How to improve Mandarin-speaking ability for kids
RHS image adapted from Wang Jing, AsianNewsPhoto
In our increasingly globalised world, it’s important to cultivate a strong foundation of one’s Mother Tongue from as tender of an age as possible. That said, the task is also getting increasingly difficult as mass media nowadays is flooded with Western influences.
Trust me, picking up a beginner’s guide to the Chinese language as a grown-up after years of FOMO-ing around Mandarin-speaking friends is no fun. Give our next generation a helping hand and encourage them to start young with these 8 ways for kids to improve their Mandarin skills.
1. Buy Chinese comics and folklore books for bedtime stories and casual reading
Image credit: Wang Jing, AsianNewsPhoto
Chinese folklore tales aren’t just whimsical and a delight to indulge in before bed; most of them also come with a wholesome moral to the story that teaches your child positive values in a light-hearted yet educational manner.
Image credit: @aliciacho
For some leisurely fun that certainly beats getting glued to mindless games on a computer screen, get ahold of some Chinese comic books. One classic favourite is Lao Fu Zi – a.k.a Old Master Q – a series which has spanned more than half a century bringing loads of laughter amidst teaching new Chinese words. It’s practically the Chinese version of Archie comics!
Whether it’s an inspirational superhero saga or a collection of hilarious shenanigans, your child will be practicing his or her reading abilities in a way that’s infinitely more enjoyable than simply flipping through a textbook.
2. Allocate time slots to speak to them only in Mandarin
Parents who may not possess the strongest grasp of Mandarin, we hear you. While it may seem a little out of your comfort zone at first, setting designated time slots to converse exclusively in Mandarin will make a world of difference over time.
The preset practice windows prevent fatigue from exerting your brain all day to speak strictly in a language that’s not your default. It also makes it something that the child can look forward to, rather than shutting out completely if they were forced to speak pure Mandarin 24/7. Furthermore, it’ll train the mind to be flexible and able to switch between languages with ease.
3. Bring them on Chinese excursions like craft-making, festivals and cultural showcases
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Instead of going for the same shopping mall outings on loop every weekend, keep a lookout for activities and exhibits popping up every now and then. A good place to start is at your neighbourhood community centre, where opera, orchestra and puppetry performances are hosted on the regular.
Memorable bonding time with the fam coupled with the excitement of trying something new will no doubt cultivate a deeper fascination with Chinese culture, and a stronger urge to improve one’s Mandarin skills as a result.
Image credit: Jacky Chen at CultureInCart
Seasonal occasions such as the Mid-Autumn Festival also mean there’ll be special crafts and cooking workshops for intriguing cultural staples, such as lantern-making and even mooncake-baking.
4. Text them in Chinese to develop a strong hanyu pinyin foundation
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For kids who have already begun using mobile devices, message them in Chinese so they have the opportunity to practice typing in hanyu pinyin. It’s a lot less daunting because of the technology’s trial-and-error nature, comprising of autocomplete phrases and suggested corrections even when certain words are misspelt.
Making use of tech gadgets also gives your child a greater sense of freedom and control. It’ll feel like a treat or reward, being granted the “grownup” experience of constructing messages through tippity-taps.
5. Get them to keep a Word Bank regularly filled with new entries
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Regularly filling in a Word Bank and not just memorising, but actively practising their new learnings is one of the most sure-fire ways to boost one’s vocab. In the case of Mandarin-speakers, kids get the added bonus of being able to test their character writing skills, solidifying their knowledge of basic strokes a.k.a 笔画 (bǐ huà).
Encourage them to make a habit out of jotting down unfamiliar words and phrases they hear along the way, be it through media consumption or everyday conversations.
6. Introduce them to Chinese movies, TV shows and Mandopop
Jay Chou’s heartfelt ballads contain some seriously poetic lyrics
Image adapted from YouTube
Consuming media of one’s native language is an effortless way to pick up new words and phrases. As a child, my dad played Mandarin songs during family car rides which inadvertently developed a curiosity to figure out what those catchy lyrics meant.
Bringing your tiny tots to the cinema for some Chinese flicks, or simply bonding with them over a post-dinner TV sesh on Channel 8, are both great ways to have them invested in a storyline which requires understanding of the Mandarin conversations.
7. Label common items to help them pick up everyday vocabulary
This method exposes them to key phrases through visual association, without the stiff monotony of sitting through a flashcard memorisation session. Slap labels onto everyday objects – writing both the Chinese character as well as the hanyu pinyin – so that your children can gradually increase their Mandarin reading and speaking vocabulary over time.
To test their knowledge, spring a pop quiz upon them every now and then. If there’s one thing kids respond well to, it’s a “gaming” system where they can unlock rewards and conquer new levels of difficulty.
8. Enrol them into a Mandarin-speaking learning environment as early as possible
Image credit: Masterminds
Early education serves as a crucial stage of children’s learning, their brains are pretty much an ultra-strong sponge that’s able to pick up and retain boundless amounts of new info.
Now just imagine if all their subjects are taught in Mandarin. It’d be a breeze to not just grasp keywords and phrases, but develop confidence in higher-level comprehension and self-expression as well.
Improve your child’s Mandarin at a young age with the Masterminds Chinese Immersion Programme
A Chinese Speech & Drama class in session at Masterminds
Image credit: Masterminds
Selecting a preschool for your precious child can get overwhelming, especially if you’ve identified a strong foundation of Mandarin reading, writing and listening skills to be a priority.
The nursery curriculum at Masterminds comprises of a Chinese Immersion Programme, where classes are conducted completely in Mandarin.
Offered to kids as young as 18 months old, the programme is an effective way to impart Mandarin skills upon children without the rote rigour of forced memorisation.
You’ll get to relish not only the peace of mind that your child is in good hands, but eager anticipation of his or her steadily evolving Mandarin skills at such a tender age.
This post was brought to you by Masterminds.