Education Options for Expat Children

Hey everyone.

My daughter is about to start school soon and I was hoping for some advice from more experienced people here on how to pick between the different options available in Taiwan.

Some background information first. I am American and my wife is Taiwanese. My Chinese is better than her English so we speak Chinese at home. My daughter was born in Taiwan and will be starting preschool soon. We hope to raise her in as bilingual and bi-cultural a way as possible and for her to go back to the US for college.

To begin with, I respect the local culture here and understand how important it is to my wife that our daughter doesn’t grow up a stranger in her own country, but at the same time I’m worried that doing a true 50/50 split may end up being neither here nor there. We’re each in favor of having a main focus coupled with a strong supplementary one. The problem is that we can’t decide which language/culture should be the main so now we’re back to the 50/50 compromise.

Here’s the pros and cons of the different schooling options as I see them. We aren’t considering public schools because we don’t believe in their teaching methods and exam culture. We also don’t plan for our daughter to attend college here so preparing for the college entrance exam isn’t a concern for us.

American and International Schools
My preferred option. Pretty straightforward. American-style education from K-12 and then off to college in the US. No problems on my part. They have Chinese classes every day and most of the students are Taiwanese anyway so there’ll be adequate exposure to the local language and culture. My wife, however, feels that their Chinese language ability is only at a conversational level and that they don’t learn enough about Chinese history and culture to create a national identity. She’s also worried that attending an American or international school will confine our daughter to an expat bubble in her own country. Going with this option means my wife will have to do a lot of work supplementing the Chinese side of things at home and even then our daughter might not be receptive to it since everything at school is American.

Bilingual Schools
My wife’s preferred option. Our daughter will study a Taiwanese curriculum but also have a strong focus on English. While this will no doubt allow her to understand more about Taiwan and fit in better, I’m afraid that all that ends up happening is my daughter will have better English than the average Taiwanese person but be neither good enough to survive in Taiwan nor good enough to survive abroad. With this option, I would have to work hard to supplement my daughter’s English abilities at home and I’m concerned that results will be limited because it’s me fighting an entire system. Not to be selfish about who carries the burden of giving our daughter extra help at home, but I honestly feel that it’s much easier for my wife to bring up my daughter’s Chinese since she has the support of the general environment behind her whereas I would be fighting a one-man war against the establishment. The fact that we speak Chinese at home further complicates the matter.

Mixing and Matching
Perhaps a compromise that we can both settle on is attending bilingual school for elementary school and then transferring to an American or international school for middle school and beyond. This way my daughter will be able to establish a solid Chinese foundation early on and still be able to catch up with English in her later years to make a successful transition to college abroad. It seems some Taiwanese as well as expat families have taken this route but I have no information as to how well the results are.

Anyways, these are the options we’ve thought of at the moment as well as our concerns with each. Any thoughts, insights, or advice would be greatly appreciated. Perhaps there are other options that we didn’t think of or maybe our fears are unfounded. Simply hearing stories from people who share the same predicament would be a great help. Thanks in advance!

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I think your mix and match idea sounds best. It’s gonna be really important for her to go into college in America with academia-ready English.

I’d also strongly recommend that you speak to her in English exclusively at home.

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We have raised our daughter with English only at home and Chinese only kindy. She’s now at a public elementary school and is genuinely bilingual (although her reading ability in English is below average for her age).

Elementary schools aren’t bad here. It’s only when they get to JHS/SHS level that it becomes nuts.

Next step is to send her to TES. My goodness that place is expensive, but I’ll put any retirement plans on hold.

Do not speak Chinese to your child. Ever.

This is normal for bilingual development. We lag behind a bit in the early years but catch up in both languages just fine later on.

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Just curious. How is your Chinese compared to your English?

I was worried at the beginning, but now I have no worries.

The native English speakers I know who have problems are the guys who spoke Chinese at home. The oddest thing is they are in the main language teachers.

If you can afford it, this is the best way to go in my opinion, but I would go even further and send your child to a local school to begin with. We sent our daughter to an international school (one of the cheaper ones) for 6th and 7th grades after 1st - 5th in a local school. She is now back in a local school and will be going to the US for 11th and/or 12th grades. She’s fine with this switching around and actually is pushing me hard to go back by 11th grade instead of waiting another year. She is completely bilingual. I never speak to her in Mandarin, but her mom always does.

I know what it’s like to be kind of bilingual (actually kind of trilingual in my case but the same point), and I want our kids to be fully capable in both languages and cultures.

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The main point is don’t rely on the schools to do the work. Bilingual education doesn’t do it. However hard the sell that they do.

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So, since early 90s there has been a trend in Taiwan(which has increased as of lately) that history and national education emphasises more tw history than chinese.

If you check some of the local newspapers, there has recently been some controversy as well about how text books are revised from a china centric to a more tw centric history curriculum.

So anyway, point is, your wife will struggle in todays taiwan to find a option that instills a chinese national identity in the kid.

This is my plan too. My kid is first year at a local elementary school (after local kindy), and I’m hoping to move him to TES for junior high, depending on his own feelings at that time. His Chinese is native, and his English is pretty good and improving steadily. A friend of mine who did the same thing told me TES have a good catch-up program for this situation.

I’m a little skeptical of bilingual schools generally. I feel like they’re gonna turn every subject into a language lesson, and perhaps fail to build native competence in either language. But I have no research to back that up, it’s just intuition.

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I think there is not much difference for Chinese classes. You don’t need to worry about Chinese competence.

What kind of problems? (if you don’t mind me asking, I am curious to know) Specifically, I’d presume that the children were able to shake off the non native accent from the parent? Any other major concerns?

Sounds like you have your answer right there!

It sounds like a lot of people have found great success with going to a local school for kindergarten and elementary school and then transferring to an international school for middle school and high school. That’s great to know.

You mentioned that your wife speaks to your kids in Chinese and you speak to them in English. May I ask what language you use when the conversation involves everyone? Because my wife and I tried the one parent one language strategy but could never quite get it to work. One on one is fine but it falls apart whenever it’s more than 2 people and we go back to speaking Chinese. I feel that this will greatly stifle my daughter’s ability to learn English, which is why I’m leaning towards bilingual school in the early years instead of local schools. Or do you feel that I don’t need to worry about this and that the benefits of a local elementary school outweigh the drawbacks?

We kind of mix things up, but my wife continues speaking Mandarin to the kids and I continue with English. Both my wife and I understand everything and the kids are really good at switching back and forth. I speak to my wife in Mandarin and some Korean (long story).

I’ll add to this tomorrow.

Pronunciation and standard usage. Saying things like “Open the light” with a strong accent and not being able to correct it.

Oh right, I was assuming you were referring to problems with Chinese language. I kind of presumed their English skills would have some issues if they werent speaking English at home. But how did their Chinese work out?

Native speaker level.

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OK, that was my worry, of not being in native speaker in either, glad to hear that.

I don’t know what I’ll do if I have kids. My dad spoke Chinese to me while my mom Korean as a kid. And then we all just switch to English once we moved to the US.

I would focus on the two languages that are going to be most important in the future. However, I can understand how people have an emotional attachment to language even if it’s illogical wasting time on it. I have South African friends who try to teach their kids Afrikaans. Seriously? What’s the point?