Mandarin is expat child's play

Updated: 2012-09-03 07:38

By Mark Graham (China Daily)

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International schools in the capital city do make an effort to include Mandarin lessons in the curriculum, scheduling up to five hours of classes weekly, but it is not really enough for the students to reach any real level of fluency, especially if they have limited opportunity to speak the language at home.

Bilingual schooling offers a halfway house where, in theory, youngsters become proficient in both languages. Critics argue that there is a danger of their overall education being diluted by participating in such a hybrid system.

There is a third, more radical, option open to expatriates that pretty much guarantees that their kids will become fluent in Mandarin. Some local public schools have international divisions that accept foreign passport holders, although there is no attempt to modify the local rote-learning system.

Australian Mathew Alderson has two children in local schools, Nik, 7, and 4-year-old Natalia, and after two years of immersion, can see the pluses and minuses of this kind of approach. There might not be much in the way of touchy-feely teaching methods, but the trade-off is kids who are fluent in Mandarin and whizzes at math.

"While we remain committed to the attainment by our children of a high level of Mandarin fluency and literature, after several years of exposure to the Chinese system we are now starting to better understand the price that must be paid for this," said Sydney-born Alderson.

"It is necessary to compromise on the standard of the children's English and to accept educational practices which value rote learning over creativity, comprehension and problem solving. Our son is in the first year of school and in order for him to cope with the workload, he now needs a tutor for two hours, three times a week."

Alderson said the Chinese system is not for the faint-hearted. "I would recommend it only to people who are staying indefinitely in China, or who truly place a high value on Chinese literacy and Mandarin fluency."

Mandarin is expat child's play 

Teenager Hayley Downes, who arrived in China with Australian father Justin and Canadian mother Kirsten, has experienced both international and local education. [Photo/China Daily]