Immigration, Assimilation, Ethnicity and All That Jazz

1980s Heritage Language Programs Sucked

Posted by chinesecanuck on May 16, 2008

Like many CBC kids, I was forced to go to Chinese school on Saturdays when I was in elementary school.  The classes I went to were held at local elementary schools (offered by the school boards…it is celebrating its 30 anniversary in Toronto in a few weeks).  The teachers were often board-employed teachers as well, but they didn’t know how to teach us.  Perhaps they just didn’t care.  We weren’t, after all, their “real” day kids!  From what I recalled, they taught us as if we were Hong Kong kids, not Canadian children.  The teacher wrote words on the board, we copied them down.  We didn’t always get a definition.  We didn’t usually get definitions during dictations either.  I recall most of us were kind of WTF about it, since our “regular” teachers would always define words for spelling tests.

Chinese school was NOT FUN.  At recess, we were often yelled at by other faculty for speaking English, the default language for most of us.  I’ve never done French Immersion, but teachers at immersion schools generally aren’t strict, are they?  I mean, they aren’t going to yell at you if you don’t parle français (maybe someone who has gone through immersion can tell me) outside of class.  The supplementary texts they used were often straight out of Hong Kong, and therefore we couldn’t relate well to them.  Most of us didn’t live in small apartments.  We lived in suburban homes with a big back yard.  We didn’t wear school uniforms.  Oh, and we didn’t stand up when faculty entered the classroom. Most of us weren’t really able to retain much, either.  After all, class was only once a week for about three and a half hours.  I dropped out (or rather, my parents pulled me out) after Grade 2 or 3.  For those who actually stayed until the end of the program (I think it was Grade 8), many still can’t read well.  Not at a Grade 4 or 5 level…good enough to read a Chinese version of the Toronto Sun, anyway.  Most forget.

I guess what I’m saying is that these programs are (or at least were in the 80s) a waste of money.  No one really learned anything, and it made many kids hate their heritage even more.  But maybe it was just the Cantonese programs.  Honestly, it would have been more interesting if the teachers played games, told stories and used better text books.  Perhaps it would have been better if the teachers treated us like they treat their day/regular students.

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One Response to “1980s Heritage Language Programs Sucked”

  1. Scapegoat said

    This on top of piano and dance class. Dance class was fun, piano was somewhat fun, but Chinese class–kill me please!

    Wonderful that your parents pulled you out early! I had to fight for a year before they would concede to letting me off at the tender age of 17! This was only because I was about to start some courses that would affect university admission.

    The memory that stands out the most was when my much younger classmate was misbehaving. The teacher said, “You are acting like a white boy!” I was appalled by this blatant racism. Imagine if a regular teacher at a public school had said, “You are like a bad black kid!” That would’ve caused a huge outcry. But on his own turf, the Chinese instructor could get away with anything.

    Chinese Canuck’s note: Your parents didn’t let you quit UNTIL YOU WERE 17???!!! Most of my friends were out of there by Grade 9!

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