The Problem of Time

This series discusses the common difficulties parents face when trying to teach their children Chinese in an Anglophone society. If you have any requests, please let us know!

In this article, we will discuss that ever elusive, inexhaustible, yet finite resource known as Time. How can something that moves along so regularly and is technically infinite (as far as us temporal humans are concerned), also be so limited and scarce?

A complaint we commonly hear from parents is that teaching Chinese takes up so much time. Between school, extracurricular activities and life, Chinese can often take a backseat or appear to require too much of the remaining free time. Unfortunately, we do not have a Time Turner for sale but perhaps a few of these suggestions will be helpful.

 

 1  Decide how important Chinese is to you 

   

This is not to shame or guilt you into being a “good” parent, especially if you are of Chinese descent. Cultural and familial ties will do enough of that for you.

This tip is here to remind you that teaching your kids Chinese is a choice. We only have 24 hours in a day, and therefore we must pick and choose the activities and pursuits which we want to focus on.

You can decide what is most important and what you are willing to do. It is perfectly okay to think about your life and say, “Yes, Chinese is important to me, but I find XYZ more important so I would rather spend my time and energy on those things instead.”

Chinese is only ONE of the amazing things in this world. Admitting and accepting this truism doesn’t diminish how wonderful the Chinese language is, nor does it make you a bad Chinese person.

 2  Assess, honestly, how you are currently spending your time 

You and your family are likely truly busy. However, you are also probably not making the best use of your time. Does this mean that you should have zero down time for fun and relaxation? Not at all. But there is definitely a world of difference between having downtime and not using your time well. Only you can decide if that is the case.

Incidentally, this also includes deciding if the time you’re spending on other activities is something you want to continue or cut in order to make room for Chinese. If it is not, then refer back to tip one. This tip also encompasses knowing when to outsource and best use your time. If much of your time is spent on things that you don’t want to do (eg: cleaning, cooking, child care), consider hiring someone (or making your child) to assist you and to free up some of your time and energy.

 3  Find ways to incorporate Chinese into your daily life 

Are there things you currently do that could be done in Chinese or add Chinese?
Can your children’s extracurricular classes be taught in Chinese?
Do you have a Chinese speaking piano teacher? Art teacher? Dance class? Kungfu class? Chinese place of worship?

Do you drive a lot with your children? Use this time to listen to Chinese songs or audiobooks. You’re stuck in the car anyway. They can’t escape.

Do your children get screen time? Switch them to Chinese media or games. Switch all your devices to the Chinese language. (Of course, this might prevent YOU from using your devices but that just forces you to spend more time with your family.)

Can you speak Chinese but feel it’s not good enough or too much effort to think in your non-dominant language? Start switching to Chinese when you speak to your children, perhaps just 10 minutes a day and then gradually ramp up the time.

Do you read or tell stories to your children before bed? If possible, start reading Chinese books or putting on Chinese story CDs.

The idea here is to think of all the things you’re currently doing with your children and try to turn them into Chinese versions. It will be really difficult at first (or even longer). But it will be worth it in the long run.

 4  Make a plan and stick to it 

Make the time. Put it on your schedule. Make it recurring. Do not reschedule it.

Anything you want your children to learn takes time. Even if your children are geniuses, it takes time to determine that they’re geniuses.

If you decide that you do want to make Chinese a priority then you need to make room for it in your life. Whether that means cutting other worthwhile hobbies and interests for the sake of Chinese, adding classes, or changing your habits and behaviors, you just need to do it.

Do not leave things up to chance because if you do, it will not happen. (Or if it does, it was purely accidental. And though one may accidentally acquire bilingualism, biliteracy is a smidge more unlikely.)

And finally, don’t put Chinese on your schedule only to cancel or override it. If you have no intention of following through, you might as well take it off your schedule and save yourself the guilt and self-delusion. There should be no guilt in doing so. As adults, there is no shame in self-awareness and conceding that Chinese is not as important to you as you thought.

Posted in 家庭教學實錄 Learning Journal.