Seeking advice re children's education in Taiwan

Hello: I have lived in Taiwan 3+ years and occasionally read this forum – what a great resource for foreigners in Taiwan! Although I am not new to Taiwan, I am rather new to having soon-to-be school age children here and am seeking some advice regarding my children’s education. My son is 5 and is currently in local preschool/kindergarten. He has been there ever since he was a toddler. He used to speak Mandarin quite well, but we returned to the U.S. for 6 months (as our work requires), and he lost all ability to speak Mandarin while we were abroad. He is back in the same school in Taiwan (along with his brother and sister – twins – who are now also attending) and has over a year before starting first grade. I feel that he probably could do local public school here just fine – if he manages to re-gain his Mandarin before starting first grade. My husband and I both speak Mandarin well (my husband can also read a fair amount and I can read enough to get the basic gist of a notice sent home by the school, for example), and I feel sure that we would be able to communicate well with the teachers. I have read many other threads on this forum regarding local school for foreigners (and have talked with other foreigners as well), so I clearly understand what the challenges and advantages would be. I am also considering the possibility of sending him to a bilingual school, or one that would at least have the opportunity for some English instruction. My specific questions, then, are the following:

  1. Can anyone comment specifically on experiences with any local primary schools in Shihlin/Tianmu area?
  2. Does anyone have experience with Hua Xing Private Elementary school? Or other bilingual schools in Taipei?
  3. Any comments/suggestions regarding re-learning of Mandarin after language loss has occurred? 
    

Thank you for any comments/suggestions!

[quote=“5intaiwan”]
3) Any comments/suggestions regarding re-learning of Mandarin after language loss has occurred?
Thank you for any comments/suggestions![/quote]

I don’t know about questions 1 and 2. However, I find it surprising that a 5 year old could lose an acquired language within 6 months. Just because he isn’t producing language doesn’t mean that it is no longer there.

I would send him to a Chinese only kindy. I doubt that it would take long for the language to be found again.

He is in (and has always been in) a Chinese-only preschool. Hopefully, the Chinese will re-emerge, although he does not seem to remember how to say anything that he used to be able to say. I don’t think our experience is that unique, actually. I’m just wondering if others could comment on how long it took for their kids to start speaking Chinese again after being in an English-only environment (for the most part) for an extended period of time. We have been back in Taiwan for over 2 months now.

Age 4.5 - 5 years is a neurologically interesting time in language development, especially as it concerns myelination. At that age Broca’s area has undergone significant myelination, so the speech sound motor plans probably are, mostly, in place (touch the area just above and barely in front of your left ear, that’s Broca’s area). My expertise is in English, not Chinese, but grossly I’d expect most phonemes were stable though probably some typical age appropriate phonological processes were still not suppressed (for instance, concerning English, consonant cluster reduction, metathesis, possibly some substitutions, etc.).

The part of the brain which is probably catching up right now is Wernicke’s area, it’s right in the timeframe when myelination occurs there (touch the area just behind and above your left ear, that’s Wernicke’s area). This is the area responsible for word finding. Basically this is where your dictionary is in your brain (kind of, but close enough).

At that age, because of exuberance, we lose things quickly but also regain them quickly.

I can’t give you a clinical opinion over the internet, but I’d expect to see a kid who seems pretty intent on what he’s hearing, but isn’t saying much. I’d expect sometime over the next six months (based on a language rich environment with lots of exposure to Chinese in a communicative context) for it to seem like a dam has broken and instead of just hearing 2-word and 3-word phrases, to hear mature 4 - 5 year old language. I’d expect to hear English interspersed when speaking Chinese, especially with the easier word being used regardless of language. Keep in mind my experience is much more broad with English/Spanish bilingual kids than English/Chinese bilingual kids, so take some of these thoughts as more general than specific.

Thanks, skoster! Very interesting. We tried to give him some Chinese when we were in the U.S. (i.e. watching his favorite movies in Chinese) as well as through interactions with Taiwanese-Americans, but it just wasn’t enough to keep it up (besides the fact that I didn’t want him to learn my non-native Chinese).

Sure thing, keep in mind that expressive language and receptive language skills are not always aligned with each other. Quite often kids who have little requirement to use expressive language have significantly higher receptive language functional skills. In my experience, barring diagnosed conditions, high receptive/low expressive skills are very often based in environmental factors. Obviously what you’re describing is not a disorder or delay, but the same principle applies: Create a language rich environment with appropriate communicative demands in a fun and child friendly context and you should see improvement relatively quickly.

What would concern me is if he did not seem intent on what he’s hearing in Chinese, or was unable to understand what he hears in Chinese. Merely not outputting verbal language at this point would not suggest a less than good prognosis. Lack of interest or understanding would give me more pause for concern.

We moved to Taipei about 2 1/2 years ago and put our two children in a local preschool. At the time our youngest was two and our oldest was 4. This year our oldest began attending a local elementary school. I can tell you a little about our experience as American parents with limited Chinese skills.

Preschool was/is a piece of cake. It’s bilingual but the teachers don’t speak English to the kids if you request. Our school is a Montessori program and is very similar to the school my oldest attended in the US before moving here. When our son graduated preschool and began his first year of elementary, it went smoothly for a few weeks but they VERY quickly began ramping up the Zhuyin. Looking back it’s pretty obvious the Taiwanese parents have their kids fully up to speed with the Zhuyin before they enter first grade. Within a few weeks the kids were taking dictation for the days homework. We’re still playing catch up but our son is doing better with each passing week.

Considering the amount of homework coming home each day I’d say the all the students would fail without considerable support from their parents. Much of the arithmetic comes in the form of story problems. The sentences are in Chinese but with small Zhuyin off to the side of each character. If a child is at all slow in reading the problem easily they they’re going to not understand the question. This is where our son stumbled the hardest, walking into elementary school with just OK zhuyin skills.

Within six weeks of school starting we ended up hiring a tutor to come to the house five days a week for 1 1/2 sessions. Things are going much more smoothly, he’s learning more and we have a better understanding of his progress. It sounds like your Chinese skills are much better than ours so possibly you wouldn’t need such an arrangment.

Two summers ago we went back to the US for 2 1/2 months. Upon returning we did notice our oldest wasn’t communicating nearly as much with his Chinese. Within a few weeks he was back up to speed.

His school does have an English class. Older kids in his school seem to be pretty fluent. Right now we prioritize the Chinese because learning the characters is so demanding. When time allows we supplement his English reading learning at home.

Thank you, Shaktipalooza, for sharing about your experiences. My son is starting to learn Zhuyin in preschool now, but it is helpful to know that he should probably already know it well starting first grade. We have already hired one of my husband’s students to read to him once per week – to up the Chinese exposure and give him one on one. Do you make use of your school’s after school/homework program, or does your son to go to an qin ban? Also, does your son’s school have any creative endeavors as part of the curriculum – or is there after school availability for art or music? That is something I’m a bit concerned about because my son loves to draw. Thanks again for sharing.

Sintaiwan,

You may have already read it, but if not, you might find the article series I am writing about education in Taiwan useful. This is the March article, where a few of us with experiences of public elementary schools share our stories and perspectives. (page 23):
http://issuu.com/centeredontaipei/docs/cot_201303?mode=window&viewMode=doublePage

Februrary’s article covered education options for children of expat families. Page 22:
http://issuu.com/centeredontaipei/docs/cot_201302?mode=window&viewMode=doublePage

May’s article outlines how to homeschool in Taiwan. It will be published on issuu.com the first week of May.

From talking to parents of children in elementary school over the past several years, it is apparent that much depends on the fit of the school and class to your child and your family. I know families who have had to put their children in two or three schools before finding the right fit, but once they find it, things are really good for their children. You can read one such story in the March article. I don’t know much about Shilin/Tianmu schools, but I know there are a number of public schools outside Taipei City that don’t fit the stereotypical situation found regarding homework, lack of creative opportunity and so on.

Finally, most schools have lots of after school activities for your child to choose from. The richer and/or larger public schools generally have more options. Classes are generally hard to get into, though, so make sure you keep up-to-date with when you have to register for them and the way you go about it.

So very helpful! Thanks a lot!

[quote=“Shaktipalooza”]We moved to Taipei about 2 1/2 years ago and put our two children in a local preschool. At the time our youngest was two and our oldest was 4. This year our oldest began attending a local elementary school. I can tell you a little about our experience as American parents with limited Chinese skills.

Preschool was/is a piece of cake. It’s bilingual but the teachers don’t speak English to the kids if you request. Our school is a Montessori program and is very similar to the school my oldest attended in the US before moving here. When our son graduated preschool and began his first year of elementary, it went smoothly for a few weeks but they VERY quickly began ramping up the Zhuyin. Looking back it’s pretty obvious the Taiwanese parents have their kids fully up to speed with the Zhuyin before they enter first grade. Within a few weeks the kids were taking dictation for the days homework. We’re still playing catch up but our son is doing better with each passing week.

Considering the amount of homework coming home each day I’d say the all the students would fail without considerable support from their parents. Much of the arithmetic comes in the form of story problems. The sentences are in Chinese but with small Zhuyin off to the side of each character. If a child is at all slow in reading the problem easily they they’re going to not understand the question. This is where our son stumbled the hardest, walking into elementary school with just OK zhuyin skills.

Within six weeks of school starting we ended up hiring a tutor to come to the house five days a week for 1 1/2 sessions. Things are going much more smoothly, he’s learning more and we have a better understanding of his progress. It sounds like your Chinese skills are much better than ours so possibly you wouldn’t need such an arrangment.

Two summers ago we went back to the US for 2 1/2 months. Upon returning we did notice our oldest wasn’t communicating nearly as much with his Chinese. Within a few weeks he was back up to speed.

His school does have an English class. Older kids in his school seem to be pretty fluent. Right now we prioritize the Chinese because learning the characters is so demanding. When time allows we supplement his English reading learning at home.[/quote]

Hi,

I came across your post and want to see if you can give me some advice.

I was born in Taiwan and came to the US when I was 4 and have been living in NY for over 30 years. Next summer (2016) I plan to take my two kids who will be 5 and 8 to Taiwan to live for a minimum of 1 year (hopefully 2 years) for them to learn Mandarin. Since they were born, I have been trying to speak to them in Mandarin and they can understand me however cannot communicate back in complete sentences. However, my Mandarin is limited to just conversational and I cannot read and write. As they grow older, it is harder for me to speak to them in Mandarin and I would like them to continue to learn the language. It would be great if they can read and write some words but mostly having a conversation back to their grandparents is ideal. I do not wish to send them to Chinese school in NY because in my opinion these classes just do not work. I want to also add that almost all my family members with the exception of my parents and siblings still live in Taiwan although I am not close to them.

I need some advice for anyone who’s been in my situation.

  1. How difficult do you think it would be for my 5 and 8 year old to live and attend public school in Taiwan with the knowledge (of me and my kids) I indicated above?
  2. I do not wish to send them to international schools. How and when do I register for public school?
  3. Can anyone suggest a good public school that they’ve attended? Or know ones that are open to accept students in my situation?
  4. Is there an option to leave my 8 year old behind a grade once in Taiwan so it might be an easier process for her?
  5. What are some “nice” and safe places to live in Taiwan considering I am a mom traveling with 2 young children?
  6. Do you think there will be a culture shock for us? (I haven’t been back to Taiwan since 2006 and only stayed a week)

Ideally once there and situated, I would like to find a part time job but working is not a priority. I believe I would have enough savings to spend a year or two in Taiwan and any excess income is just supplemental. Being in Taiwan will also give me the opportunity to learn some of the language, connect with my roots and teach my children the culture. Any advice, suggestions, comments and opinions are greatly appreciated. This idea has been floating in my mind since 2012 but several factors held me back. But because it is an idea that hasn’t subsided, I would like to know what I am potentially getting myself into and if I have thought it through since I know my parents and friends may not agree with my decision.

Thank you.