My wife is now in her third trimester and we are excitedly awaiting the arrival of our first son.
Over the course of the pregnancy, Taiwanese friends and family have repeatedly told us how fortunate it is for our son to be able to grow up in a Chinese and English speaking environment. However, I've been thinking about this: is this really going to be the case?
I'm not very well integrated with the foreign community here in Kaohsiung, so I only have a few experiences to go on; however, it seems that even the children of foreigners here find it hard to learn English to a similar standard to those growing up in an English speaking country. Here are three examples which I have come across:
1. An American father was a colleague of mine at a cram school. His son was in elementary school and came to one of my classes in the place where we worked. This kid's English ability was in no way superior to the other 100% Taiwanese students in the class. I put this down to the father having to work every night from 4-9pm, therefore not being able to see his kid after school.
2. A British father who has already lived in Taiwan for 20+ years. He has a 16-year-old daughter and would often say that her first language is Chinese. In fact, he liked to boast about this. When I spoke to his daughter I was a little surprised: I've met spoilt Taiwanese teens who have had private tutors and been to the best cram schools in town with better English than her.
3. My wife's friend also has a foreign husband who is from Australia. Although their daughter is only 3 years old, most of the words which come out of her mouth are in Taiwanese. This is probably because the grandparents are looking after the little girl while both parents are out at work.
All of this has been really eye-opening for me. I can see myself in each of the situations mentioned above (I also work evenings, want to stay in Taiwan for the long term, can't afford international schooling or even high-end Taiwanese private education, and will also be asking the in-laws for help when they can).
I don't see my son being able to achieve much under these conditions. Even if I only speak English to him at home, read to him, and play games with him, the wider environment is just not suitable for him to acquire a decent level of English proficiency.
As for my wife, her English is hopeless (she has just learnt where to place the word stress on the numbers 15 and 50) so I can't ask her to pass on English to our son. We always communicate in Chinese at home, so our house is a fully Chinese speaking environment.
I have thought about trying to meet more mixed families here in Kaohsiung, but I have no idea where to find them. I'm sure that the numbers will be minute compared to Taipei, and only really know the bars and clubs where foreigners hang out. These places probably won't have the people I'm looking to meet inside them.
As a parent in Taiwan, how have you found it? Should I be making plans to move back to the UK sooner than originally expected (I've just bought a house and a car here!
Any thoughts or input would be appreciated,
Thanks for reading.