How my struggles with English taught me about financial literacy

As you may know, Tawcan is a word that I invented when I started using the internet back in the mid-90’s. It stands for Taiwanese Canadians. (I realized later that if the word is a combination of Taiwan and Canada it should be “Taican”… I must have misspelled the word. Very ESL ha!)

My family and I immigrated from Taiwan to Canada when I was 13 years old. Having lived in Canada for over 20 years now, I see myself more as a Canadian than a Taiwanese. However, Taiwan will always remain part of who I am as it is my ethical background and my motherland.

Growing up in both Taiwan and Canada has shaped who I am today. The two countries have very different cultures, different languages, different educational systems, different ways of thinking, and different ways of approaching things.


My First Day of Elementary School – The Lack of English.

Before immigrating to Canada, I didn’t know much English. I knew the 26 letters in the English alphabet, I could count to one hundred, and say a few simple phrases like “This is an apple,” “how are you,” and “hi I’m Bob”. I had been to USA and Canada a few times prior to immigrating to Canada, but because I was always with my parents or family friends on those occasions, I got around fine without knowing much English.

Essentially, I moved to Canada without being able to have English conversations with another English-speaking person.

I will always remember the first day when my parents took my brother and I to enroll us in the elementary school. It was around end of October, I was enrolled in grade 7, my brother was enrolled in grade 3. Before I met my teacher for the first time, my dad told me, say: “nice to meet you” when you meet someone. I didn’t even know what that phrase meant. I just blindly followed his instruction.

Growing up in Taiwan, I was usually one of the teacher’s favourite students. I paid attention in class and I wanted to do well. Then, all of a sudden, in a new Canadian elementary school, I could not understand anything. I listened to my new teacher and my new classmates as they spoke in English, and all I could do was give blank looks and smile. I felt so embarrassed to not being able to communicate at all.


The nightmare

On my first day in a Canadian elementary school, every minute felt like an eternity. Coming from being one of teacher’s favourite student and acing almost every single subject, to not understanding anything in class was extremely excruciating, upsetting, embarrassing, and stressful. As a 13-year-old, I was beyond scared. I wanted to hide in the bathroom until the day was over. I thought I knew what it was like to be a new student in a new school, but this was 100 times worse. It felt like being pushed into the pool without knowing how to swim and having everyone looking and laughing at me.

Then lunch time came around… Before coming to the elementary school, my parents told my brother and I that they would bring us food before lunch. When the lunch bell rang, I sat in my chair, wondering where my parents were. All my new classmates were eating their lunches and socializing. Meanwhile, I was sitting by myself, scared, hungry, and no idea what was going on. I looked at my new classmates enjoying their lunches while pretending that I was not hungry at all. To stop any eye contacts, I took out some pieces of paper and started to draw. I was trying to take my mind off lunch time.

Lunch time lasted 15 minutes. Another bell rang and the teacher told everyone to go outside to play. She noticed that I didn’t have lunch yet and asked me a bunch questions. I had no idea what she was saying and just shook my head and shrugged. We ended up communicating using some sign language. She somehow figured that my parents would come with lunch and moved me to the school’s entrance so I could wait by the door.

When I arrived at the school entrance, I saw my brother there. He too, was scared and had no idea what was going on. We both immediately cried when we saw each other. We were both scared and felt helpless the entire morning sitting in our classes.

We waited at the doors for probably 10 or 15 minutes, crying and sobbing the entire time.

Finally, our parents showed up with food from McDonald’s. They were driving around to buy household items all morning because most of our belongings were still on a container ship coming from Taiwan. They went to McDonald’s to get lunch for us but could not find their way back to the school. After all, this morning was their first time going to the elementary school too, and we had just moved to a new city, a suburb about an hour away from Vancouver, a day earlier.

My brother and I chowed down our lunches next to the school entrance and were told to go outside to play…

On my first day of school in Canada, I didn’t understand anything anyone said. The only bright side was math class, because I could correctly answer every single math question very quickly. I was literally a human calculator. The classroom environment was completely different in Canada than in Taiwan.

In my elementary class in Taiwan, we had over 50 students and 1 teacher. Every day we would arrive at school before 8 AM so we could perform our assigned school duties (i.e. dust school pathways, clean bathrooms, take out garbage, clean windows, etc). Every day at 9 AM there would be a general assembly where every student from each class would march into the centre of the school like solders and gather around to sing the Taiwanese national anthem. The principal and teachers would speak on the stage and lecture the students on the various topics. All the students were expected to stand perfectly still, in perfectly aligned lines, while teachers would pace back and forth to inspect us.

Sometimes, because some students were not paying attention, the general assembly would prolong to close to an hour while the principal would continue his lecture. You couldn’t even scratch yourself on the head if you were itchy (the comment from the principal/teacher would be… Did you not take a bath? Are there worms crawling on your head?) We would have a general assembly every single day, rain or shine.

Once we got back to our individual classes, the students were expected to sit upright in his or her chair and listen attentively to the lessons. Teachers hitting students to punish bad behaviours occurred daily. I remember having duct tape over my mouth for almost the entire day, getting hit on the hands by a stick, or holding books above my head for a long period of time, because I was either talking in class or wasn’t paying attention to the lessons. And I was one of the best students! Some of my classmates were way less fortunate than me, getting punished on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. When we were learning, the lessons were very focused on tests and memorization. To do well, you had to master the art of writing tests. If you were struggling with the lessons, teachers seldom had the time to help you.

On my first day of school in Canada, I immediately noticed this significant difference between the Canadian and the Taiwanese elementary school system. My new Canadian teachers were so helpful and so mindful of me being a new student in a new country, and even though I didn’t understand anything to begin with I still felt welcomed.

When the day was over, I asked my parents to ask my teacher if there was any homework. Back in Taiwan, we had a ton of homework every single day. So when I heard that there was no homework on my very first day of school, I was completely shocked.


New country, new culture, new everything

The first week of school was hard. I did not understand anything and I couldn’t really say anything. Every single day after school, I would ask my parents to check with my teacher whether there was any homework. For some odd reason, my parents would always come back telling me that there was no homework. I was delighted and shocked. I totally thought that either the Canadian kids were the luckiest kids in the world, or the Canadian educational system was geared toward slackers.

Because the elementary school was quite small, ESL classes were taught by the principal. I would only have ESL classes when the principal was not busy. I ended up learning all the same course materials as my classmates. I was even learning some French.

The first time I had PE class, I was very confused about changing into gym clothes. I didn’t realize that there was a separate change room, so I went to the bathroom and changed in one of the bathroom stalls. When we finished the PE class, all the boys, including myself, went into the change room together. At first, I was confused why everyone went into the same room together. Then I saw all the kids taking off their clothes in front of me and I felt really weird. As a very private person, I felt really odd having to take off my gym clothes in front of other kids and putting regular school clothes back on. Somehow, I felt everyone was looking at me, because I was new and different. I tried to change as quickly as I could so I could leave the change room.


Fresh off the airplane…and I am ESL!

For the rest of the school year, my best friend was my English-Chinese dictionary. I was constantly looking up words that I didn’t understand. When someone talked to me, I would often ask him or her to look up the words so I could puzzle together what he or she was talking about.

I should tell you… English is one messed up language. If you are not a native English speaker, some of these common slang/phrases/words/ are extremely confusing… (Urban Dictionary wasn’t around back in the late 90’s!)

  • What the heck -> Good luck figuring out what that means in a dictionary!
  • What’s up -> Huh? The sky is up?
  • How’s it going -> Are you asking me where I am going?
  • Sucks/This sucks -> This makes absolutely no sense when looking this up in a dictionary
  • Hydro -> why is electricity called hydro? Isn’t hydro water?



English is one messed up language!

My deficiency in English also meant that I was spending a lot of time learning English after school. My parents would teach my brother and I English by reading children’s books. We were building our English vocabulary like little kids, one word at a time. In addition to the confusing phrases, English also many have random rules that make very little sense to someone that is learning the language…

  • Ou in couch, enough, though is pronounced differently.
  • Gh in cough, bought, and through is pronounced differently.
  • Silent letters: you don’t pronounce the “K” in knight, knee, knowledge, and knit. And you don’t pronounce the “P” in psychology and psychiatrist.
  • “Big black dog” make perfect sense but “black big dog” sounds weird.
  • Some words have the same pronunciation but they have completely different spelling, for examples “wheel, weal, and we’ll”, “sense, cents, and scents,” and “Two, to, and too.”
  • Some words are spelled the same but have completely different pronunciation – “read” in present tense vs. “read” in past tense.
  • People pronounce words differently depending where they are from. For example, British pronounce aluminum differently than Canadians/Americans.
  • And many many more.

It took a lot of hard work to figure out this confusing language called English. In fact, I know I am still learning today.


My lucky break…sort of

Being the only Asian and ESL student in my grade 7 class, I was very fortunate. My classmates were very accepting and were all trying to help me. My teacher was very understanding and always repeated her sentences whenever I gave a puzzled look. Since we were living in the suburb of Vancouver, an area with a very small Chinese/Taiwanese/Cantonese population, there weren’t many Asian kids in my elementary school. Other than my brother and I, there were only 5 other Asian kids. One could not speak any Mandarin, one was a Canadian-born-Chinese descendant that spoke some Mandarin, and three others were recent immigrants from Taiwan just like us, but there were none of these kids in my class. This meant I was forced to learn English as quickly as I could. I was fully immersed in an English-only environment. I could either learn to swim, or I could sink.

Needless to say, I quickly decided that I needed to learn to swim.

The comprehension part came relatively quickly. The toughest part for me was having the courage to speak the language. For some reason, I felt embarrassed speaking English to my classmates. I didn’t have the courage to start having conversations.

That somehow changed after a few months. By then I was having simple conversations with my classmates. I was messing up present tense and past tense regularly, but I was improving my English proficiency very quickly.

Toward the end of the school year, I was participating in all regular classes, including English. When I graduated from elementary school, I got the “Most Improved Student” award. I was very surprised and honored to receive this award. I had no idea such award existed!


Get a life, you are not an ESL student anymore

When I entered grade 8, the high school administration put me in an ESL class. After taking the proficiency exam, I was told I didn’t need ESL sessions anymore. I was kicked out of the ESL class.

Going from barely knowing any English to somewhat proficient in English in about a year. This was a significant accomplishment in my life that I will always remember. It was a big part of my life and it shaped who I am today. Having tackled such a difficult task, whenever I face a confusing or tough subject, I tend to go back to my experience with learning English. I would always tell myself that if I can learn this confusing language in less than a year, I can do anything. I just need to put my mind to it.


The similarities between learning English and personal finance

Looking back, I believe my experience and struggles with learning English has a lot of similarities to learning about personal finance.

I was very fortunate to grow up in a financial savvy household. My parents talked to my brother and I about money openly. They taught us about frugality and how to be responsible with money.

Unfortunately, some people are not as fortunate as us in that sense.

Personal finance topics can be timid, frightening and confusing, especially when you know very little about it. Not everyone is comfortable with topics like eliminating debt, budgeting, investing, growing net worth, and investing.

For some, being constantly in debt is maybe more comfortable because it seems to be the norm. That is what they have been used to their whole life. They simply think that debt is an undeniable part of life. Using credit cards to purchase things, then paying the minimum payments each month. That is how they were raised, so this is what they do when they become adults themselves. They simply do not understand that paying your monthly credit card statements in full is beneficial, because no one ever taught them that.

Some people when they get out of debt, because they are so familiar with being in debt, they would subconsciously sabotage themselves by taking on more debt. Why? Because being in debt is what they know, so getting in debt, getting out of debt, then getting back in debt become a never-ending vicious cycle. Being in debt become a comfort thing, they can get sympathy from others, and they live on the attention they get from other people. Similarly, as an ESL student, I received a lot of attentions from teachers and my fellow classmates. I was different from the rest of my classmates. Therefore, everyone was helping me out and trying to make me feel comfortable at school. It would have been easy to not learn any English so I could continue receiving all the attention from teachers and my classmates, but I chose differently.

Budgeting and the idea of spending less than what you can earn can also be very confusing. If you don’t understand the concept and do not have the desire to learn about it, you never will. This is similar to when I was learning English. If my school had more students that spoke Mandarin, I could have easily just stuck with these Mandarin-speaking students and never learned English. Instead, I was in a situation that I had no choice but to learn English. Similarly, when it comes to budgeting, sometimes people just need to get a kick in rear end to get started.

Things like getting out of debt, budgeting, and spending less than what you can earn are the basics and the foundations of good personal finance. Similarly, the 26 letters of the English alphabet, the basic English vocabulary, and English grammar are the foundations of the English language. Without knowing these, you will never advance to become a better English speaker/writer.


Advancing in personal finance

Once the basics are covered, growing your net worth is just a matter of time. However, learning how to invest is a great tool to fast track the net worth growth process.

Unfortunately, investing can be and is very confusing as there are so many different investing products available on the market – GICs, mutual funds, index funds, individual stocks, options, futures, etc. Learning about your risk tolerance so you can select investment products that work for you is vitally important. This is like taking the next big step in learning English. When I finally started speaking more English and was having simple conversations with my classmates, I began to have more and more interests in the English language. I found myself spending more time reading English books. I started off with easy-to-read children’s English books and eventually advanced to more complex novels.

You cannot go from a beginner English speaker to an English expert right away. There is no magic pill to take. It is all about taking incremental steps and spending time learning. When it comes to investing, if you are more comfortable with index funds, stick with this as your preferred investment mean. If you are more comfortable with self-managing your portfolio, then perhaps go with individual stocks. If you are feeling adventurous and have mastered stocks, maybe options, futures, and other investment derivatives can be your preferred investment means. It is really about always being willing to learn more.

Investing is about finding your area of expertise and never invest in something outside of your investment expertise. Having said that, you can always increase your area of expertise by reading investment related books, taking investment courses, or learning from an expert. See the similarity with investing and learning English? If I don’t know the meaning of an English word, I wouldn’t use it. But as I learned more words and understand the meanings for these words, I began to construct sentences with more complex words.


Learning is a lifelong process

I am fluent in English today. I speak English more than Mandarin nowadays, thanks to marrying my Danish wife (funny thing is that we are both ESL). In fact, when I started speaking Mandarin with my colleagues in China and Taiwan a couple of years ago, they made a few “gee you haven’t spoken Mandarin in a while right?” comments. Although I am fluent in English, I am still learning English every day. I do make grammatical mistakes here and there. For example, Mrs. T always pick on me for messing up my s’s, it is because in Mandarin there’s no plural. I speak English with a slight accent (I think?), so you probably can tell that English isn’t my mother tongue. A few readers have also pointed out some grammatical errors in my blog articles…I am trying my best to be better in English. Learning is a lifelong process. I realize I probably will never become an expert in the English language, but I am motivated to be better in English than I was the day before.

While I may be proficient in some personal finance topics, I am still learning and discovering new things. Meeting people in the FIRE community that are already financially independent or retired early at FinCon17 has allowed me to gain more insight, rather than relying on my personal experience from my dad. There are still a lot of personal finance related knowledge I can learn. I can certainly learn more about stock evaluation and technical analysis, I can learn more on Canadian income tax rules, and I can learn more about early retirement modeling & simulation. The topics I can learn more about are endless. The thing I realize is that, the more I learn about personal finance, the more I realize how little I know. Personal finance, just like English, is becoming a topic for lifelong learning.

This is my challenge and I am taking it on 100%.

Wow, this was a very deep and personal topic that I have no shared with many people before. I have never imagined that I would write a long post and hit the publish button. But the story is part of who I am and I feel it is  a very important aspect of my life that I should share with my readers. When it comes to personal finance topics, there is no need to feel ashamed because you don’t know some topics. The important thing is to realize this fact and try to do something about it. Put your mind to the challenge and you will always conquer it.

If you have read the entire post without leaving. Thank you! Now you know even more about me.

I will end this post with a question to my readers…

What are some of the challenges for you and how do you deal with them?


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47 thoughts on “How my struggles with English taught me about financial literacy”

  1. Yes, having married an ESL I fully concede that English is a really hard and totally nonsensical language. Kudos for mastering it so quickly!

  2. Learning is definitely lifelong as we all know so much less than there is to be known. Learning new languages after the age of 7 or 8 is extremely difficult so I commend you for diving in and learning a language as confusing as English. I have been trying to become more proficient in French for over a decade and it’s hard work. French is much easier to learn so I am amazed that you were able to tackle English in one year.

    The financial part comes in baby steps too. First it’s learning to live within your means. Then it’s getting a robust savings. Then it’s all about investing. Investing is so interesting because there are so many ways to do it. Please do continue to share all that you’re learning as you’re also teaching others at the same time.

  3. Great post! So true, learning is a life long process. I found it useful that some of the struggles I experienced as an ESL student, like kids making fun of my accent, actually helped me in my adult life to deal with other similar issues. Wonderful read!

  4. What an intense experience. I can see how that would shape your future world view, and it’s easier to wrap my brain around that actually than someone who has zero financial literacy. I’ve been in countries where I couldn’t speak the language, but I’ve always had some sense of money. I can’t imagine how hard it is to get to pass ESL money “class’ – especially without a teacher.

  5. I’m so impressed with your language skills. I have read that kids who grow up bilingual will learn additional languages more easily than those of us who were firmly established with only one language, so your kids will have that bonus skill for life! Also note that “hydro” is short for hydroelectric. Particularly in the northwest (I’m just south of you in Washington State), most of our electricity is generated with falling water through dam turbines, hence the name for electric service in Canada. I don’t know for sure, but Niagara Falls generation station was one of the early electric utilities in Canada, so maybe that is why Canadians use “hydro” to describe all electric utilities.

  6. Wow, thanks for sharing this story. I’m curious what you think about teaching ESL? In my elementary, there was an ESL class for Spanish speaking students. It seemed like the students were stuck there year after year and didn’t fully grasp English. And then there was a Chinese kid who had to be put into a regular class since the ESL class was for Spanish speakers only. So basically sink or swim and he seemed to pick up English faster than the kids who had the ESL class. You think sink or swim/immersion is the better method? It is certainly tough during the transition I’m sure. In a slightly related story, in kindergarten, they placed me in an ESL class. I’m Chinese and I was very quiet so I guess they assumed I didn’t speak English. My mom was furious and told them to take me out of that class as I spoke English just fine =)

    • I definitely think you learn a language faster if you’re in a sink or swim situation. When I lived in Germany for 8 months during university, I was very motivated to learn German. But when I got there, I was hanging out with Canadians and spoke English at work. So I ended up not picking up that much German at all. When you’re comfortable (i.e. in an ESL class with ppl that speak the same language), you just end up not picking up the language as fast. That’s my opinion anyway.

  7. Bob, your kids will pick up a 4th language, french, if they attend french immersion school in vancouver. I went from zero french to fluent french in 6 years. I live on the other end of our wonderful country. Being english/ french bilingual has served me well here.

  8. Thanks for sharing this, Bob. This brings back memories! I was placed in ESL when I was in kindergarten and wouldn’t speak. As one of four Asian kids in my grade, they naturally thought I didn’t speak because I needed to learn English. I was fluent in two languages, I was just incredibly wary of people so I spent that year teaching other kids how to read. Many years later, those lessons came in handy when my extended family emigrated to America and needed to learn English as well. It always stuck with me that English is a REALLY weird language.

    My personal challenges were much later: facing my parents’ debt, being the first to graduate college in my family and building my career from nothing with no road map, and now, cutting financial ties with my father. I manage it like I do anything else, get ready, make a plan, and dive in headfirst. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. 🙂

    • That must have been hard for you to be in kindergarten and couldn’t communicate with other kids. Cutting financial ties with your father must have been a pretty tough decision to make.

  9. I’m so glad that you wrote this, Bob! I have the utmost respect for people who speak multiple languages. In fact, I have that sign in my classroom — “Just remember, if someone speaks with an accent, they know one more language than you.” I earned my ESL endorsement a few years after I started teaching, and they are some of my most inspiring students. Your post was an excellent reminder of how much my students might be struggling and what they are working on overcoming, not just in terms of language, but culture and so much about day-to-day life that we can take for granted! Thank you for that reminder.

    And you’re so right. There’s so much learning involved in financial literacy. While I wouldn’t ever say that I have mastered another language like you to make the comparison fully, my struggles with being fluent in Spanish do mirror many of my missteps in financial literacy.

    • I love that sign you have in your classroom, it’s so true!

      I took Spanish in high school, was half decent at it but having not used it for over 2 decades, I forgot most of it. 🙁

  10. Good article Bob. Learning a language that fast at that age is impressive. Regarding challenges, my biggest is getting my family on the same page as me (FIRE). None of them have formal jobs so maybe that is why. They even think spending makes them happy. Still working on that. Thanks for sharing,

  11. Thanks for sharing this, Tawcan – an interesting read as I’ve never really considered the tough challenges children face when they relocate to a different country. From reading your blog, I wouldn’t have guessed that you struggled with the English language at all!

    Although born in the UK, since I didn’t speak English at home with my folks, I recall attending ESL classes when I was 6 or 7 to brush up on my English skills.

    I can still switch easily between English and Chinese (I speak Hakka, which isn’t a very common dialect) but the latter is definitely my second language as I just don’t have the range of vocabulary that I have with English.

    My niece who’s 10 is already fluent in English, Cantonese and Mandarin – I think I might try to learn Mandarin myself at some point!

    ‘British pronounce aluminum differently than Canadians/Americans’

    It’s because the British word is ‘aluminium’, there’s an extra ‘i’.

    • That’s awesome you can switch between English and Hakka easily. I have become pretty good at that too. But with Mandarin, I definitely mix in some English words here and there. This is especially true when I start talking technical things related to work.

      That’s awesome your niece is already fluent in English, Cantonese and Mandarin. My wife’s cousins are fluent in Danish, English, Swedish, French, Spanish, and recently started taking Italian. It’s pretty amazing stuff. 🙂

  12. What a great post! I went thru the same thing you did but I was 20 at the time and didn’t have any family in Canada Sometimes I just wanted to cry (and I did) because I couldn’t express myself and had no clue what people were saying. It was in the late 80’s and there was no google translate or anything. I have worked hard to learn English but I still have an accent and my pronunciation is not perfect .
    My kids are very fortunate to be fully bilingual and will never have to go thru what you and I (and many others) went thru.

    • Hi Caroline,

      Man that must have been hard, coming to Canada in your 20’s and had no family. Plus back then (late 80’s), technology wasn’t as advanced, so you couldn’t rely on Google Translate. Like I said in the post, I’m still learning about English every day. I’m no way an expert in English… far from it. 🙂

    • Thanks Tom. That’s why today I always go out of my way to help people as much as I can when I see they need help. I was in their shoes before, so I know exactly how that feels.

  13. Wow, this is one great post, Bob! That sounds like a horrible start to have to go through at school – especially during your teenage years!

    Glad your classmates were so accepting – that must have been a hard transition.

    And I’ll definitely second that the English language is messed up! I don’t know how anyone learns this language unless they were born here! 🙂

    — Jim

  14. Great post Bob. I appreciate you sharing your story with us. I understand the issue learning a new language. I moved to Austria in my late teens and struggled to learn the language (German). It took about a year or so until I felt comfortable in daily life. Your struggle and success show us that there is nothing that we cannot accomplish with the proper application of effort and motivation. The FI community is lucky to have people like you in it.

    • Thanks Oldster. I tried to learn German when I was living in Germany for 8 months. I picked up some German but I was never fluent in it. There were a bunch Canadians with me and my work spoke English only. Looking back, I guess there was no pressure for me to learn German, and therefore I was not putting too much effort in terms of learning the language. Kinda wish I could pick up German now though.

  15. Bob,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I can’t imagine what it was like for you in that situation since I was born in the US and English is my first language. The fact that you learned the language and were kicked out of ESL in one year is just incredible. I like how you mentioned that this story applies to more than the situation with life. Agree with finance. Many people are afraid or intimidated by the stock market. You can learn to invest or you can stay away. Finance may be a foreign language to some, but in reality, anyone can learn it if they want it bad enough.

    Thanks again for sharing!


    • Hi Bert,

      Thanks. A lot of hard work was involved to get kicked out of ESL in less than 1 year. That’s definitely one of my key motivator when I feel a bit down about finance. Just need to put my mind to it. 🙂

  16. Thanks for sharing this post Bob! I think it is a wonderful way Talk about overcoming hardships.

    I have a lot of questions for you! I would love for my son to be bilingual like you, and kind of like me, but I worry that the English language is hard enough to master, maybe having him learn Mandarin might screw his English up? Clearly there are a lot of gifted linguist out there, but my wife and I are not two of them. What would you recommend?

    At any point did you resent or get angry at your parents for operating your life in Taiwan to come to Vancouver? I lived in Taipei for four years and I loved it. But now that I’m an adult, I see that it’s very hard to get ahead in Taiwan less you are an entrepreneur.

    How was your brother’s Mandarin? I’ve always thought that it would be good to live in another language speaking country for about eight years and then transition over. That way there are good fundamentals for both.

    It is amazing that only after one year you no longer had to take ESL!

    Everything I think about is focused on my son now. So any type of guidance would be great!


    • My kids go to French immersion school, learn mandarin at home and Chinese school. All their bedtime stories are in Mandarin and I try to play Mandarin TVs tok. Nonetheless, their best language rapidly became English once they began school. My daughter is 9 years old and already finished all Percy Jackson books more than once. So no worries. When it comes to language, language environment is the most powerful influence.

      • OK, good to know. I’m thinking the best may be to live in a Mandarin speaking country while speaking 70% English and 30% Mandarin at home. Hmmmm… decisions, decisions.

        I’m getting bored of San Francisco. Been here since 2001 and need a change!


        • Ok, I know this is a super late reply, but I just came here via the Rockstar Rumble.
          My sister married a German, and they live there now. When their daughter was born, they did a lot of research on the best ways to raise bilingual kids. What they settled on is that starting immediately, my sister only spoke English to my niece and my bro-in-law only spoke German to her. That way she was exposed to both languages, but had a way of keeping them separate, so they wouldn’t get all jumbled up in her head.
          She obviously is more proficient in German, but at seven years old she has an excellent grasp of spoken and written English!

      • Mrs. T and I were never worried whether Baby T1.0 and Baby T2.0 would learn English or not. We figure they’ll pick it up pretty quickly once they go to school and start interact with the other kids.

    • Hi Sam,

      I was never angry at my parents for taking us to Vancouver. We collectively made the decision to move to Vancouver, it wasn’t a decision that my parents made. We knew there would be struggles and we were ready to face them. Although I was a very good student in Taiwan, I don’t think I would have flourished in the Taiwanese educational system where tests and memorization are the focus. The living condition in general is much better in Vancouver than Taiwan, so I’m glad that we’ve moved to Vancouver.

      My brother’s Mandarin is actually better than me, which is quite a surprise. He manage to teach himself a lot of Chinese words so with his 2nd grade elementary school education from Taiwan, he managed to read all of Jin Yong’s kung fu novels (I did too). It probably helps that a lot of his friends are Taiwanese/Chinese so he has pretty strong ties to Asia still.

      In terms of our kids, Mrs. T speaks Danish to them and I try to speak as much Mandarin to them as possible. When they are with my parents, my parents speak Mandarin to them too (or as much as possible). Baby T1.0’s Danish exploded when we went to Denmark last Christmas. He’s switching between English and Danish pretty fluently. He speaks some Mandarin words but can’t really form sentences yet. He does understand Mandarin though. Baby T2.0, on the other hand, understands all 3 languages pretty well and is now speaking a few words here there in all 3 languages. I think the key for learning the language is having enough exposure. After enough exposure, kids will pick up the language pretty easily.

  17. Your examples of weird English words are charming 🙂 I think English is crazy and feel sorry for anyone who has to learn it. Like you mentioned, there are so many words and phrases that make zero sense.

    I was in ESL, too, although I never tested for it. And I’m a native English speaker too! I agree that putting yourself in a situation to succeed and learn is the key to basically improving with anything.

  18. Thanks for sharing such a personal story about your journey. I felt like I was on that journey with you. I never previously considered the challenges of moving to a country where you don’t know the language. Especially as a child before today’s translation technology. I firmly believe that getting through difficult experiences like that make you a stronger person.

    • Hi Jason,

      Glad you enjoyed reading it. It’s hard to say whether with today’s translation technology (i.e. Google Translate on smartphones), the transition would be easy or not today. I think you’d still have a lot of the similar challenges/struggles I faced back in the late 90’s.

  19. Wow this is such a great story! Thank you for sharing your experience. I can see that you’re already putting what you learned at FinCon to practice. 🙂

    English is my second language as well. I came to America when I was 18 (practically an adult). Although I had learned the language in Vietnam for years, it was still a challenge when I first came to America. Talking with other people and correcting my own pronunciation definitely helps a lot.

    Great post!

    • I can imagine how hard it was for you to come to America when you were 18. I think it’s an even bigger battle when you come to a new country an adult. Learning English in Asia isn’t the same as learning English in an English speaking country. There are simply terms and words you will never hear or learn while learning English in Asia.

  20. I can totally understand how hard it is to be writing about challenges in our lives. I put out a post two weeks ago on dealing with mental health issues. It was remarkably uplifting seeing the feedback on what was my most poupular blog post ever.

    It takes a lot of vulnerability and courage to write about such personal things – you should feel really good about it.

    Courage to face things, courage to write about it. It’s the same courage. Remember, courage comes from the Latin word “cor” , meaning from the “heart”. Speaking (blogging) from the heart is what we all relate to really.

    • Hi Mr. PIE,

      That’s totally awesome for you to write a post on dealing with mental health issues. That’s one topic that needs to be discussed more. It’s one of these issues that society has been shying away from discussing and I believe the more we are open with mental health issues, the more acceptance and tolerance we will see in society.

      Writing about vulnerability and personal stories are something I got out from FinCon17, so I’m simply taking the lessons I’ve learned and applying them in my blog.

  21. Incredible post Tawcan! It’s true that learning is a lifelong process!

    Your English is actually great btw! You’ve come along way! My own background had some interesting challenges that I’m still struggling with, but I’m absolutely impressed (practically jealous) of what you’ve accomplished. Good job man!

    For our kids, we put them into a language immersion daycare and it took about a month before they really picked up enough of the second language. Now, they’re comfortable in both languages. We read them stories in both languages and let them watch cartoons in both.

    It’s a lot of work to raise a two language family, but it’s an incredible journey…

    • Hi Mr. Tako.

      Thank you. I think as non-Caucasians we all face some sort of challenges in North America one way or another.

      That’s great that your kids are learning a new language (Japanese I think?) by being in a language immersion daycare. We are teaching our kids English, Mandarin, and Danish. Baby T1.0 is pretty fluent in English and Danish but he hasn’t been speaking much Mandarin (he understand quite a bit though). I just need to pick up the slack and speak more Mandarin at home. 🙂


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