dreaded “why” question.

  2. What you do may be too crazy/ intense for some other parents, but I can totally relate your thoughts and methods, because I am just doing the same for my son’s Cantonese in Toronto! I do practically EVERYTHING to maximise my son’s exposure in Cantonese (though home schooling is not going to be an option). Kudos to you! I am glad that I found you on internet!

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