4 Ways to Make Even The Most Stubborn Child Enjoy Learning Chinese

 

If getting your child to learn Chinese feels like rocket science, it might just be because you’re doing it all wrong. Check out our four tried-and-tested tips that will help you transform your child’s attitude towards Chinese!

1) Be realistic

20083699 - cute asian girl writing

If you sit your child down and tell him that you’re expecting his Chinese grades to improve from a D to an A in one month, that’s not just unrealistic, it’s also highly discouraging.

It’s great to set goals to work towards, but if these goals are unrealistic, your child might feel so overwhelmed that he or she ends up paralyzed with fear. We wouldn’t want that!

Instead, make sure that you and your child are on the same page, and that both of you agree on the goal that you’re working toward. Let your child know that you understand that Chinese is tough to master, and that you believe in him and will support him throughout his journey.

If you’re not sure about what is a realistic goal to aim for, KidStartNow is offering a free Chinese language assessment where we will analyze your child’s weakness and strengths, and come up with suggestions on how he or she can improve.  

2) Adopt a growth mindset

21191567 - group of primary school students holding paper saying i love chinese

If you’re not familiar with this term, a growth mindset refers to the belief that intelligence and skills can be developed through hard work. Conversely, a fixed mindset is the belief that intelligence is a fixed asset that people either possess or lack.

According to Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, who has conducted numerous studies on this topic, a growth mindset is essential in helping students realise their potential. Students with fixed mindsets are afraid to try for fear of failing and looking foolish – and it’s the students who are hungry for growth who end up the most successful.

So how do you get your children to adopt a growth mindset, specifically in the context of learning Chinese?

Celebrate small wins and make your child feel good about his or her progress, even if it’s something as small as passing a Chinese spelling test for the first time. Also make sure you don’t discourage your kids – for example, when they speak to you in Chinese, be sure to commend them for practicing the language. Don’t simply correct their pronunciation, without acknowledging their effort.

3) Adhere to a regular weekly reading schedule

20085638 - asian girl reading

Reading is one of the best ways to build your child’s interest and proficiency in Chinese. You might encounter some resistance at the start, but the objective is to get your children proficient to the point where they actually enjoy reading Chinese material – and they’ll be hooked from there. Bonus: kids who read regular do better in Comprehension and Composition, the two key “killer sections” for primary school student.

You may borrow books from the National Library, or purchase them from Taobao. A word of caution – it’s fine to opt for simpler material to start off with, but try to avoid books with Han Yu Pin Yin, as this will result in them becoming overly reliant on it and refusing to read books without Han Yu Pin Yin.

4) Lead by example

learn_with_parent

This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’ll be surprised at how many parents neglect to practice what they preach. Children look to their parents as their role models and take behavioural cues from them – so if you don’t utter a single word of Mandarin at home, it’s unlikely that they’ll learn enough to be effectively bilingual.

That having been said, there’s no need to go all out and outrightly ban English at home – simply reading the Chinese papers in front of your children, and designating ‘Speak Mandarin Days’ will go a long way in motivating them.

Your children aren’t having an easy time learning Chinese – so to avoid making it any harder than it has to be, make sure you get them to study smart instead of study hard. Instructing them to blindly memorise and regurgitate content won’t work; neither will forcing them to study without taking the time to cultivate their interest for Chinese first.

If you’re not sure where to start, register for KidStartNow’s free Chinese language assessment – we will help you analyse your child’s weakness and strengths, and come up with suggestions on how he or she can improve. Good luck!

Tips for learning Hanyu Pinyin

Hanyu Pinyin is a key concern for K2 and P1 parents and we interview two of our teachers, Li lao shi and Liu lao shi, to understand common problems students face when learning Hanyu Pinyin and some of their secret tips to help kids master it.

Why is important for my child to have a strong Hanyu Pinyin foundation before entering P1?

There is a large emphasis on Hanyu Pinyin in P1, and some schools allocate up to 40% of the mid year assessment marks to Hanyu Pinyin. It doesn’t help that primary schools teach Hanyu Pinyin very quickly, and will start testing spelling of blended words (e.g. , yǔ yī, wá wa) by the second week of school.

From experience, K2 kids that do not have a strong foundation in Hanyu Pinyin are likely to struggle in P1, leading to diminished confidence and interest in Chinese as they fall behind their peers. In addition, the larger P1 class sizes (20-30 vs 10 in preschool) makes it harder for kids to catch up.

The preschool to primary school transition can be challenging for kids, and having a strong foundation in Hanyu Pinyin makes the transition easier since it gives kids a leg up in a critical component and also helps kids learn vocabulary faster since every word in the P1 textbook has accompanying Hanyu Pinyin.

What are some of the biggest problems P1 students face when learning Hanyu Pinyin?

The majority of marks lost on tests come differentiating vowel tones and blending consonants with vowels. The following diagram is a common P1 type of question where students have to mark the correct vowel tone, and students tend to mix up the second and third vowel tone.

Vowel tone question

 

Another common problem students face is how to properly blend consonants and vowels , and in the following set of questions, students need to recognise the words corresponding to each picture and write down the correct consonant.

Blending question

 

How can I help my child learn Hanyu Pinyin?

Learning Hanyu Pinyin can be quite boring so it is important to help your child build interest first via fun activities, media and games (see the section below for an example of a game we use in class) before moving on to practice worksheets.

Typically, we recommend a three-step process when learning Hanyu Pinyin – start by ensuring your child fully understands and recognises the individual consonants and vowels (including different tones). It is important that your child masters this step before moving on to the harder steps.

We have compiled a list of Hanyu Pinyin songs on YouTube, and you can play it and have your child sing along (learning is far more effective if your child is actively singing along rather than passively listening). Once he or she is able to do this, we recommend testing your child on individual consonants and vowels (you can buy colourful Hanyu Pinyin charts at Popular, as well as the汉语拼音宝宝 flashcard series).

1.《汉语拼音歌》(单韵母和声母)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcoVki2y0Rw
2.《声母歌》
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMwmzGnN69A
3.《平扬拐弯降》(声调歌)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGUsV98a3Ng
4.《复韵母练习》
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XoJQcti4K2Q
5. 《鼻韵母练习》
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqBtlCQp2Kg
6.《标调口诀儿歌》
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8RP1R76JPU

The next step is blending the consonants and vowels together to form a word. The way to master blending is through practice, and see below for the details of one of the games we use in class to make practice fun.

  1. Each child will hold on to a paper with either a consonant or a vowel. On a separate table, prepare four head pieces for each of the four tones.

Headpieces corresponding to different vowel tones

  1. The teacher will pick one child to be the narrator and will show him or her a Hanyu Pinyin word (e.g. ) on a piece of paper/portable whiteboard (only the narrator can see the word).
  2. The narrator will say out the word and the children holding the consonant and the vowel of the word (e.g. b and o) have to stand up.
  3. The child holding the vowel will have to go to the table with the four head pieces and select the head piece with the correct tone and wear it.
  4. Afterwards, each kid will say either the consonant or vowel he or she is holding up, and then say the final blended word.

Narrator PropsBlending exercises

Once your child is comfortable with blending, the final step is getting your child familiar with the Hanyu Pinyin questions tested in P1 through worksheet practice. Since many P1 Hanyu Pinyin questions also test students’ vocabulary (need to first recognise a picture or word before writing the corresponding Hanyu Pinyin), it’s important to ensure that your child is comfortable with the P1 vocabulary wordlist as well.

 

What if I want extra help?

If you would like some extra help on Hanyu Pinyin, KidStartNow is having a Hanyu Pinyin camp during the upcoming Dec holidays for K2 and P1 kids. The camp is from Nov 22-25, 11:30-1:30pm or Dec 13-16, 11:30-1:30pm and we only have a few vacancies left.

The camp will reinforce Hanyu Pinyin fundamentals, with a focus on typical problem spots faced by kids entering P1 like vowel tones and blending. The camp will include vocabulary exercises covering common words from the P1 syllabus to help kids get used to the P1 format and curriculum.

Sign up before 6st Nov 2016 to enjoy a special $30 discount ($285 vs normal price of $315) or sign up in groups of 3+ to enjoy a special rate of $260 per child($55 savings vs normal price of $315)! Leave us your details below and we will contact you within 2 working days.

How your kids can speak more Chinese (without complaining)

Who says English speaking kids do not and cannot love Mandarin?

Many parents ask us the same thing – why do my kids refuse to speak Chinese? Aren’t they a little too young to hate Chinese? 

Surprise one: they actually can speak Mandarin. Watching through our webcam of the class, parents were amazed at how much Chinese their kids can and will speak.

“I sat down to watch via the TV screen in the waiting area. What happened next shocked me. He spoke in Chinese. Actually not such bad Chinese, either. You have to understand I’d never really heard him try before – he’d always refused to perform when asked, coyly insisting (that it was the “wrong” language for the social situation at hand, what with me being all English-speaking and so on,” says Bronwyn Joy, mother of P, K2.

P having fun speaking Chinese during our Jun Holiday camp

P having fun speaking Chinese during our Jun Holiday camp

For some, their unwillingness to speak Chinese despite learning it in school or from additional classes boils down to a lack of confidence (rather than vocabulary).

That’s why we have focused on building this confidence through constant encouragement, role playing and digital coins. As kids become more confident, they are naturally more willing to converse in Chinese.

“We have been extremely impressed by the huge improvement that our son Mark has experienced through KidStartNow. Despite daily half an hour Mandarin classes in preschool for the last 2 years, he has resisted speaking Mandarin and even refused to let me speak to him in Mandarin. However, within one class at KidStartNow, he has been very open to learning Mandarin and receptive to me speaking Mandarin to him at home,” says Carolyn Chin, mother of Mark, an N2 student. 

“Mark really enjoyed the fun and interactive style of teaching where children learn through play and interest is nurtured, unlike other tuition schools. We have been really grateful in particular to teacher Marissa for her patient and interesting teaching style.”

Mark volunteering enthusiastically during his Chinese class

Mark volunteering enthusiastically during his Chinese class

What can parents do to build up oral confidence?

Outside class, you can help your kids build this oral confidence. As we wrote in a previous article (https://blog.kidstartnow.com/2014/06/19/28/), the most important tip is realising that getting comfortable with Chinese takes time (months not weeks), and it is very important to encourage baby steps.

For instance, a common issue with kids from predominantly English speaking families is incorrect Chinese pronunciation or wrong usage of vocabulary. As parents, we naturally want kids to speak correctly, and as we get worried about our kids’ speaking ability, we sometimes get frustrated and impatient. While it is normal to get worried, kids are very good at reading our expressions, and this can hurt their self-confidence in Chinese, leading them to clamp up. 

Instead, the best thing to do is praise baby steps. In class, we constantly emphasise to kids that it is okay to make mistakes and it is more important to keep trying and keep improving. When kids try to say something in Chinese but get it wrong, we praise their effort and tell them the correct expression – reinforcing this by having them repeat after us at the end.

Through this method of encouragement and positive reinforcement, we build up their oral confidence and willingness to speak Chinese.

Which games or activities did the kids enjoy the most? How can parents adopt the same activities at home?

We found that kids really enjoyed the role playing activities in camp – not surprising since preschoolers love to mimic. This is also a great way to build interest in Chinese, as well as develop oral confidence and word recognition.

While speech and drama classes, costumes and props are nice to have, you can easily do role-playing at home with items at home and a dash of improvisation and imagination 🙂 

Take for instance our recent story involving Pirate Panda and his adventures in a vegetable farm. While having panda, carrot and pumpkin soft-toys are nice (and kids absolutely adore it), you can do role-playing with items easily found at home like a teddy bear or real carrots, etc.

Props like the ones we use in class are nice to have, but parents can easily improvise at home

Props like the ones we use in class are nice to have, but parents can easily improvise at home

Just grab a Chinese book your child enjoys (preferably with dialog so they can pretend to be characters), and have your kids act out the various scenes.  

For parents who aren’t as confident in their own Chinese skills, try choosing books with audio read-aloud, so you can read together with your kids.

Our popular animated storybooks are a great way to help even reluctant Chinese readers love to learn Chinese, and kids are quickly drawn to our exciting stories, animation and sound effects. It also contains audio read-aloud and text-highlighting, so parents can read together with kids regardless of ability. We are offering a free 30 day trial (http://www.jiejieandfriends.com/signup, referral code is “SKA”), so give it a try now!

Try out our popular animated storybooks now

Try out our popular animated storybooks now

10 ways your kids can love Chinese

Last week, Singapore Motherhood invited us to write an article on how to help kids love to learn Chinese. Indeed, learning Chinese does not have to be dry or difficult, and we share 10 ways to help your kids start loving Chinese.

1. Be patient and encouraging

The first and most important tip: realising that getting comfortable with Chinese takes time, especially if your kid currently lacks confidence in Chinese. The process of helping your kid love learning Chinese will takes months, not weeks. So when your child refuses to read a Chinese book or speak Mandarin at the start, do not worry or express displeasure as this is normal. Instead, praise your kid for baby steps (e.g. saying a word in Chinese) and encourage him or her to keep on trying.

2. Read Chinese books with your kids

Reading helps kids develop a love for languages and is an important step to helping them become effectively bilingual and confident Mandarin speakers. Select wholesome and age appropriate books – good quality picture books help pique interest in younger kids, while a strong plot will keep older kids enthralled. Start introducing Chinese books into bedtime reading sessions and soon habit will become second nature!

Parents who cannot read Chinese or struggle with the language should not be left out – they can read electronic books where voiceover and text highlighting help overcome this challenge.

3. Sing your way to success

Songs are a great way to encourage kids to develop interest and an ear for the language. Younger kids are drawn to music which they can sing and dance to, while older kids are likely to benefit from wholesome Chinese songs.

4. Use Chinese cartoons as a tool

Kids love watching animation so do help them by selecting good educational Chinese cartoons. Use them as tools to encourage conversation, rather than passive entertainment. For instance, when watching a YouTube video with your kid, pause the video at regular intervals to ask leading questions in Chinese (“What are they doing? Who do you like best) and encourage your kid to reply in Chinese.

5. Challenge your kids

Kids love to win, so why not a Mandarin challenge? One easy way is to get your kids to read to you – this helps build oral confidence and word recognition skills simultaneously. It works well for non-Chinese students too – one of our Malay students loves to read to her mother and is happy to help correct her pronunciation!

6. Make speaking Chinese a game

Kids also respond well when properly motivated. In our classes, we award students with digital gold coins when they behave well and participate enthusiastically, which can be exchanged for stickers. A similar system can be easily implemented at home. Do not to penalise your kids for wrong answers as it would discourage them from speaking more Mandarin.

7. Let’s get creative

Kids all learn differently so let’s get creative. For example, throw away the boring flashcard to teach “Apple” and get your child to paint or draw the fruit instead. Keep all their art works for an original picture dictionary!

If your kid likes games, why not learn word recognition using snakes and ladders – with a twist. Before taking turns to throw the dice, quiz your kids using word cards. If they recognise the word, they can throw and move. If they don’t, you get to move. Do remember to coach them if they forget. Within a few rounds, the desire to win will definitely improve their memory.

Using board games to teach Chinese

8. Make Chinese a part of your daily life

If your child becomes used to speaking only English at home, it can be difficult to change. Start by weaving Mandarin into daily life – such as a set hour where the family communicates only in Chinese (and to sweeten the deal tie this hour to their favourite play time or activities). Or when out and about, consciously point out street names and places of interest etc in Chinese. For example, when you are next at the zoo, add 长颈鹿, after saying giraffe.

9. Help your kids appreciate Chinese language and culture

It’s easy to believe that Mandarin is all about drilling, spelling and word exercises. But your kids are missing out on the charming Chinese language, culture and history.

Change that by sharing interesting stories about how Chinese words came about with your younger kids while older children might like to hear about the origins of idioms or mythological characters.

10. Immerse your kids in Chinese

And what better way to appreciate Chinese language and culture than to travel to China or Taiwan? It is a great way to immerse your children in the rich culture and have them experience first hand how useful it is to learn Chinese!

Here are some resources that can be your starting point on your journey to making the Chinese language fun to learn. No matter which method you choose, please stick to it and you will see results in time. Your kids may be resistant in the beginning, but your patience and perseverance will definitely help them to develop the interest and confidence in using Mandarin daily!