In this post, I’m going to talk about why it is essential for children, particularly for non-native children to learn Pinyin.
In a nutshell, if you want your children to learn and speak Mandarin with no or minimum accent like native Mandarin speakers, they must learn Pinyin, period!
Even Chinese children have to learn Pinyin when they start Kindy.
There are reason for it, which are:
Table of Contents
1 – Pinyin sets children’s pronunciation of Mandarin on the right track from the very beginning.
As I mentioned in my other post, WHAT IS PINYIN, there are many dialects spoken in China.
I’m not sure exactly how many but I’ve read somewhere that there are more than 200 dialects, which I have no doubt.
Mandarin is only one of them which was made as an official language of China because most of the capitals in Chinese history were and still is in the northern part of China.
For those Chinese children who are not born in the northern part of China where Mandarin is not their first language, they have their dialects.
So, how do they learn to speak Mandarin? By learning Pinyin!
The same theory applies to non-native Chinese children who are starting to learn the Chinese language.
It would help children to pronounce Mandarin correctly from the get-go.
Keep in mind that Mandarin is a tonal language, meaning each complete Pinyin has a particular meaning when matching with a Chinese character. When a tone changes, though, with the same Pinyin alphabets, the meaning would change!
So, getting the sounds right at the beginner stage is a MUST.
You don’t want your children to have learned Mandarin with incorrect pronunciation and later found out their Mandarin sound funny.
It’d take a lot more efforts and consistent practice to get children back on the right ‘soundtrack’ later on.
So, why not get it right the first time?
Mastering Pinyin is like any other skills children have to learn. Don’t let the bad habits (or incorrect pronunciation) set in, then try to correct later on.
Take swimming as an example.
My daughter has been learning swimming. When she started her swimming, there were three older kids joined the class.
Judging by the way those kids were swimming, they must have learned from someone before, but not from a trained coach. They were all over the place in the pool.
The coach couldn’t get them to do the correct techniques despite all the efforts she had made. They just kept going back swimming in their old ways.
Can’t blame those kids. They can’t help it because the muscle memory has ingrained in their bodies. It’d take much longer for them to re-learn, adjust, and practice before they can swim like a pro.
Do you see what I mean? If those kids learned proper swimming technique at the beginning, then they don’t have to correct it again later on.
So, learn Pinyin at the beginning is like learning swimming for children. It’s imperative to get it right from outset.
As a native Mandarin speaker, way too often that I hear non-natives speaking Mandarin with a strong accent that I hardly understand. When speaking Mandarin, it’s ok to have a minor accent. Even Chinese from non-Mandarin speaking regions have an accent.
But, you want your child to keep that accent at the minimum so that he/she can talk without being misunderstood.
I’m a strong advocate of kids or beginners learn Pinyin before anything else. I’ve written extensively about the importance of Pinyin. If you want to find out more, you can check out my other Pinyin related posts below:
Unfortunately, there’re many non-native parents still believing Pinyin are unnecessary or should be learned when kids are older. I beg to differ.
In China, Pinyin is mandatory and rudimentary for kids starting from Year one.
As a native Mandarin speaker and someone who has learned English as a 2nd language at age 24, I know what to focus on to get it right when it comes to learning a 2nd language.
So, please begin with Pinyin when you teach Mandarin at home. It’ll take some time for your child to master Pinyin. But it’s worth it.
As a reference, I, myself, have spent a year teaching my daughter Pinyin between age 5- 6. Now, my daughter has mastered Pinyin and it’s paying off. She can easily pick up a children’s book, for her age of course, and read it by herself.
Does she know all the Chinese words in the book? Nope. But she’s able to enjoy the story and sound out the new Chinese words with the help of Pinyin. One day, as she grows, I have no doubt that she’ll leave the Pinyin out entirely and just read the words.
2. Pinyin helps kids to read books in Simplified Chinese.
Since my daughter reached six in May 2020, I’ve started to introduce Chinese reading in our teaching routine.
Due to a lack of access to quality bilingual storybooks, I’ve started translating the English books that she loves to Chinese with Pinyin so that she can learn to read in two languages.
These are the books I’ve translated so far:
I’ve also written a bilingual book The Legend of Moon Festival
Why is Pinyin crucial for early readers? It helps them to sound out aloud the Chinese characters in Mandarin with the correct pronunciations. It reinforces their Pinyin skills and enables kids to enjoy the stories without interrupting the reading flow.
I’ve heard some parents comment like this: kids would be lazy in reading Chinese characters if Pinyin was used.
That’s not true. Reading is about enjoying the stories and cultivate an interest in books.
Pinyin is there to help kids or beginners to pronounce the new or the unknown Chinese characters/words in Mandarin when they appear.
It’s ok to skip words if kids come across those they don’t know when reading books.
As kids read more and more Chinese books, their vocabulary will grow. So, what’s the rush?
If I have to choose between cultivating my child’s interest in reading vs. being obsessed with the number of Chinese characters she knows, I’ll choose the former option. Wouldn’t you?
In China, Pinyin gradually phases out when kids move into Year 2 to Year 3. But still, Pinyin will be used against the new words when it pops up in the textbooks.
3. Pinyin aids ongoing self-learning and self-improving Mandarin as your child grows into teen and adult years.
As kids grow into their teens and adult years, they will come across new Chinese characters that they’re not sure how to pronounce.
With the help of Pinyin, they will be able to check the Pinyin for that Chinese word and find out the pronunciation by themselves.
Also, for non-native speakers, once learned Pinyin, they will be very conscious about their pronunciation when speaking Mandarin. They would be able to correct their pronunciation when they make a mistake.
Why do I know this? That’s because I do this all the time. Even as a native Chinese, I still have new words that I’m not sure how to pronounce. When that happens, I’d use Pinyin to sound out the new words. Or, whenever I feel my Mandarin pronunciation is not perfect, I’d use Pinyin to correct it.
4. Pinyin helps to type Chinese characters.
When children grow older, they’ll be ready to type Chinese characters using a keyboard.
How do they input the Chinese words into a computer? One way and the easiest way to do it is to type in Pinyin!
The video below is how I input Chinese characters using Pinyin on the keyboard.
Step 1. Assuming they’ve learned all the Pinyin and the Chinese characters they want to type in.
Step 2. They can punch the Pinyin on the keyboard because Pinyin are essentially Latin alphabets and they used and sound differently.
Step 3. Children can use the English letters from A-Z on the keyboard to type out ALL the Pinyin.
Step 4. Next, the typing software will show the closest Chinese characters on the computer screen.
Step 5. They can go ahead to select the characters they want and Voila! The Chinese characters are IN!
By now, I hope I’ve convinced you that your children need to learn Pinyin as the 1st fundamental skill of learning the Chinese language.
The question is when children should start to learn Pinyin?
I’ve got the answer for you in my post WHEN IS THE BEST TIME FOR CHILDREN TO LEARN PINYIN.
So, do you think these are the valid reasons for your children to learn Pinyin? Any other benefits you can think of? Do you have a different approach? Love to hear your thoughts. Please leave your comments below or go to Panda Mama Chinese Community to start the discussion.