Spanish vs. Mandarin Dual Language programs?

Hypatia Cade asks:

I’m curious about your thoughts (or your readers’ thoughts) – we will have the option to lottery in to 2 dual lang programs: Spanish or Mandarin. There are other pieces of these choices (school location, true public vs. charter, curriculum differences) that make it complex….But if the language of instruction were the only variable would you pick one language over the other? Why? (And to what extent would parental familiarity with a language enter into this?)

I would probably pick Mandarin over Spanish all else equal because it’s easier to pick up Spanish at older ages as an English speaker.  (My assumption would be Mandarin as a child and then Spanish as a third language in middle school and/or high school.)  Both Mandarin and Spanish are useful languages to know — I wouldn’t, for example, choose Dutch over Spanish even though Dutch has similar pronunciation problems to Mandarin for English-speakers, because Dutch isn’t that useful (in my experience, most Dutch speakers you come in contact with know English extremely well and will prefer to use it).  Note here, that I would expect Spanish learning in either scenario– that’s non-negotiable just like swimming lessons, it’s just a matter or whether or not there’s also fluency in Mandarin.

I am pretty fluent in Spanish, but sadly have Kindergarten-level Cantonese rather than Mandarin (of which I only remember how to count up to 999 and how to write the first few numbers and the word for “big” which is the same in Mandarin as it is in Cantonese).  (I also have first grade-level French and a smattering of Latin.  And I’ve picked up a bit of school-girl Japanese from Anime, which is pretty useless unless I need to tell someone to wait or that I like like them.  DH has high school-level German.)  I think I would just trust my kids to pick up the Mandarin in school and would get a tutor if there were learning difficulties along the way.  The dual-language material we have is very adamant that we don’t have to do anything special to get DC2 prepared for dual-language K and that it’s ok if the parents don’t speak Spanish.

Here are some replies from our regular readers:

becca:

given Mandarin or Spanish, I’d let my kiddo pick, which would probably result in Spanish. Dad took Spanish, Mom took Mandarin, so that’s not a huge factor. But my kiddo is SO into soccer, and Spanish means ze can translate when we go on dream Argentina trip ;-)

If I were factoring in efficacy of language training (i.e. how proficient they are likely to end up), I’d lean toward Spanish. Though for that I’d consider possible peers who might help hir practice too. Pronunciation on Mandarin is probably easiest to learn very young, but this wasn’t the trickiest part to me. The thing I think was really hard about Mandarin was the writing. Are they doing simplified characters, or traditional, and when do they bring in typing? It’s very challenging, and I wouldn’t suggest it for most kids until about age 11 or so.

crone:

One consideration might be which language is easiest to reinforce from home or environment. I have 5 year old grand child who has been Mandarin immersion from 2 pre-school years and just finishing K. Reads and writes and speaks in both English and Mandarin. Both parents speak Mandarin, my co-grandparents speak primarily Mandarin, so lots of reinforcement happened naturally from birth. Had a Spanish speaking nanny before preschool and both parent’s Spanish increased in fluency through those years. But for last two years, post nanny, it has been harder to reinforce and keep in use. Being able to reinforce and use the language outside of school makes a huge difference.

ChrisinNY:

My daughter has dysgraphia so found the Mandarin characters problematic. (She was exposed to both the characters and… pinyan?) In theory learning Mandarin sounds great, but living in the US Spanish may be more useful and enjoyable. My daughter ended up learning French and still keeps it up on her own as a young adult.

Cloud:

We had a choice between Mandarin and Spanish for language immersion programs, and chose Spanish based primarily on the fact that the school that does Spanish is in our neighborhood. We had low probability of getting into either, but got very lucky (a literal lottery win!) and got into the Spanish school in our neighborhood and have loved it. Also, it starts at 9 (with before care provided by the YMCA for a fee) and the Mandarin school starts at 7:45, which even for our early rising kids would have been a struggle and a PITA for the entire family.

We pay for very low key private Mandarin lessons, mostly because my oldest kid really excels at language so we want to let her push on that. But it also means that both kids will have learned the tones at an age when they can really learn them and that should make it easier for them to become fluent in Mandarin later if they want to. Bonus: the Mandarin teacher picks the kids up from the after care program one day per week, giving us extra schedule flexibility on that day. Win-win.

FWIW, we have noticed no real problems with learning two languages at once. I don’t know if that would be true if we were really pushing on the Mandarin, but with our immersion Spanish and low key Mandarin, it seems fine. We have noticed that our younger kid, who was not reading fluently in English before starting the Spanish program, tends to spell English words with Spanish phonics, which is hilariously cute. (Eg, miles is spelled “mayols”) We assume that will sort itself out by about grade 3, when her school starts working on English spelling. She is now reading fluently in English, which should help.

What would you choose, Grumpy Nation?

DC2 got into the dual language program

Which means zie won’t be going to private school or skipping a grade.  At least not right away.

Our plan was either DC2 does public school in the dual language program for kindergarten or zie skips K and goes straight to 1st in private school.  DC2 lotteried into dual-language and will be going to the one on our bus route.  (A benefit of being rezoned into one of the worst school zones is that’s also where the specialty programs are housed in the hopes of getting high SES parents and kids involved with the school.)

I’m not sure how to feel about this development.  On the one hand, dual-language is awesome.

On the other hand, while DC2 doesn’t need to skip two grades at this point (recall DC1 started K early and did K and 1 at the same time–DC2’s birthday is right before the deadline unlike DC1’s), zie really does not need to take K.  Zie can read pretty much anything at this point and writes pretty well (with some getting letters and numbers backwards a lot much like I did at hir age) and is up to double-digit addition and subtraction without carrying/borrowing in hir math books.  The state goals for K involve counting to 10 (recall that learning goals for this state are about a year behind those in much of the rest of the country).  Not to mention that class sizes are large, which makes it more difficult for teachers to differentiate and give personalized attention, though obviously some teachers are still good at it.

We’re hoping the second language acquisition will make the lack of other new material in K more bearable.

Starting K early wasn’t possible if we wanted to do dual-language, and skipping dual-language K doesn’t seem like a great idea even if it’s allowed given that DC1 knows very little Spanish.  It’s possible zie could skip dual-language 1st or a later grade, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

So I worry.  I hope we’re making the right decision.  But I know we can course correct if not.

I also hope that my eager, strong, excited DC2 doesn’t get beaten down too much by school.  I hope zie isn’t silenced by expectations and peer pressure.

I want to protect hir.  But I don’t know that I can.

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How often do you have to buy new plates and glasses: Musings on breakage

We recently stopped at Target and bought some new glasses and a Corelle set to replace those that have been broken lo these past few years.

How many years, you ask?  I can actually tell you that because deciding to buy Corelle caused some internet drama when I realized it would be foolish to get a nice set of Lenox or Wedgewood to replace the brave floral plates that had fallen over the years.  That post was up in Summer of 2014, so it seems like it takes 3 years for 2 children to force replacement purchasing.  Given that purchase happened in 2014, I can also calculate that it takes 6 years for one child (and two sleep deprived parents) to force replacement purchasing. (We initially had another set that we got rid of because life is too short to live with dinnerware that is not microwave safe).

Last time we picked out tumblers that were most like our previous glasses.  Fortunately for us, this newer style is still in stock after 3 years.  So we’re down to one tall glass and two shorter tumblers in the old style along with 8 tall ones in the new style and too many of the shorter tumblers to fit in their special place in the cupboard.  I guess the tall ones are more likely to break even though we never give them to small children.

For china, last time we bought more we decided we wanted plain white easy-to-replace difficult-to-break Corelle.  Even if we could afford something fancier.  Corelle is nice because it is much more likely to bounce safely than our previous higher quality porcelain.  Sadly, when it does break it shatters into a zillion thin shards rather than the two or three large pieces that nicer china falls into, which means after sweeping and vacuuming we still have to mop the floor just to be sure.  The choice of plain white seems to have been a good one as it is still available and I didn’t shed too many tears getting a new set.  Of course, now we have way too many coffee cups as they never seem to break and they come with the Corelle set.

My parents would just pick up bits and pieces from other people’s former sets at garage sales and didn’t buy a new matched set until both children were off to college and no longer washing dishes by hand.  We don’t really have time for garage sales, so $40 every few years at Target seems like a reasonable purchase for us.

How long does your china and glassware last?  How do you replace it (new sets or single pieces?  same design or different?)?  Is your cupboard full of mismatched former sets waiting for the final piece to break like ours is?

Ask the Grumpies: Outings for older kids

First Gen American asks:

Seems the last two go to weekend adventures have been dubbed as “for babies” by my tween. (They were a fall foliage historic train ride and corn maze/pumpkin fest in case you are wondering).

Wondering what new outings I can add that would hold the interest of the older one as I think we are outgrowing the zoo, museum phase of fun weekend activities.

#1 suggests: What do tweens like? Basically nothing! Also I have never outgrown the zoo and museum. [#2 notes, this is true– once when we met at a nearby city when #1 was at a conference, we went to the zoo]. Are there street fairs? I’d be happy to go to the library… Hiking? Fancy tea in the city? Music fest? Opera?

Make the tween suggest the things!

#2 suggests: What do tweens like? Protesting! Making a difference! Being active! Volunteering!

#1 says: That makes sense!  Volunteer at the cat shelter!

#2 notes: Miser-mom tends to have lots of good suggestions with her kids.

College Savings are hard to plan

If DH and I remain employed at our current jobs for the next ~6 years (something that is not incredibly likely given DH’s job situation), then we will not qualify for financial aid at most schools.  (IIRC, we’ll be in the phase-out range for Harvard and Princeton and may be able to move money around to get some aid there.)  If one of us loses a job, then DC1 will qualify for about ~10K/year in aid at many private schools, which isn’t that much given sticker prices (although on just one income, hiding moving money around will have a larger effect).

We currently (barring weird changes in the stock market between the writing of this post and its posting) have around 98K in DC1’s college account.  That’s $500/mo for the last 10 years invested in Vanguard.  That’s enough to go to our local flagship schools for 4-5 years if we stop saving now.

And that really sounds like a lot.  But in the world of private schools it isn’t.

It’s hard to tell what DC1 will want to do in 6-10 years, but current indications are that computer science or some form of electrical engineering will be involved.  Zie might want to go to MIT or Harvey Mudd or Stanford (and zie might get in– it is hard to say).  These schools are not cheap, and at >55K/year in total costs (and rising), there’s not enough in the 529s to pay for even two years of school. We have another $170K in taxable stocks (that’s from the 50K we had in 2005 and the leftover money from leave we just put into the market) that presumably we would use for the remainder.  However, we will be taxed on that remainder, so it might make sense to start saving *more* in the 529 vehicle while we still have six years for earnings to accrue.

Indeed, the simple saving for college calculator suggests that we would need to more than double our monthly contribution for MIT and almost triple it for Harvey Mudd.

If I drop DH’s income, then the college calculator suggests we should start putting away $638/mo, which is still more than the $500 that is currently going towards college.

Both Harvey Mudd and MIT have 5-year BS/MS programs that are a good deal.  DC1 is so young– maybe we should be open to funding some graduate school.   It is also true that we have two children, and by the time DC2 is ready for college, we should know how much DC1’s experience ended up costing, so we’d be able to move some money over.  As of this typing, DC2 has $33K in hir 529 plan.  We’re on an oversaving path for hir for state school (the calculator recommends cutting back to ~300/mo), but would need to put away more for the average private school– for my alma mater, for example, zie would need more than double what we’re putting away (same for engineering schools, though it’s harder to tell if engineering is likely with a preschooler compared to a 6th grader).

Looking over all my old 529 posts, I usually contemplate putting less money into the 529s.  This is the first time I’ve addressed putting more money there.  I’ve been assuming we wouldn’t pay for any graduate school and have been worried about the risk of over-saving.  But with only 6 years left before college, I think it is unlikely I’ll end up moving to work for a university that pays even part of school tuition.  And college costs have been increasing, as has our net worth.  Maybe it makes sense to get more tax advantage, especially given that in 6 years taxes may have to go way up (or inflation may be sky rocketing).  It’s hard to say.  Not to mention that $500/month isn’t worth what it was 10 years ago.

And we’re no longer paying $1200/mo in principal and interest on a mortgage.  If DH doesn’t lose his job, that money has to go somewhere.

Under what circumstances would we regret putting more money in the 529s?  1.  If we move to the bay area for DH’s job and want to buy a house.  That scenario suggests needing loans for private school and DC1 being on hir own for graduate school.  2.  If for whatever reason neither DC1 nor DC2 end up using the money (ex. tragedy, one or both of the DCs becoming successful entrepreneurs, both DCs deciding they prefer much cheaper college options).  3.  The world goes to heck and we have to leave the country (in which case money in the 529s will be very low on our list of regrets).

Ugh, I keep going back and forth on this.  I could increase our monthly contribution to be more in line with what the simple calculator thinks we should be contributing, and then we could cut if off if DH loses his job.  We could put in a lump sum (though dollar-cost averaging seems much less risky given the current uncertain political environment).  I could split the difference and put in, say $750/month per child instead of either $500 or $1000 (which is about what we would need if I kept my job and DH stopped bringing money in entirely).  Or we could just keep doing what we’re doing, which is usually the easiest thing to do.

*note for newer readers:  We are already maxing out our easy retirement options (required contribution, one 401K, one 403b, one 457) and will pay off our house very soon.  So don’t worry about our retirement savings or debt loads!

What are you doing in terms of college savings?  How do you decide to change what you’re doing?

Ask the Grumpies: How to teach organization and time management to a middle schooler.

First Gen American asks:

How [does one] teach organization and time management to a middle schooler.

We have had some luck with putting a checklist on the fridge that DC1 has to go through every night, but it isn’t foolproof. If it were, DC1 would be getting an A in orchestra because zie wouldn’t have forgotten to log hir practice.  How do you remember to practice but not remember to log the practice?  It boggles the mind.

Does anyone else have more/better suggestions?

DC1 is starting to read grown up books

It’s so exciting!

There is a little bit of bridging going on.  Technically the books zie is reading are probably YA that just haven’t been classified as YA.

The first one, of course, was a Tiffany Aching by Terry Pratchett.  Specifically The Wee Free Men (only $1.99 on Kindle which is a steal!).  Zie followed that up with A Hatful of Sky, which is the second in the Tiffany Aching series.

Then zie read the first 4 books in the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy (zie means to read the fifth, but sort of lost interest, which is understandable since the fourth and fifth books aren’t as good as the original three).

Then, because zie was rereading Meeting and Threshholds I offered up my favorite Nina Kiriki Hoffman, A Fistful of Sky (which DC1 noted has a remarkably similar name to that second Tiffany Aching book, but the Hoffman book came first).  (Don’t read the second in the LaZelle series though– it has a rape and victim blaming which is so uncool.)

Grown-up books are a whole new world of fun.  I’m pretty sure I first started with Agatha Christies as my first fiction experience (prior to that I read the humor section from non-fiction), but once I realized that adult fantasy novels existed, I was hooked on going upstairs to the adult area each week at the library.  Even though a lot of what I read up there wasn’t actually very good.  But some of it was.

What were your first adult fiction books?  What grown-up books would you recommend for a precocious 10 year old?