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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Mandarin Chinese as a Heritage Language: A Case Study of U.S.-born Taiwanese

  • Author(s): CHEN, CHUNG-YU
  • Advisor(s): Kagan, Olga
  • et al.

To date, there have been no major studies that assess how proficiently U.S.-born Taiwanese speak Mandarin and read Chinese, their heritage language (HL) and what factors contribute to such proficiency. Mandarin refers to the language spoken by the majority of Chinese people around the world and Chinese refers to the written script. This study investigates how well U.S.-born Taiwanese speak Mandarin and read Chinese as their HL, and also analyzes the factors that contribute to their proficiency. For this study, spoken Mandarin and written Chinese proficiencies were assessed using a modified version of the oral proficiency interviews ("modified OPI") according to American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Guidelines in combination with a separate reading test. In addition, semi-structured interviews were conducted to determine the participants' personal motivations, ethnic and cultural identities and attitudes, time spent in and experience with community-based Chinese schools, and several other factors. Eight of the ten participants were rated as either intermediate or advanced speakers in Mandarin while only five participants read Chinese at the third grade level. These results suggest that, while attending community-based Chinese schools can be considered prerequisite for HL proficiency, the following factors have had the most impact on the participants' Mandarin/ Chinese proficiencies: personal motivation, not only ethnic but also cultural identification with Chinese and/or Taiwanese, and Mandarin /Chinese input and use. Other factors such as parental attitudes and efforts and parents' English proficiency were found to be less important.

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