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Will my son be able to learn English growing up in Taiwan?

Welcome to Forumosa's corner for moms and dads to talk about the issues involved in parenting in Taiwan.

Will my son be able to learn English growing up in Taiwan?

Postby Milkybar_Kid » 17 Jul 2016, 23:19

Hi,

My wife is now in her third trimester and we are excitedly awaiting the arrival of our first son. :discodance:

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! :oops: )

Any thoughts or input would be appreciated,

Thanks for reading.
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Re: Will my son be able to learn English growing up in Taiwan?

Postby tommy525 » 17 Jul 2016, 23:52

I was born in Taiwan and my first language is Taiwanese. Went to the American schools there though since grade school so my engrish is ok. I have a bit of an accent but thats normal from being able to speak another language . Learned Mandarin on my own from speaking with my Taiwanese friends (we spoke Taiwanese and English at home, no Mandarin).

Met this TW girl once who grew up in Taiwan and never went to an American school. And her english was perfect. You couldn't tell she was not a California girl.

Why the concern that your child's first language is TAiwanese or Chinese? Is she half Taiwanese? If so, no worries. It's part of her heritage. Let her go through the Chinese schools and get a good grip on Mandarin, could be useful.

I wished my Mom had let me go through Taiwanese Grade and Middle school so I can read Mandarin. As it is, I can't and won't ever.

Your child could go through the Taiwanese schools and you can teach him English . He will be fine.
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Re: Will my son be able to learn English growing up in Taiwan?

Postby Chris » 18 Jul 2016, 00:53

Exposure is key. Unless otherwise necessary, talk to your kid in English, and do it a lot. Expose him to English-language TV shows. Read him stories in English. If he says something wrong, model the right phrasing for him. Try to find fellow English-speaking expats in your area who have kids. Take him on vacations in your home country, and visit family and friends there, where he can gain more exposure to English and play with English-speaking kids his age.

Don't worry about exposing him to three languages (English, Mandarin and Taiwanese). Kids are language-learning machines.
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Re: Will my son be able to learn English growing up in Taiwan?

Postby ironlady » 18 Jul 2016, 02:45

And reading. Get lots of books in English. Share reading with your child. You read to him/her, point to the words, even when s/he is too young to read or understand. Reading is the main way kids expand their vocabularies, and access to books is the main predictor of success in school and vocabulary size in English L1 kids in school in English-speaking countries.

Just be an English speaking dad with him/her.
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Re: Will my son be able to learn English growing up in Taiwan?

Postby headhonchoII » 18 Jul 2016, 05:19

You'll need to read and speak to your kids in English as a foundation. I've also come across those kids with excellent English usually , private tutors and overseas trips and schooling and parents who speak English can make a difference.
My kids English isn't amazing but then again their Chinese IS amazing , their English will catch up and their English is already pretty good....that's just from speaking and reading to them at home. No cram schools or playgroups.
Still some cram school or tutoring may help fill in the gaps. The best would be having other kids or English speakers to hang out with just like the dream of most Taiwanese parents lol.
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Re: Will my son be able to learn English growing up in Taiwan?

Postby crusher » 18 Jul 2016, 09:23

But is exposure at home enough, guys? I know lots of Chinese Canadian friends that can understand Mandarin when they hear it but can't speak a word of it. I think this is the OP's concern, and it is valid. Regarding the comments that the OP's kid is half Taiwanese and thus speaking predominantly Chinese is a natural part of the kid's culture, don't forget that fluent English speakers have massively more options available to them than fluent Chinese speakers. A non-Mandarin speaking individual can live comfortably in the Chinese speaking world. A non-English speaking person has a much greater challenge ahead of them in the English speaking world.
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Re: Will my son be able to learn English growing up in Taiwan?

Postby headhonchoII » 18 Jul 2016, 09:40

There's different levels of fluency. English fluency can catch up later on.
Mandarin...Taiwan is one of the only places you can learn it properly.
Reading and writing is almost impossible to pick up outside of Taiwan and China.
Bilingual speakers are in a very strong position for their future careers.

Yes it's going to take work to get the kids English up to a certain standard, but they have many opportunities later in life to do that.
If you speak English to your kids at home and read English books to them, play English cartoons and movies on the TV..they'll pick it up. To be fair my wife's English is quite good and she speaks it a lot to them
When I'm not around.
In this case if you are not available you could send you kids to a bilingual kindergarten or a cram school like local parents. Each kid is different , some will be more gregarious or interested to learn new things. My boy is interested in science stuff we open up some books and just chat away about everything. Make English be the natural way they communicate with you.

Another great idea is sending them to the grandparents for the summer..stuff like that works a treat. They also learn that there's a whole big world out there that uses English!
.
Getting more exposure to English is tough I agree but you can work on it.


I have no intention of sending my kids to junior high school or college here, both are pretty awful. Some
other major reasons is that I think they will not have a good working life and earning potential here. Taiwan is an AWFUL place to be a regular worker. I also don't want them to have an island mentality. Learning English will help them jump beyond the limitations of Taiwan and China, but learning English is actually fairly low down on my list of concerns!
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Re: Will my son be able to learn English growing up in Taiwan?

Postby Chris » 18 Jul 2016, 09:50

crusher wrote:But is exposure at home enough, guys? I know lots of Chinese Canadian friends that can understand Mandarin when they hear it but can't speak a word of it.

They came from families in which the parents did not actively push for their kids to learn Chinese, instead pushing for them to master English. The Mandarin they learned was done so passively.

It's not just exposure; you need to engage your kids if you want them to learn English. You need to find a variety of ways to actively and interactively expose them to English.

Attending bilingual schools also helps. My niece is Taiwanese and has never been to an English-speaking country, and neither of her parents speak English very well. But her English is amazing compared to most Taiwanese kids her age (9) and her vocabulary is quite advanced, and she can carry on fluent conversations in English, with just a handful of grammatical mistakes but pretty much perfect pronunciation.
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Re: Will my son be able to learn English growing up in Taiwan?

Postby Gilgamesh » 18 Jul 2016, 17:56

My kids' English is pretty good but Chinese is definitely their main language (which they speak to each other).

They read a lot and watch a lot of English shows. Movies are always in English.

We pick up a lot of books when we go to Canada. My daughter is a reader and mainly reads English books. I need to push my son a bit but he's gotten into reading Archie comic books so that helps a bit. He's also willing to read a few Superman books I got for him. I also bought a number of games that are all in English which requires him to read. My son is a big game player. The games give us a big chance to interact in English. He also has some print and play games I found on the Internet that he can play on his own when I'm not around. They're all require English (not a lot but some) so that helps.

I also picked up one of those extra workbooks and they work on that. Their fairly easy and I insist he finished ten pages a week. My son's biggest problem is spelling. He can read well and his reading comprehension is pretty good. He can read a story and tell me what happened and he can also read pages from the workbook and usually gets the answers right (unless it's a grammar question).

I'm not sure how to get him to improve on spelling. I don't really want to give him lists of words to spell since that's pretty boring. I think I need to work on letter sound recognition with him since when he spells, he comes up with some weird combinations that have no connection to the right sound. Right now, I've just been throwing out letter sounds at him at various times and asking him to come up with the letters that make that sound. Not sure if this is going to work though.
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Re: Will my son be able to learn English growing up in Taiwan?

Postby kaikai34 » 18 Jul 2016, 20:41

I fall under catagory 1. My son speaks Chinese very well for his age and I always figured he'd pick English up with his yearly trips to the States and his cousin's yearly trips back here, but it hasn't worked out the way it did in my head. I've started practicing reading and writing before he goes to sleep every night and so that has improved in the past 6 months. His conversational skills are lacking though and that's probably my fault since we speak 99% Chinese at home. It doesn't help that his Chinglish teacher in kindy sucks ass. At least I can correct his pronunciation (and-uh) before it gets set.
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