Thursday, May 17, 2012

Making Chinese Fun for your Preschoolers!

For my second post this week, I am pleased to share with you a guest post from Katherine Tay, owner of Happy Cottage, an online webstore for Chinese books.

I have been buying books regularly from Katherine and have also attended a workshop where she shared more about Chinese homelearning. So, I thought that it would be great to have Katherine share with us top 5 tips on how to engage preschoolers in Chinese language on the homefront!

Many mommies often comment that it’s difficult to teach Chinese and their children are resistant to learning the language. Indeed, Chinese is a more difficult language to learn as compared to English; you need to remember the “shape” of the words as they are pictorial in nature. I have shared about the nature of Chinese characters here.

While classroom teaching is necessary to get structured learning done, learning a language is best done through listening and reading. It is difficult enough for adults to understand and remember the rules regarding the use of grammar and sentence structure, let alone a young child. It is the constant listening and reading that ingrain the use of correct grammar and structure into our system.

What can a parent do to help our child(ren) in the learning of Chinese language?

#1. Be a role model

We are our children’s role model. I’m sure everyone agrees. So lead by example with regards to learning the Chinese language. If you are able to converse in Mandarin, I encourage you to do so with your children so that they have the chance to learn the language. If English has been your primary language of communication, are you able to integrate Chinese into your communication? Maybe a certain amount of time per day, or certain days in a week. When they listen more, they will feel more comfortable with the language, and "absorb" more words to engage in a conversation with you. Even if your child replies in English, you can repeat what he says in Mandarin, and continue to converse with him in Mandarin. Encourage him to speak to you in Mandarin; gently correct him when his wrong by repeating what he has said in the correct way.

Have you ever have the experience of someone speaking to you in Mandarin, you had the tendency to reply in Mandarin as well, even if it’s mixed with English? That is the same way we want to influence our children.

Learn together with your child if you are not so proficient in it. Listen to Chinese songs or watch a Chinese show together. Your child(ren) will catch onto your enthusiasm and learning spirit.

#2. Make Chinese real and practical for the child

When a language becomes a subject, it becomes a chore to learn it. As adults, we are motivated by our needs to learn a new language. For children, they won’t give you their attention if you tell them they need to learn Chinese because they are Chinese, or that they need to pass the examination, or that it will benefit them in the future etc.

Make Chinese part of their daily life. Use it at home while playing games, watching TV, during meal time… Also, many grandparents can converse in Mandarin (no offence to grandparents who converse in English) but I see many old people try very hard to communicate with their grandchildren in English. Grandparents are actually a great source for the children to learn from and practice Mandarin/ Chinese with. Let the children speak to them in Mandarin instead.

Besides the opportunity to use it at home, you can find the opportunity for them to use the language in the external environment, for example when ordering food or reading Chinese signages.

#3. Reading with your child

I cannot emphasize this enough. Read to learn more words and sentence structure. Highlight to them the words which you are teaching or have taught them that appear in the story so as to build up their confidence in reading. This is especially for books which use good description as they are a great source of learning for composition writing.

#4. Do learning activities he likes (投其所好)

You can slowly reduce the resistance when you engage him in doing something he enjoys. Like for my kids, they like to cut and paste. So a lot of my learning activities involve these two skills.

You can teach Chinese at anytime, anywhere. I’ve done it while they were playing with Playdough.
There are a lot of things you can do with story books. You can do dramatization of the story, change part or ending of the story with your child, engage in oral comprehension with your child, or play games based on the story.

 I’ve done it when we were playing on the beach too.

#5. Reuse resources you have for teaching other subjects

Many mommies have great resources you have purchased or made for teaching other subjects. You can use the same materials to teach Chinese too (except Phonics materials of course ^.^).

For example, I have boxes of flashcards that I used to use with my son when he was younger. I used them for both English and Chinese, on separate occasions. In that way, he learns the English and Chinese version of the same item.

Every child can learn Chinese. Give them the opportunity to do so.

Katherine Tay is a mother of two preschoolers and is an ex-Primary School Chinese teacher. Katherine started Happy Cottage as a means to share the Chinese books and useful resources she has used with her children in her goal to create a condusive environment to encourage and cultivate the love of Chinese language and Chinese books at home.

Happy Cottage is located at:


  1. These are good, practical and easy-to-use tips. Thanks Katherine! :)

  2. Thanks for sharing. I just realise I have been telling my son that he need to learn chinese because he is chinese. No wonder, he does not show any interest. I also tried negotiating with him to speak Mandarin once or twice a week. It didn't work. The only method work best for him is reading chinese storieS:)

  3. Thanks for sharing! This is great!

  4. Hi June, yes, the tips are indeed practical and most importantly "do-able". :)

  5. Dragonfly: Thanks for popping by! BTW, I love love love your bentos and have been inspired by yours and Justina's to finally make my Dumpling's bento a bit *ahem* more presentable. :p

  6. Hi Winnie, yes, all thanks to Katherine! And you've got PM! :)

  7. I agree with all of the above but being a role model part is tough for me as I don't speak the language. But I do encourage my son to speak and make him understand that i'm trying my level best to learn but somehow my tongue is FAT and can't pronounce those words as good as him -.-

  8. Hi Merryn,

    Thanks for stopping by again. :) I don't think Katherine's list is a checklist but rather some ideas which parents can use. Of course, if you do not speak the language, some may not apply to you. :)

    I do recall that I read of a mummy whom does not speak the Chinese language like you, had success with Audio books. So that could be one area you may want to look into.

  9. Hi Merryn

    I think you've done a great job by showing him that you are learning too even though you find it challenging :) You are being a good role model to him!
    Try to get some books that has accompanying DVDs or audio CDs so that you and him can listen and learn how to read the words. As you learn a new word, write it down, display it, and both of you can revise it.

    Jia You! ^.^


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