When it comes to learning a language, the immersive learning method is considered the most effective way for children to become fluent. The idea is to immerse them into a “language bath” by which they hear, speak the language as they go about their daily life, learning the language as they would their mother tongue. There is less emphasis on memorize new vocabulary or grammar and taking tests.
According to data from the Mandarin Immersion Parent’s Council, as of April 2022, there are 349 Mandarin Chinese immersion schools in the United States. Though the opportunities for immersive language learning is limited, parents who decide to enroll their children in a K-12 program are making a big commitment to help their children become fluent in a world language. The learning should not start and stop at the classroom door.
Here are 10 ways to help your children continue to learn Chinese immersively at home – even if you don’t speak the language yourself.
Study with children
Children studying in Chinese immersion program at school will not only learn a new language, but also the culture behind the language. But the learning shouldn’t stop when they are at home. We encourage parents to play an active role in their learning and sometimes this may require re-learning things with them. How a language (or any other subject) was taught when you were growing up has likely changed, so keep an open mind as you do this.
1. Parents can help their children understand the benefits and value of becoming bilingual. This helps provide context and help children understand why they need to learn two languages at once. In the beginning, children who don’t already have exposure to the language may feel confused because they don’t quite know what’s being said. It will get easier over time as they develop their language skills, but you can help ease the transition. Once they have sparked their child’s interest in learning Chinese, they should continue to encourage them throughout the process.
2. Parents should have a detailed understanding of the syllabus of their child’s Chinese immersion program. For example, what are their children studying each week? What vocabulary will they be expected to master? How long should it take to complete their homework every day? When will they be taking exams? What are the language goals that they should be achieving each year? Knowing what’s expected can help parents prepare their children at home and help them achieve good learning results.
3. Encourage children to speak, read, and listen to more Chinese at home. This can be done even if you don’t speak the language at home. Parents can put labels with the Chinese words and pinyin pronunciation for different things around their house, like the sofa, chair, refrigerator, etc. This can help reinforce character recognition. They can also switch the language option for most children’s TV shows from English to Chinese. They can play songs in Chinese while driving in the car. And if parents or other family members do speak Chinese, they can encourage their children to speak to them in Chinese at home.
4. For parents who do not speak Chinese fluently themselves, consider learning yourself by taking a class, using language learning apps or watching videos that teach some simple Chinese vocabulary. In doing so, you’re setting a good example to your child on how to learn a new language. Your child will also be more serious and motivated to learn Chinese if you are also motivated.
More authentic cultural experiences
5. Take your children to eat at Chinese restaurants or go shopping in Chinese supermarkets. Encourage your children communicate with staff in Chinese and experience Chinese culture through food and shopping. The various Chinese foods and Chinese characters in Chinese supermarkets can also introduce your children to authentic Chinese culture.
6. Participate in local Chinese culture activities and festivals. Depending on where you live, there may be a Chinatown or large Chinese community that hosts Lunar New Year celebrations, moon festival events or dragon boat races. Often times, these community events include music concerts, calligraphy lessons, dragon and lion dance performances, kung fu demonstrations, etc. These traditional cultural experiences can be a lot of fun for children and increase their curiosity in learning Chinese.
7. Watch age-appropriate Chinese-language movies and cartoons. For example, BabyBus or Big Ear TuTuare great for preschools. The natural Chinese language dialogues and cultural scenes can make children develop knowledge of Chinese and Chinese culture without feeling they’re learning. Another option is to switch the language option for their favorite shows and movies, like Peppa Pig or Finding Nemo. Many streaming services, like Netflix and Disney+ have already dubbed their shows in many languages, including Mandarin Chinese.
Create a Chinese environment at home
8. Set up a Chinese reading corner. Set 20 minutes of free reading time in Chinese every day to cultivate children's reading habits. After reading the book, you can ask the children to retell the stories to you in English as a way to check their reading comprehension and drive interest. If your child has siblings, they can help each other learn by reading to each other.
9. Use learning apps and other interactive games to help children practice Chinese at home. LingoAce, for example, has a free reading app called Ace Chinese Books with more than 1,000 Chinese language books. Every story has a read-to-me option, which can help learners with words that they don’t know yet. Some of the books include popular children’s stories translated in Chinese, nursery rhymes, picture books, non-fiction, etc. The themes cover all aspects of children's life and meet different reading needs.
10. For families that do not speak Chinese at home at all, parents can still help children enhance their Chinese language skills through online tutoring. LingoAce offers live 1-on-1 classes with professional teachers who are experienced in teaching Mandarin Chinese as a second language to children in an online classroom. With 25- and 55-minute classes, this is one way to help children maintain their language skills outside of school.
By applying the tips above, your children will not only increase their Chinese language proficiency, you will also help open their horizons and improve their curiosity in learning Chinese on their own.