The Chinese language is increasingly being recognised as a life skill and an essential communication tool. As parents, how do we help our children develop a genuine interest in the language? Even parents who are well-versed in the language may find it a challenge motivating and guiding their children in this learning journey.
Rest assured that nothing is impossible and that there are ways you can help your child nurture an interest in Mandarin even when it seems like an uphill battle.
1. Incorporating Chinese Into Their Daily Routine
Whenever you can, point out daily objects in Chinese and explain what they mean. These objects can be household items or even signs on the road. Teach them the pronunciation and repeat the words. it’s a good opportunity for your child to realise that Mandarin is all around us and why it’s important for them to understand the language. If you’re not an expert in Mandarin, an app like Pleco is an English to Chinese (and vice versa) dictionary that tells you the meaning of each Mandarin word and teaches you how to pronounce it.
When possible, be their role model and converse in Chinese in your child’s presence. They will follow suit and it will become a habit. When communicating with a neighbour or even stall vendors, you can say you ‘please’ and ‘thank yous’ in chinese.
2. Explaining Chinese characters and teaching them the meaning
Chinese characters can be pretty intimidating and learning to recognise them can be quite a feat. They will have to learn to phonetically pronounce it and it can be pretty foreign to them. Infuse some fun in it and try to tell a story behind some basic Chinese words to help your little ones identify better with the language. Also, connecting with the words through imagery could further help children be more interested. Here are some examples:
口 kǒu - The Chinese character for mouth resembles an open mouth.
人 rén - The Chinese word for person almost looks like a stick figure with two legs.
门 mén - The Chinese character for door looks like a doorframe.
Chinese characters are made up of different graphical components called radicals, which give meaning to genres of words. Knowing the context in which some common radicals are used could help children make a connection between the numerous Chinese words and grow their understanding of the language. They would also find this pretty entertaining if you explain these radicals with hand gestures. It will definitely help them remember better too.
氵- This radical usually means the word relates to water or flow
犭- Mandarin characters that contain this radical are commonly associated with animals
子 - Words with this radical denote that it’s related to children
3. Using Technology To Spark An Interest
Helping your child make sense of all these new words they’re learning can help to grow their interest and develop their confidence in the language. Using technology can be pretty effective and will keep your child entertained too. Here are some ideas:
- Digital readers - There are books available that work together with a special reader pen. Children can tap the pen to a specific word on a page and have the word read aloud. The interactive aspect of this activity will keep children engaged and as they read along together with the pen, they’ll grow more familiar and comfortable with the language.
- Videos - In this digital age, videos are one to communicate the most information. They’re colourful, funny and interesting to watch, it is recommended to have your child watch Mandarin cartoons occasionally to familiarise with the language. It doesn’t need to be a lengthy episode, but short clips that you can easily find on YouTube.
- Apps for tablets and smartphones - Apart from dictionary apps like Pleco, there is a whole host of Mandarin learning apps for you to choose from. It could be a Chinese word game or an interactive game with characters speaking in Mandarin. As long as it piques your child’s interest and you are there to monitor and regular their mobile/tablet usage, apps can be a very useful learning tool for your kids.
These are just some of the ways to pique your child’s interest in the Chinese language. Give some of these suggestions a try, and make learning Chinese fun and meaningful for the entire family!