Friday, September 7, 2007

The Chinese School question

The time has come for us to make a decision: Should we send Nico to Chinese School?

When I was around his age, there really was no question about whether or not I would go. My parents, immigrants from Taiwan, just assumed that my sister and I would attend the Saturday morning Chinese School program. My mother became one of the volunteer culture class teachers; my dad served as principal the year I graduated from the program.

Especially in the past year, Vic and I have debated what to do about Nico's cultural education. Even though Nico is half Taiwanese, we think it's important for him to understand and appreciate his Asian heritage. Plus, after our trip to Taiwan, we really want to reinforce Nico's understanding of his cultural identity.

We did some investigating into the Saturday school programs in the area and learned that there is one nearby at Shaker Heights Middle School. The Chinese Academy of Cleveland offers two different tracks: a traditional Chinese language and culture program and a Chinese as a Second Language (CSL) program. When I was growing up, there was only the first track. But now, with more families in the area with parents who are not native Chinese speakers, the second track presents an option that makes Chinese language education more accessible.

A few weeks ago, we went to the school's welcome picnic to meet other families and learn more. My mom came too and I was surprised to see that she knew some of the people there. Even 30 years after she was a teacher in the program, she still had connections to the community. One of our family friends, a CSL teacher, introduced me to the principal of the school. Speaking Taiwanese, she introduced me as my father's daughter and he smiled. "Oh, I know your dad!" he said. "I work at Case in the biochem department." I told him I worked at Case too. Then, I bumped into an old classmate of mine from Case - we were in the same Chinese class together nearly 20 years ago. Now he has kids in the Chinese School program. Small world!

So all of this presents a lot of decisions for us. If we enroll Nico in the traditional track, I would have to be the parent primarily responsible for Nico's Chinese education since I am the parent who can speak (hardly anymore) and read (barely anymore) Chinese. If we enroll Nico in the Chinese as Second Language program, Vic or I would have to attend alongside Nico, so that the parent and child would both be invested in learning together. This would give us more flexibility in allowing both parents to participate in the program, alleviating some of the pressure on me; however, Nico would not have the language immersion experience that the traditional track would be more apt to provide.

My mom really wants us to enroll Nico this year, but my dad advises us to wait until next year. Vic is concerned that the window to learning a new language could close by then, but at the same time, we have so much going on right now: Nico's adjustment to kindergarten, a new baby due in two weeks, etc.

We have a lot to think about.


Brenna said...

I've been thinking about this, too, with Thalia. Neither of her parents speaks Chinese, obviously, so it would be a learning experience for us, too. And actually Abra might possibly be interested in it, too. She'd probably be good at it. But that's going to start running into some money.

I also have been feeling guilt pangs about not doing a better job exposing Thalia to Chinese stuff. I haven't been active with FCC, haven't made traditional New Year's dishes, etc. We talk about stuff sometimes but she expresses zero interest in her birth parents, and very little in her birth country beyond piping up every time someone on the radio or TV says "China."

And I have to respectfully disagree with Vic that the window of him being able to learn Chinese will be closed if he starts at age 6 instead of age 5. Of course the younger you learn a language the more easily you can absorb it, but I knew people in college who could passably speak sometimes three or more languages, who didn't start learning until junior high or even later. If you've got too much going right now, wait until next year. He'll still do fine, I bet.

Lisa said...

my cousin just started chinese school. she's 26. her classmates are in junior high or elementary school but she doesn't mind. she is the coolest kid in class because she works at Apple and has an iphone (and other things her young friends aren't allowed to have)! :-)

my husband is 30. he went to chinese school for like 8 years and flunked every year out of lack of interest(though for some reason they kept moving him up in grades). now he is thinking of joining my cousin at chinese school and _really_ learning something!

the window of opportunity never closes.....