Mandarin is expat child's play

Updated: 2012-09-03 07:38

By Mark Graham (China Daily)

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"If you are here for a finite period, it is probably better to stick with an international school so your kids will slip back into a recognizable curriculum on their return home. Still, you need to appreciate that if you go that way, your kids' Mandarin will never be all that good."

The Alderson children, who speak Russian at home with their Ukrainian mom Sasha, will most likely go to an international school at some future date, which means the annual fees will quadruple. The cost of a year's schooling at international establishments such as the Western Academy of Beijing, Harrow or Dulwich, nudges the $30,000 mark, almost four times the cost at local public schools that accept foreign students.

Rapid advances

Australian Hayley Downes has experienced both systems since arriving in the country four years ago with Australian father Justin and Canadian mother Kirsten. She went from attending Albert Park Primary School in Melbourne to an international school in Beijing before enrolling last year in the No 55 Middle School, where students are taught in Mandarin.

The teenager struggled for a while, finding it difficult to follow the technical terms, particularly in science class, but has since flourished. The immersion process has meant rapid advances in her written and spoken Mandarin.

"It got me to learn a lot faster, but it doesn't mean I understand it fully. But I learn it. I just had to get on with it. I would say I am about 75 percent fluent; my grammar is the big problem," she said.

"Overall, I think that studying at a local school is a good experience and it will be useful long term, it will open more opportunities. One downside is that there is not much sport, or extracurricular activities, such as art, or clubs. And I do miss my Australian school uniform, we have to wear fleece even when it is 35 degrees!"

One significant factor for parents who ultimately aim to have their children attend university in their native country is that schools such as No 55 Middle School offer the International Baccalaureate system, which is recognized by institutions of higher education in Australia, Europe and the United States.

Mandarin is expat child's play 

Hotelier Michael Faulkner and his teacher wife Michelle have their children Laura and William attend a bilingual kindergarten, and even the baby, Tessa, understands Mandarin. Photos Provided to China Daily