Living in a predominantly English-speaking environment has made it quite a challenge for the Chinese language to exert its presence in our daily lives, and even more difficult to impart to our little ones. However, as we move towards becoming more connected, global citizens, having a good grasp of Mandarin has never been more important. Here’s how you can help nurture a greater love and understanding for Mandarin in your little ones.
#1 Early exposure
Introducing your child to the language and building a stable foundation in Mandarin can play an immense role in helping your child become more receptive to the Chinese language in their later years. Spark your child’s interest in the Mother Tongue by enrolling them in a Chinese Kindergarten or Preschool. By immersing your child in a fully Chinese-speaking learning environment at a young age, you can help them warm up to the language and make Mandarin seem less foreign. You child may not even realise they’re picking up a second language later on during formal education! Having experienced what a Mandarin-based curriculum is like will also make it easier for your child to adjust to Chinese lessons in the future.
#2 Read Chinese books
Reading might just be one of the easiest ways to inculcate a love for a language. Not only can you start switching out your child’s English bedtime stories to Chinese ones, you can also encourage your child to pick up Chinese books on their own accord. Start with the more engaging, easier-to-read picture books before moving on to those with stronger plots and more text. Chinese narratives are also known for being highly educational, with noteworthy moral teachings that can be beneficial to your child as well. Exciting Chinese myths and historical stories can also make learning Mandarin especially interesting for your child. For parents struggling with the Chinese language themselves, audio books can be extremely useful!
#3 Learn through play
For the little ones, there’s no better way to pique their interest in a subject than through play methods. Thus, a sure way of getting your child’s attention when it comes to Mandarin is to incorporate the language into their play time, such as making them listen to Chinese music and watch Chinese cartoons or movies. You may even be surprised at the amount of Chinese lyrics or plot lines your child can pick up and recite to you at the end of the day! To make full use of this “learn through play” method, you can even conduct short debrief/Q&A sessions after every song or cartoon episode, asking your child simple questions about the content they’ve just watched or listened to, and getting them to respond in Mandarin.
#4 Use Mandarin in everyday life
There’s no better way to get your child to understand and love a language than through practice and familiarity. Making an effort to weave Mandarin into your daily conversations with your child is definitely a good start. You can even encourage your child to communicate in Mandarin outside of home, such as getting them to order food in Mandarin at hawker centres and food courts. Learning Mandarin in a more natural environment will surely help your child subconsciously pick up the language and get used to it faster.
#5 Appreciate the Chinese culture
It is often easy to overlook the beauty and depth of the Chinese culture when we focus too intensely on the academic part of learning the Chinese language. Often, how a Chinese character is written has interesting etymologies behind it. Thus, rather than using rote learning methods to teach your child Mandarin, it may be more engaging to share with them why a character is written in that way, or what significant meaning it may have behind it. Attaching a meaning to a character could also help your child identify it more easily if they come across it in a text next time.
#6 Patience is key
As with all other aspects of learning, it is definitely more effective to be patient and encouraging, rather than forcing your little ones into learning Mandarin with punishments and bribes. Help your child see and understand the significance of learning Mandarin, and have them develop the initiative in wanting to learn the language. There’s no better way to motivate your child to learn the language than to have them already interested in it!