Bilingual Journey, Taiwan Trip

Impact of Taiwan Trip on Chinese Learning

This summer we spent X thousand dollars on a three-week trip to Taiwan and Singapore. The question most people are probably wondering is, was it worth the money and time? Does it make a significant difference in Chinese learning?

Before we left, Little Man (6.5 y.o.) was already speaking Chinese frequently and willingly. Through our efforts the last two years, he also reads Chinese books daily. So I didn’t see any increase in the “quantity” of Chinese.

That’s not to say our trip had no impact on his language learning because it absolutely did! Here’s the “qualitative” changes I noticed:

  1. Vocabulary – Because of all the experiences we had every day, his vocabulary naturally improved. He learned the names of the new foods he tried e.g. 芭樂 (guava) and 百香果 (passion fruit). He loved going to 便利商店 (convenience store) which are everywhere in Taiwan. He got to experience for himself what a 夜市 (night market) is instead of just reading about it in a book. He learned the names of LEGO pieces in Chinese at summer camp. He learned the variations in different countries, e.g. 捷運 in Taiwan is called 地铁 in Singapore.
  2. Complex sentences – Taiwanese speakers use 10x more complex sentences and advanced vocabulary than I am capable of producing so I am really glad he got exposure to that.
  3. Variety – In the US, I am the primary person he speaks Chinese to. However in Asia he got to speak to everyone! He was pretty shy at first but towards the middle of the trip gained confidence in speaking to other people like wait staff, taxi drivers, teachers, and asking them questions. In Singapore, he bonded with my parents who speak Mandarin as their first language.
  4. Ego Boost – Little Man got compliments on his Chinese everywhere he went. Everyone kept telling him how awesome his Chinese is (more due to the fact that they know he’s American than because his Chinese really is awesome). All the praise and attention made him feel really proud.
  5. Literacy – He really got to see how important and useful it is to be able to read Chinese. He was able to read menus, TV subtitles, advertisements, packaging labels, etc. Now he knows why his mom makes him practice reading every day!
  6. FUN – We had soooooooooo much fun. He had the best time and can’t wait to go back! There is no better way to encourage language learning than to have fun doing it. 

Here’s an interesting story: We met up with one of my son’s friends (an ABC like him), let’s call him E, when we were in Taipei. In the US, when my son and E play together they speak 100% English because E hardly spoke Chinese.

However, after E went to Taiwan for the summer to stay with grandparents, he made a complete 180 degree switch and only spoke Chinese.

When we met up for a play date in Taipei, my son and E spoke 100% Chinese. It is truly amazing to watch how bilingual those two kids are. Makes me wanna cry actually.

If you’re thinking about a trip to a Chinese-speaking country, GO FOR IT. The experience is truly amazing and life changing. Little Man remembers so much from all his trips to Asia (five times to Singapore and once to Taiwan) and often talks about them. Travel abroad really open up a child’s eyes to the world. 🌎

Side note is my Chinese improved so much from having to email, text, talk in Chinese for weeks. Not going to lie, it was really challenging at first but I did get used to it.

Read my tips on how to plan a trip to Taiwan: Planning a Fun and Educational Trip to Taiwan

One takeaway from this trip is: the day-to-day home environment is more important to a child’s Chinese proficiency than a short-term trip to Taiwan. No matter what huge gains a child makes in Taiwan, they will lose it rapidly if they go home to a non-supportive environment.

Conversely, if you have a “Chinese Language Ecosystem” (CLE) at home, a trip to Taiwan is great to have but not necessary. Like I said, my son speaks and reads Chinese regardless of whether or not we went on this trip. He just has a richer experience now.

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