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Parent Interview: Oliver Tu

As a parent myself, I know how important it is to have a support group and community while we raise bilingual kids.

As a Chinese teacher and parent, I keep looking for better ideas to help my kids and hopefully other kids learn Mandarin-Chinese in an effective and fun way.

With this purpose, I am going to interview people who have some good ideas and lessons to share.

I hope these interviews will provide you, the parent or an adult learner some new perspectives for raising bilingual children and learning Mandarin-Chinese.

In today’s post, I will interview Oliver Tu. Oliver Tu set up a very popular Facebook online group: Raising bilingual children in Chinese & English where parents share ideas and resources of learning Mandarin Chinese.

During this interview, Oliver shared a lot of great ideas about how to raise bilingual children in a non-Chinese speaking environment.

Below is the interview.

1, Tell me about yourself.

We emigrated from Taiwan in our early teens in the 1980s and are both physicians.

We have two daughters, age 9 and 12. I keep a blog to document and share our children’s bilingual journey with like minded parents.

2, Which language(s) do you speak?

I am fluent in Mandarin Chinese and English and am passable in Taiwanese. I speak a little Spanish to communicate with the few Hispanic patients I have.

3, Why do you wish to raise bilingual kids? Any tips to share with parents?

We want our children to know Mandarin Chinese well (~ 5-6th grade level in Taiwan by the end of high school) to pass on our heritage.

At that level, they should be able to raise their own children to be similarly proficient.

The opportunity cost to learn Chinese well in the US is high and I recommend that parents strongly consider their priorities.

4, Talk about your kids’ experiences of Chinese learning. Any interesting stories, lessons or ideas to share?

The critical period to learn Chinese well as a first language in the US is between ~ 4 to 8 years old.

I estimate that my daughters spend at least half of their waking hours, interacting or immersing in Chinese language ecosystem or CLE.

Through Chinese lessons ~ 5 days a week, lots of reading time, establishment of a solid CLE, and annual trip to Taiwan, our daughters are able to speak / play with each other at home mostly in Chinese and start reading easier Chinese young adults novels without phonetic assistance at proficient level (~ 400-500 characters a minute) at around 10 years old.

Often, parents have to sacrifice high level English proficiency for their child early on to achieve good Chinese proficiency by 7-8 years of age, such that the child can enjoy and be entertained by the CLE (open the gap).

Afterwards, the child needs to start catching up in English (close the gap).

On the lighter side, we had lots of good time making videos of various Chinese language projects (presentation, stand-up comedy, singing, etc.) which we then post online.

We also enjoy watching Chinese movies, music videos, and funny YouTube videos.

5, Can you recommend any good learning materials and resources for parents and kids to learn Mandarin Chinese?

For parents hoping for high level Chinese proficiency for their children by their early teens, I recommend using Chinese language textbooks from Taiwan or mainland China.

The initial goal is to achieve end of second grade level in reading in Taiwan (or first half of second grade in China) by the end of third grade in the US, and then going through ~ one year of the textbook every two years here.

I recommend high level proficiency in phonetics (pinyin or zhuyin) and/or extensive reading to build up reading proficiency.

At such pace, the child should be able to enjoy reading Chinese comics around third grade and hopefully young adult novels sometimes around middle school.

6, Do you have any interesting or unforgettable experiences related with bilingual education, Chinese culture, Chinese people, food or kids’ Mandarin-Chinese learning?

We celebrated big time the day my elder daughter told me that she read her first young adult short novel without phonetics! She earned herself a trip to Universal Studio!

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