Teaching your child Mandarin at home is not an easy task when you reside in a non-Mandarin speaking environment.  When I say non-native kids, it means kids whose 1st language is not Mandarin and lives outside of China or Taiwan and Hong Kong.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post on how to home school Chinese as a full-time working parent. In there, I talked about the time management, the planning, and the self-motivation for teaching kids Mandarin Chinese at home while working full-time.

Today, I’m going to delve into the specifics of what exactly to teach your child, a non-native kid, Mandarin at home to achieve the high fluency you desire.

Whether you’re teaching your child Mandarin as one of the subjects within your homeschooling curriculum, or you teach Mandarin Chinese only as we do at home, this post is for you.

Also, if you’re learning Mandarin yourself, then the tips I’m going to share with you here is also relevant because that’s how I learned English as a 2nd language started at age 24. Before that, I knew nothing about English.

In my experience, the methodology of teaching your child a second language, in our case Mandarin Chinese, and learning it yourself at home is very similar. The only difference is that you need to add the FUN element when teaching a child.

Just one note before I dive into more details, the tips and ideas I’m about to share in Step 2 of this post is only suitable for learning Simplified Chinese, NOT Traditional Chinese because Pinyin is associated with the Simplified Chinese language system.

However, the ideas I’ll share in Step 1 and Step 3 would suit anyone who wants to learn Mandarin.

Ok, now you’ve decided to teach your child Mandarin Chinese at home, but wait, where to start? Here is how I’d do it. If you want to save your time and help your child master Mandarin, please follow the sequence of each step and don’t skip any.

Before we dive in, here are a couple of videos to show you how I teach my daughter Mandarin Chinese at home:

Step 1. Determine your goal when teaching your child the Chinese language at home.

I don’t know about you. But my goal is always to teach my child to be fluent in Mandarin and literate in Chinese characters.

Fluent in Mandarin means my daughter can understand and speak Mandarin just like a native Chinese kid with a minimum accent.

Literate in Chinese characters means she can read and write in Simplified Chinese, just like a Chinese kid at similar age.

Why do I separate Mandarin from Simplified Chinese? Well, that’s because Mandarin ( 普通话) is a speaking form, while Simplified Chinese (简体字) is the reading and writing form.

A lot of people overseas refer to Mandarin as the Chinese language. Yes, but let me be clear here, Mandarin is only a part of the Chinese language. There’re many dialects in China that are also a part of the Chinese language. Mandarin is only one of them.

To enable the Chinese people to communicate with each other, the government has made Mandarin as the standard / national language of China so that Chinese who speak different dialects can talk to each other.

So, the goal you need to determine is whether you want your child to be fluent in Mandarin only, or you want your child to be literate in Simplified Chinese, or both.

Once you decided your goal, then you know what to focus on when it comes to planning your teaching content at home.

That’s the reason why I’ve separated teaching Mandarin and Simplified Chinese into three posts.

In this post, I’m only going to talk about teaching your child Mandarin, the speaking form, at home.

If teaching your child to be literate in Simplified Chinese is something you’re interested in, then stay tuned with my future posts as I’ll be sharing with you on how to teach non-native kids to READ and WRITE Simplified Chinese at home.

goal setting for teaching kids mandarin at home

Step 2. Build a solid foundation FIRST.

Now you’ve come to the what-to-teach stage.

If you haven’t started yet, great, because what I’m about to share with you is GOLD! It’ll save you a lot of time, help your child to start out learning Mandarin the right way, and also benefit your child’s Mandarin learning for many years to come.

No worries, if you’ve started teaching your child Mandarin for a while already, it’s never late to change gear and teach this critical foundation.

So, what is the critical foundation I’m making a big fuss?

It’s the Chinese Hanyu Pinyin (中文汉语拼音)! That’s right; teaching you child Mandarin starts with teaching Pinyin.

You may have heard the Chinese proverb: The Loftiest Towers Rise From the Ground /万丈高楼从地起.

Pinyin is the foundation of Mandarin. Without that, your child’s Mandarin skills will be built on shaky ground. 

Why? It’s because Mandarin is a tonal language. A slight variation of tone changes can alter the meaning of the words. Without learning Pinyin, especially for non-native kids, it’s almost impossible for children to pronounce the Chinese words in Mandarin correctly.

The only exception is that at least one parent of the child speaks Mandarin as the 1st language at home.

By that I mean, although living overseas, this parent must be born and brought up in the northern part of China where Mandarin is the 1st language. Children raised in this kind of language environment have the advantage of speaking better Mandarin, providing the parent speaks Mandarin all the time at home.

In other words, if the Mandarin-speaking parents have given up speaking Mandarin to their kids, then the child would not learn Mandarin. The 1st / dominant language will take over.

pinyin is the foundation of manadrin

On the other hand, if your child mastered Pinyin, he/she will be able to enjoy at least the following four advantages:

  1. Pinyin sets children’s pronunciation of Mandarin on the right track from the outset.
  2. Pinyin helps kids to read books in Simplified Chinese.
  3. Pinyin aids ongoing self-learning and self-improving Mandarin as your child grows into teen and adult years.
  4. Pinyin helps to type Chinese characters into a computer using the keyboard.

You can read more about these four advantages in my other post, why do children need to learn Pinyin?

Step 3. “Eight weapons” to teach and improve Mandarin at home.

After your child has learned the sounds of Pinyin alphabets, the five tones, the blending sounds of Pinyin alphabets, I’d say your child has mastered the Pinyin and is on the right “soundtrack” in speaking Mandarin. Congrats!

Teaching your child Mandarin at home involves the following two components:

First is the understanding (listening comprehension) of Mandarin,

and the second is speaking Mandarin.

There must be sufficient input (listening) before speaking.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’d know that I’m the only one who speaks Mandarin to my daughter at our home.

When there’s not enough exposure to the 2nd language environment, we parents must be creative and figure out the ways to create a Mandarin environment for our children.

The more your child hears and speaks Mandarin, the better.

Here are the eight weapons that you can use to teach and improve your child’s Mandarin at home. I use #1 to #7. As for #8, if that suits you, it’s a great option too.

  1. Speak Mandarin to your child if you can at all times.

If you’re the only parent who speaks Mandarin in your family, try to talk Mandarin with your child as much as possible on all occasions.

In our home, we use the “one parent, one language” method because my hubby Mark only speaks English. I started speaking Mandarin with my daughter from day one. Only when Mark is around that we talk in English.

Sure, there were occasions when I forgot to speak Mandarin. But as soon as I realised it, I’d immediately switch back to Mandarin.

Be prepared to remind your child speaking Mandarin with you frequently because your child will naturally prefer to speak the dominant language such as English.

That’s ok though as bilingual kids tend to pick the dominant language to communicate. As long as your child can switch back to Mandarin, he/she is learning and improving.

If you and your spouse both speak Mandarin, then I’d say you both should talk Mandarin at home from day one. Don’t worry that your child wouldn’t learn the dominant language.

When your child starts kindy (4 years old in Australia) or fulltime primary/elementary school (5 years old in Australia), you’ll find that your child can quickly catch up with the dominant language. The concern that your child might be falling behind with the dominant language will soon disappear.

baby is thinking learning english phonics and chinese pinyin

2. Reading books, watch or listen to stories read-aloud in Mandarin.

Reading Chinese stories is an essential part of teaching your child Mandarin. It helps to improve children’s listening comprehension.

I know when living outside of China such as we do in Australia, it’s not so easy to get hold of Chinese storybooks. Our local library only provides English storybooks with a few Chinese children’s books available.

 

So, I have to buy most of the Chinese children’s books from China.  It’s costly, but I don’t have a choice. 

When I can’t get hold of the books my daughter loves in Simplified Chinese with Pinyin, I’d translate them and make DIY bilingual books so she can read as well.

Here are the books I’ve translated so far, and it’ll be more to come:

Pete the Cat – I Love My White Shoes

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons

I Can Read – This Is My Town

Little People Big Dreams – Frida Kahlo

I’ve also written a bilingual book The Legend of “Moon Festival”.

All of these resources are FREE for my subscribers so do check them out if you haven’t already.

Now, if you’re a Mandarin-speaking parent, make sure you read stories, a lot, in Mandarin. In our home, I read mostly in Mandarin and sometimes in English. Mark does English reading.

If you don’t speak Mandarin, you can play the story read-aloud videos or audios to your child so that your child can listen and copy the pronunciations from the native speakers.

To help non-native kids learn Mandarin via stories, I’ve dedicated a category Chinese Storytime on my YouTube channel where your child can read Chinese stories with me. You can also check out my other videos for stories read aloud in Chinese and English. 

I’ll be adding a lot more story-read-aloud videos in the future. If you want to know my latest videos, consider subscribing to my YouTube channel.

Also, if you want me to read a story in Mandarin for your child, go to the Panda Mama Facebook page and leave your message there. I’ll be happy to help.

3. Watch cartoons in Chinese.

While being conscious about the screen time, having your child watch Mandarin-speaking cartoons can be a great way to improve your child’s listening comprehension.

One app we often use at home is YouKu Kids, a Chinese app where kids can watch all sorts of cartoons and children’s programmes in Mandarin.

teach kids mandarin

Apart from the Chinese children’s shows, kids can also watch those that are familiar to non-natives such as Thomas, Barbie, Angelina, etc. mostly for FREE. You can download this app in any app store, or access it on its website here.

If you have a Netflix subscription, you can change some not all of the kids’ shows audio settings to Mandarin. I’ve only recently learned this function on Netflix from a parent in our community and I’m loving it.

Here is how to change the audio settings of Netflix: Go to the movie, scroll down to Audio and Subtitles. If that movie has Mandarin, it will show under the Audio option. Note, not all movies on Netflix provide Mandarin though. 

I also YouTube Kids and Australian ABC Kids, but the options are limited.

 

4. Use pretend-play to encourage your child to speak Mandarin.

It works very well for us. Children love pretend-play. My daughter’s imagination runs wild when she plays.  I only have one rule for pretend-play: speaking Mandarin with me.

For example, when we went to a playground yesterday, my daughter wanted to show me her “secret hiding places”. I said ok, but she must tell me the names of those secret hiding spots in Mandarin. I also asked her to give me clues that lead to those hiding places in Mandarin.

Before I knew it, she was speaking Mandarin with some formal (non-colloquial) Chinese words that we only use in the books. That tells me that she remembered the words she listened from the Chinese stories. Now you see why reading stories in Mandarin is a MUST.

In the event when my daughter doesn’t know certain words in Mandarin, I always tell her to say it in English first or mix English with Mandarin so that I don’t interrupt her thought process.  I’ll then interpret it to Mandarin and let her repeat after me.

 

5. Send your child to a school that teaches Chinese.

It can be an online school, weekend school, or an emersion primary/elementary school if you have access.

For example, I send my daughter to a Chinese school that runs on Saturday mornings. She also gets one lesson per week from the primary school she attends.

I don’t expect she learns much from these two places because her Chinese level has exceeded what they teach there. But, at least she can hang out with some Mandarin-speaking kids and the teachers there to increase the exposure to the Mandarin environment.

mandarin playtime

6. Make friends with Mandarin-speaking families and arrange playdays with their kids.

You can either look for the Mandarin-speaking families your know in your friends’ circle, in your neighborhood, or the playground.

Be proactive and chat with the parents first if you don’t know them initially. You’ll find most of the people would love to help once they know your intention.

Make friends with these families so that you can arrange playdays for your child. It’d be even better if you connect with like-minded families that also teach their kids Mandarin.

7. Set up video calls for your child with your Chinese family, visit or travel to China for holiday.

If you have family members in China who speak Mandarin, try to set up video calls so that your child can talk with your Chinese family members from time to time.

During the school holiday, if you have a Chinese family in China as we do, bring your child to visit them. If you don’t have a Chinese family, travel to China for a holiday.

You’ll find that once your child is in China, he/she can get around more than you do.

Years ago, I saw an American kid who was interpreting for his dad with his limited Chinese vocabulary in a shop in China. And the shopkeeper ended up teaching that kid a few Chinese words and gave him a free ice-cream as a reward because she was so impressed with the kid’s Mandarin! You should see the proud dad’s face! 

Image how much and how quickly your child can learn via interacting with native Chinese.

I witnessed this in my daughter too whenever we visited my family in China. When she spoke with grandparents, who didn’t know a word of English,  her Mandarin skills shone. She was using the Mandarin words I didn’t even know she had in her.

What’s my point? Keep teaching your child Mandarin at home and don’t give up because your child will store those Chinese words somewhere in her brain.

Giving the right opportunity, your child will speak Mandarin like you won’t believe. Your job is to create that suitable environment for your child to speak Mandarin.

help kids to speak mandarin at hom

8. Hire a baby sitter, a nanny, or a tutor if that suits you.

It could be an excellent way to teach your child Mandarin. A word of caution, though, is that before you hire any helper, make sure you do a “sound quality check” on the helper you’d hire.

By that I mean you need to ensure that your helper speaks good Mandarin, preferably a native Mandarin speaker from the northern part of China where Mandarin is the first language.

Chinese from non-Mandarin speaking regions in China could speak good Mandarin too, but only for those who have learned Pinyin well, trained in pronunciation, or have lived in Mandarin-speaking regions for a long period of time.

Apart from that, more or less, Chinese from non-Mandarin speaking regions would have an accent when speaking Mandarin.

Here is an idea if you don’t speak Mandarin yourself. You can ask a Mandarin-speaking friend to run the quality check for you. The last thing you want is to hire someone who can’t even speak proper Mandarin himself/herself to teach your child Mandarin.

Conclusion 

Teaching your child Mandarin at home is possible and rewarding. I highly recommend that you start teaching your child’s Mandarin with Pinyin. At the same time, increase your child’s exposure to the Mandarin environment in both listening (input) and speaking (output). The more, the better.

With your consistent teaching and a never-give-up spirit, your child will learn Mandarin and achieve a high fluency.

Remember, teaching your child Mandarin could mean a change in your lifestyle. You’ll need to prioritise things. Learning a 2nd language is a process of accumulation. It doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient and teach your child a little bit Mandarin every day is what it counts.

Questions:

Has this post provided you with a new perspective in teaching your child Chinese at home? Do you think Pinyin is worth the time? Love to hear your thoughts. Leave your comment below this post, or on Panda Mama Chinese Facebook. 

3.1 7 votes
Article Rating

Follow by Email
3
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x