Pinyin sounds is the first step for your child to learn Mandarin (the speaking form of the Chinese language).
Followed by nailing Pinyin and the tones, your child can effortlessly work on the BLENDING of the Pinyin alphabet sounds into syllables.
Every Chinese character has one syllable. When pronouncing the blending sounds of Pinyin (i.e. Initial + Final(s) + tone), your child is speaking Mandarin.
Do you see the connections now? That’s why I always stress the importance for non-native kids or any beginners to learn the Pinyin sounds and the tones, then the blending as the 1st step to learn Mandarin.
Because I want to help you and your child to start out learning Mandarin the right way, I’ve talked extensively about Pinyin on my blog, and here they are:
- What’s Pinyin?
- What forms Pinyin?
- Why do children need to learn Pinyin?
- What’s the best time to learn Pinyin?
- How to teach non-native kids Pinyin, the FUN way?
- How to teach non-native kids Mandarin at home?
1. Why did I create the Pinyin Poker?
Since May 2019, when I started systematically teaching my daughter Chinese at home, the 1st thing I did was to teach her the pronunciation of Pinyin alphabets, the tones, and then the blending of Pinyin alphabets. Because of that, she can now sound out pretty much any Pinyin she sees.
But, that doesn’t mean we don’t touch Pinyin anymore. We still review the Pinyin by playing different games from time to time.
At our home, every night, we have three episodes that must play through before my daughter’s sleep time:
- A short game >> 2. Stories >> 3. A lullaby >> Lights off and sleep time
As a result, apart from our regular 30 minutes of Chinese learning time in the morning, I also like to create games that are short but fun to play with my daughter before her bedtime.
The Pinyin Poker I’m going to share with you here is one of them.
With the Pinyin poker, you can play with your child in various ways by either using the three games I listed below in Part 3 of this post, or come up with other games of your own.
The Pinyin Poker includes:
- A color-coded Pinyin Alphabet list (拼音字母表),
- two sets of Pinyin alphabet cards (the 1st set has the pirate background and the 2nd set has the princess background). My daughter always chooses the princess, and I get to be the pirate! If you have a boy, I bet it’s going to be the other way round.
- Each set includes 23 Initials (声母), 24 Finals(韵母) and 16 Sight Pinyin(整体认读拼音). So it’s a total of 126 double-sided cards.
- There’re two maps – one is Pirate’s Treasure Map （海盗的藏宝图）, and the other is Princess’s Map of Castle（公主的城堡图). All Pinyin alphabets on the maps are colour-coded to the Pinyin list.
- Four pictures for pretend-play: Princess’s Castle, Princess and Royal Carriage, Pirate and Pirate Ship, Pirate’s Treasure Island.
I’ll detail how to play Pinyin Poker games using these resources in Part 3 of this post.
2. Where and how to learn the Pinyin sounds when you don’t know Pinyin yourself?
To teach your child the Pinyin sounds (i.e. the pronunciation of each Pinyin alphabet), you will either understand Pinyin yourself or rely on external tools to help you out.
That’s why I found this FREE Pinyin App to help you out (Note: I’m not paid to recommend this app). You can use this tool to teach you the Pinyin sounds, tones, and even the writing of the Pinyin alphabets.
To better illustrate, I’ve recorded this video to show you where to download and how to use this free App:
I found this free tool specifically for non-Mandarin speaking parent and child who wishes to learn the correct Pinyin and the tones. Initially, I was going to record the Pinyin sounds myself, then I found this free App.
The pronunciations of the Pinyin alphabets are by native speakers, which is what you want for your child. The downside of this App is that it has annoying ads. But, with a small fee, you can remove the ads I believe.
However, for our purpose, to learn the Pinyin sounds, the free version will do if you don’t mind the ads. I recommend that you have this App by your side when playing the Pinyin Poker games so that it can pronounce the alphabets as your child plays.
Note you’ll only see four tones in this Pinyin app. The 5th tone is a neutral tone that doesn’t have any tone mark, and it’s not used as much as the 1st – 4th tones. The neutral tone pronounces similar to the first tone but shorter. Once you learned the 1st – 4th tones, your child will be able to pronounce the 5th natural tone easily. You can read more about the Pinyin tones in my post what forms Pinyin.
3. How to play the Pinyin Poker games to nail the Pinyin sounds?
Here is the fun part – the game time! The three games I list below are for references only. We have quite a few games that I can’t list them all here.
The three games below are just giving you an idea. You can have variations when playing these games depending on your child’s Pinyin level.
The ultimate goal you want to achieve is that your child should learn and know all the Pinyin sounds by heart. By that I mean she should be able to pronounce each Pinyin alphabet independently and immediately as soon as she sees the alphabet.
Before play, apart from having the Pinyin Poker cards ready, I always have the Pinyin Alphabet list on the side as a reference. If you don’t know Pinyin, I suggest that you have the free Pinyin App I mentioned in Part 2 ready too to help with the Pinyin sounds.
Game 1. Have you got this? (Matching Pinyin alphabet cards)
- Player A (parent) shows one Pinyin alphabet/a card on the table while asking Player B “have you got this”?
- Player B (child) needs to match with Player A’s card by showing the same card to match.
- Player A then asks Player B “can you sound out this Pinyin alphabet?
- If your child (Player B) has learned the Pinyin alphabets before, he/she should be able to sound it out.
- If your child is learning or not familiar with the Pinyin sounds, you can sound out to your child and ask her/him to repeat after you.
- If you don’t’ speak Mandarin and don’t know any Pinyin, you can use this the free App I talked about in Part 2 of this post. Better still, learn the sounds together with your child.
Variation of game 1 – When playing this game, you can also use the Princess Map and the Pirate Map for each player to track the progress.
Game 2. Can you find your treasure ( or castle)?
- Place one set of Pinyin Poker cards on the floor to make a path to the pretend Treasure island or Princess Castle depending on your child’s role (refer to the Maps for layout).
- Select and sound our the Pinyin alphabets ( or use the free App in Part 2) either in sequence (e.g. b,p,m,f, and so on) or randomly (e.g. a, ei, g, and so on).
- Ask your child to find the Pinyin alphabets that you’ve sounded out and then STEP on the Poker cards.
- Ask your child to sound out the Pinyin alphabets that she’s stepped on.
- It’d be better if your child can sound out each alphabet as he plays without your help.
- Tick each alphabet on the map that your child has stepped and sounded until she finishes – tracking progress.
Variation of game 2:
- Try to create a little competition with your child and step on the cards yourself with him. Children love when parents are playing with them.
- If you have more time, you can place the two sets of cards on the floor and race with each other by identifying your own set of Pinyin sounds and see who gets to the end first.
Game 3. Swat the flies (cards)
- Place one set of cards on the table or floor randomly.
- Find one fly swatter for your child.
- Sound out the Pinyin ( or use the Pinyin App in Part 2 to assist).
- Ask your child to swat the flies ( the Pinyin cards).
- Put away the dead flies (cards) that were killed until your child finishes!
Variation of game 3:
- Join the fun and swat the Pinyin cards with your child while sounding out the Pinyin alphabets.
- Track your child’s progress either on the Treasure Map or the Princess Map.
That’s it! These Pinyin poker games are a few of the fun ways you can utilise to help your child learn Pinyin while having fun. Play-based learning is the best way for kids to FELL IN LOVE with learning Chinese. If they’re having fun with something, children will naturally beg for more.
When playing with the poker games, I often find my daughter can come up with her game ideas. Just follow your child’s cues and play along. As long as she’s learning the Pinyin sounds, I don’t mind how she wants to play. I’m sure you are too.
How do you teach your child Pinyin at home? If you have new games when playing with the Pinyin Poker cards, consider sharing with us at the Panda Mama Chinese Facebook community or leave your comments below.