Introducing your child to a new language is a daunting prospect, but many parents take up the challenge knowing how much it will benefit their kids. If a child is interested in Mandarin and wants to learn Chinese, it can make parents feel they are not up to the task. If you find it intimidating to try and raise a bilingual child, here are some do’s and don’ts to help make the experience worthwhile for both you and your child!
Do #1: Practice
Humans learn through repetition, and that means practicing speaking the language frequently. Even if you aren’t familiar with Chinese, you can still help your child by creating routines and finding activities that will ground their new education. If you can make it fun, they may not even notice they’re starting to learn Chinese! Some ways you can practice with your child include:
- Car Trips: A quick drive to pick up dinner can be an educational opportunity. Keep flashcards in the glove box or play some traditional Chinese songs on the radio for an impromptu sing-along!
- Cooking: Kids love to help cook, and their passion makes for a great chance to teach common words, foods, and tools. Keep Google Translate handy, and you won’t even need an interpreter!
- Bedtime Routine: Any repeated event is a great time to practice. You can name actions as your child does them or read along with a Mandarin children’s book while an audiobook does all of the translating for you!
Do #2: Learn With Your Child
While you might not have any interest in learning a new language, following along with your child will allow you to provide much more support than if they were learning themselves. You may even be able to find new ways to teach the language as your own understanding grows. Since kids generally learn faster than adults, children may get a real kick out of helping their parents learn for a change!
Do #3: Choose Good Materials
Using the right tools makes a big difference when children learn Chinese. Quality flashcards, books, and videos will bring the language to life in ways that simple repetition and learning worksheets can’t. Invest in picture books that will help your child see the language as it’s being used. As children grow, look to their favorite stories printed in Mandarin so they will be familiar with the text. Many tutors use board games as an effective method to teach new languages, making it a great choice for multitasking education with family bonding time!
Don’t #1: Be Shy About Learning
Exposure is one of the best ways your child can learn any new language. Kids don’t start speaking English because their parents put flashcards in their cribs. Children learn from being around language speakers, so don’t hesitate to create a learning network. Find other families whose children are learning Chinese or frequent a store or restaurant where the language is commonly spoken. Shying away from situations deprives kids of crucial learning moments.
Don’t #2: Wait to Educate
Studies have shown that humans learn languages best when young. As young people grow, it becomes more difficult to grasp such concepts easily. By the age of 10, most people stop learning languages in the same way a Native speaker does, instead transitioning to more traditional methods of education. This isn’t to say you should only start teaching toddlers, just that the earlier a child begins to learn Chinese, the easier it will be for them to become fluent.
Don’t #3: Learn the “Traditional” Way
Anyone who has taken a High School foreign language course will have horror stories of conjugation tables and vocabulary worksheets. It’s a grind that takes all of the joy out of learning a new language and culture. Avoid using those techniques and instead focus on making learning fun. Some novel educational ideas include:
- Traditional Nursery Rhymes
- Watch Foreign Sports
- Jokes and Riddles
- Playing “I Spy”
- Watching Mandarin Cartoons
- Play Foreign-Language Video Games
- Find Friends Online
Focus on practical uses for the current words and phrases children are learning. Real-world applications to language will help cement those grammar rules and vocab words into their memory forever.
The Language of Learning
One of the most important things you can do to help your child learn Chinese is to be involved. If learning a new language doesn’t interest you, don’t worry. There will still be plenty of opportunities to inspire your child by exposing them to the culture and getting them excited to learn themselves. Even if you’re afraid that you’ll sound silly speaking broken Mandarin together, the experience will do a lot more than help both of you learn a valuable skill. It gives you the opportunity for additional bonding time with your children and something unique that the two of you can share for a lifetime!