The most exciting period in any child's life is when they start learning in school. Their ever-expanding mind is constantly improving, eager to learn and absorb all the knowledge and experience they can. Although learning can be hard work, new technologies that aid progressive learning have made it easier for children to learn Chinese.
From live-teaching and real-time feedback and interaction, to online Chinese lessons that engage using software and multimedia, a thorough learning experience is now more available than ever. Immersive bite-sized online classes that complement home-based-learning are available for your child. A new wave of modern educators are fully equipped and ready to bring students to the next level of Chinese mastery. But why then are our young learners still struggling to learn Chinese?
The best way to learn Chinese for children is to start by cultivating habits at home
Did you know that your habits and actions can actively engage your child’s learning abilities and create significant impact? By seeing how you react to the language and learning it, your child learns whether or not to appreciate the Chinese language.
The way parents model behavior is key. Parents can make a big difference by demonstrating the behaviors they expect from their children.
Here are some habits you can start doing, that make learning Chinese part of your child’s everyday routine:
Habit #1: Make your child's learning of Chinese a fun family experience!
Children love having fun, so learning Chinese shouldn’t be any different. Learn Chinese the fun way by turning experiences they encounter in daily life object lessons that become gateways to the world of Chinese language and culture. Don’t make it boring, allow them to enjoy the process of learning by trying these fun ways to learn while doing:
1. Print out words and phrases of Chinese characters and how to pronounce them
Printing out words and phrases of Chinese characters can help your child gain interest in the Chinese language. Children learn better when they don't feel like it's a burden to study Chinese, as can often happen when the emphasis is only on grades. If you make lessons a chore, Chinese will quickly become boring and a chore to learn. Instead, make it a simple introduction into Chinese culture.
These repeated actions of seeing, using, and hearing Chinese words and the accompanying phonetic sounds as part of daily life, helps make the language more natural for your child to pick up.
Let them see items around the house through the lens of Chinese language. Label bowls, cutlery, tables, and chairs they use every day. Print out the Chinese characters and how to pronounce them.
For instance, you can label items at home with stickers, like putting a "门" sticker on the door. This way, each time your child opens or closes the door, they will learn this Chinese word as well.
Seeing the Chinese characters during an enjoyable activity such as eating, puts your child in a good mood while their brains work to actively pick up a new vocabulary in Mandarin. Your child will remember these “triggers” for later, making it easier for them to study.
2. Let your children learn Chinese while on playdates!
Another interesting activity is to schedule weekly Zoom calls where you host your children and their playmates for a playdate while practicing their Mandarin together. During this allotted time, everyone has to speak at least some Mandarin to each other.
Although they may need to rely on English as a crutch at the start, it is okay. Start with small steps until speaking in Mandarin to their friends becomes more and more natural. The idea is to normalize the use of Mandarin. The more they use it, the more natural it becomes.
3. Ask your child simple questions in Chinese to build their confidence
As your child progresses in confidence, ask them questions in Chinese and get them to reply to you in Chinese as well. Get them to describe what they are doing in Mandarin when you see them doing various tasks at home. This would be a welcome mental stimulation while they do mundane tasks such as packing their bag, making their bed, folding the clothes, washing the dishes, sweeping the floor and the like.
Throughout the day, start asking them simple questions in Chinese, such as if they have eaten their dinner yet, or how their day has been. Remember that it is not about how much they can memorize, but more about getting them to be curious and thinking about the language.
Habit #2: Talk through their difficulty in learning Chinese
Deep-seated fear of embarrassment often hinders children from picking up Chinese. As your child begins to develop self-consciousness, they may also experience emotions that they are not yet equipped to process or communicate.
Children may feel awkward or frustrated when attempting to speak Mandarin or write in Chinese. They may even feel that they just cannot learn it when they see little progress after a few attempts. Yet, they may not know to properly digest and channel them in a constructive way.
This is a good opportunity to mentor them about taking up challenges that require a longer-term commitment. Encourage your children to express their feelings and thoughts about their experience learning Chinese. This is not about learning Chinese or not, but about modelling the behavior you want them to have when facing challenges, whether academically or in life in general. Be sure to make it a conversation, not an interrogation.
Habit #3: Teach children to learn Chinese by learning it together with them
In our guest feature in the Education and Enrichment webinar at the Singapore Parenting Festival 2021, a resounding 58% of all parents indicated that their child has difficulty with learning the language during a poll. 62% of them also indicated that they do not speak enough Mandarin at home, speaking it less than 50% of the time. Family language environments can be classified into monolingual, bilingual, or multilingual. To reach bilingual status, conversation of each language (including social environments e.g., in school) must reach 50%.
One of the best ways for children to learn Mandarin is by learning it together with them. Try to incorporate more usage of Chinese into your family life. Make it a family activity by addressing your children by their Chinese name and interacting with them in Mandarin. This signals to them that you too are trying.
You may think “oh but my Chinese is so bad” and think that perhaps you’d rather leave it to the educators to take on that role. But remember that in your child’s eyes, you are irreplaceable. Leading by example helps them see the value in learning Chinese. This will impress them a lot more than admonishing them about why it’s important to learn Chinese. It may be difficult at first, but your child's education is a rewarding journey that you can play an active part in.
Teaching a language such as Chinese to your children can be incredibly challenging, so it’s best to make learning fun as much as possible. There’s no quick solution to helping your child learn one of the world’s most difficult languages. The good news is you can start small.
Think of it this way - the best way for your child to learn Chinese is actually a journey, filled with opportunities to develop character, nurture an attitude of overcoming challenges in your child, and for wholesome and fun family bonding!