Who wants to know HOW can you teach Chinese to your kids as a Non-Native Speaker? Do you want to know some TIPS to have success with it?
Because I would never be the expert on this area, so I’m so excited to introduce my friend Bea, a Polish mother, who is currently teaching her son Chinese to share her experience with us. Her courage and faith motivated me to ask her to write us a post and to share some of her experiences and tips of her teaching here. I hope you all will be benefited from it and have more courage to start this journey with us.
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My son’s and my language adventure started nearly seven years ago, when he was born and I began introducing him to English and Polish at the same time. I am Polish living in the United Kingdom and all these years ago, I just wanted to make sure that my son would speak our community language as well as the heritage language of both his parents. Little did I know it was just the beginning of our linguistic journey.
About six months ago, my son approached me and informed with the determined voice of a six-year-old that he wanted to learn Japanese. Not only that, he wanted to learn Chinese, too! It wasn’t something I was expecting. Yes, I have always told him how great it is to speak more than one language and I thought that one day, at school, he would start learning French or Spanish. Ka and his dad already watched fragments of Japanese films, listened to Taiko drummers and recreated fights of Japanese warriors but I never envisaged anything more than that. Perhaps, though, I should have seen it coming.
From the start, I always praised Ka for speaking two languages. I wanted to make sure that he felt comfortable and confident of being the only bilingual kid at school. We live in a rural area of Dorset and one of my biggest worries was that one day he would come back from school and refuse speaking in Polish. Children do not really like to be different so in my son’s case, the only thing I could do was to keep telling him how great it was to be unique and how amazing to be able to communicate with even more people in the world. Apparently, it must have reached deeper that I thought.
The first thing I did was research how popular Chinese and Japanese are in the world. Mandarin Chinese, with over 1 billion speakers all over the world, is undeniably top of the list. This is also the language of the largest economy in the world, which may suggest that “the future is in China”, as I recently have heard from a resolute seven-year-old Chinese girl, whom we’ve met in the playground.
It’s been only around 6 months since we started, so everything is still very new to me. I’m trying to keep our Chinese lessons relaxed. We don’t do our Mandarin every day, although that’s our ultimate goal. Mandarin is indeed one of the most difficult languages in the world and if you want your child to be fluent, they will need to spend significant time on learning it. According to research studies, Chinese requires, on average, 2200 class hours to reach speaking and reading proficiency whilst English or Spanish as one of the easiest languages requires only around 600 hours to reach a similar level of fluency. Quite a difference!
Luckily for us, more and more often my son is asking me to “have our Chinese time”. Recently, he planned a routine for our after-school time and Chinese sounds, for him, the icing on the cake. I’ll be honest, I’m incredibly excited about it.
How I Am Teaching My Child Chinese as a Non-Native Speaker
It’s not easy to teach a language if you’re not a native speaker and it’s even worse if you can’t speak the language at all! If I can do it, though, so can you! I do everything by trials and errors, so if you follow my steps you might have a chance to avoid making the mistakes I’ve already made.
When introducing my child to a language, just like in any other teaching process, I find it important to do things at my child’s own pace. No pressure, no learning the same things over and over again because I know he finds it boring and frustrating. Of course, there must always be some encouragement but I’m trying to keep it as free from tension as possible.
This is what we have learnt so far:
- YouTube is our friend. Fall in love with this video-sharing website, if you haven’t so far. It’s an endless source of all kinds of lessons, songs, and videos for children. It’s also free! It helped me enormously when I was introducing English to my little son, so it was the first place I turned to when I decided to give it a try with Chinese.
- Play songs. My six (and a half, as I am always being reminded) year-old son has quite mature interests for his age but he is still more than happy to watch Mandarin nursery rhymes. I tend to choose the videos with lyrics in pinyin. This is a system of writing Mandarin Chinese, which uses the Latin alphabet.
- Sit down with your child whenever he or she is studying. I can see how important it is for my son to have me around, watching him as he is writing and discussing what he is learning.
- Befriend a family who speaks your target language, ideally with children of a similar age. This way you can ensure that your child gets the much-needed language exposure.
- Help your child find a friend, who is a native Mandarin speaker. For us, Skype is the device we always turn to. Little children tend to prefer this to telephone conversations because it gives the voice a face and makes the whole experience of communicating with another person more real. Thanks to Skype we can keep in touch with our family in Poland and now, we can meet up with our new friends from China. It took me a few months before I finally found a family, who was keen to take up the challenge. Now, every week I am preparing new “lessons” and Ka and these two lovely girls from China are learning from each other. It’s truly amazing to see how these kids are beginning to communicate. I will be sharing my lessons on my blog, so do stay in touch.
- Read books in Chinese. As a non-native speaker, I find it necessary to buy “three in one” books, which are written in Chinese characters, pinyin, and English. I don’t think we would be able to get anywhere on our language journey if we didn’t have pinyin.
- Fill your house with Mandarin sounds. When my son is playing with Lego or K’nex, or when he is conducting his experiments with slime laboratory (yes, it looks just like it sounds), I just turn to YouTube so he can listen to Mandarin songs or lessons in the background. He enjoys videos for children but he is also happy to listen to the lessons for adult beginners. This was somewhat of a surprise to me; now he even has his favourite teachers!
- Make use of modern technologies. There are many apps to help learn a language, it shouldn’t be difficult to find your own favourite.
- Find a class. Whatever you are doing at home as a non-native speaker will get even better results if you enhance it with lessons taught by non-native speakers. If you cannot find any classes in your area, online solutions can help. Soon we are going to have our first experience with Italki and I will tell you how we get on!
- Make it fun! Use songs, arts, crafts, games and cooking to make the language learning process interesting and entertaining.
- Label household objects in Mandarin. It’s amazing how fast your child can learn new words in their new language!
- Ignite your child’s interest in Mandarin. Read about Chinese culture, watch films, or simply go to an ethnic foods department in your local supermarket to find something new and exciting. Have a real taste of China.
- Make the language learning adventure real. I promised to my son that if he keeps learning Chinese, that next year I will take him to China. I already know I am way behind my son in learning Mandarin so he will have to be my interpreter. You should see the sparkle of pride in his eyes when I tell him about this!
- Introduce your child to TV shows geared towards young children. Once again YouTube is a helpful resource in this area.
These are just some of the ideas you could try at home. I am working on a few more solutions to increase the language exposure for my little son and as soon as I get closer to making them a reality, I will certainly share my news on BornBilingual.
Bea Sieradzka is a Polish mother living in the United Kingdom. As a non-native speaker, she first taught her son English and now she is teaching him Mandarin Chinese.
At her blog, Born Bilingual, Bea shares information and ideas to help non-native parents raise bilingual and multilingual children.