Raising A Happy Mandarin Learner

Does your toddler prefer speaking in English to Mandarin?
Is it a chore to get your pre-schooler interested in Chinese books?
Are you worried your child will have a hard time learning Chinese language in school?

You’re not alone! With English being widely used in school and at work, it’s no wonder that it has also become the most commonly used language* at home in Singapore. The good news is, it’s possible to help your kids enjoy learning and using Mandarin, no matter where your starting point is. Here are some tips to create a Mandarin-friendly environment at home!

Tip #1 : Exposure, exposure, exposure!

Language is best picked up through regular exposure, especially when it is used in daily activities and routines the child is familiar with.

Ms Tang Qianhui, Head of Preschool Department at Hua Language Centre shares,

Picture courtesy of Hua Language Centre

“Speaking a language well requires constant practice. If they do not have the environment to speak Mandarin in their daily lives, they will be less confident of using the language and avoid using it as a result.”

Parents who have only been using English so far can start by using Mandarin in addition to English. For example, you can name the body parts in both English and Mandarin during a bath, or talk about the food you’re having during mealtime using both languages. As your child learns Chinese words that he can use in his routines, the language will become more relevant and integral to his daily life.


Tip #2 : Make it fun and playful!

Young children learn best through play, so make use of fun songs, games and resources to make learning Mandarin enjoyable.

Ms Wang Mengxi, teacher at Edugrove Mandarin Enrichment Centre advises,

“We believe that forcing children to learn or memorize Chinese tend to have the opposite effect, parents should try to use fun activities to encourage them to communicate in Mandarin instead.”

Most toddlers love music and movement, so try compiling a playlist of Mandarin nursery rhymes that encourage him to sing along or participate with actions. It’s also easy to incorporate Mandarin in games, for example, I Spy With My Little Eye, where you take turns to look for items in a specific colour.

Picture books are great for introducing the language to children of all ages. Whether your child is a fan of trains, or safari animals, there’s bound to be a Chinese book at the library or bookstore that will interest him. Books with eye-catching colours and interactive elements, such as hand puppets and moveable flaps, are a hit with curious toddlers and pre-schoolers. Check out Flip For Joy for curated quality Chinese books!

Ms Pan Yunli, who currently stays home with her daughters, 4 and 2 years old, shares how she makes Chinese a big part of her girls’ activities.

“I make a conscious effort to select interesting Chinese storybooks based on my children’s interests, especially those picture books from Japan and Taiwan. Since staying home full time, our days are mostly spent reading. Occasionally, I would bring my older girl to watch some Chinese theatre productions, such as the recent Little Red Riding Hood. We would also recite 三字经 and 唐诗. I’m heartened to say that both girls love reading Chinese books and my older girl even said she loves Chinese language!”

Children having fun through role-play at EduGrove Mandarin Enrichment Centre

Tip #3 : Lead by example!

Children are always watching and learning from their parents, so make sure they see you using and embracing Mandarin too!

Ms Felina Lee, who has 3 children aged 6, 4 and 2 years old, shared her challenges.

“I myself can’t read many Chinese words and don’t know the Mandarin terms for some things or places. When I speak to them in Mandarin, they will tell me that they don’t understand and ask me to speak English. Still, as much as possible, I try to speak to them in Mandarin.”

Even if you are not fluent in Mandarin or not a native Mandarin speaker, you can show interest in learning the language together with your child.

Ms Zuo Liwen, Teacher of Yang Language School suggests,

“Ask your children to share what they have learnt in school with you. They would be delighted to know that there is something that they know more about than you!”

So while it’s helpful if you are comfortable in Mandarin, your child will also benefit if you show a positive attitude towards learning and improving yourself!

Picture courtesy of Yang Language Centre

Tip #4 : Start them as young as possible!

Most parents intuitively understand that it’s beneficial to expose children to both English and Mandarin as young as possible. Use Mandarin with your newborn just as you would with English, repeating words often, using gestures and making language part of his play and routines.

Don’t worry that your baby will get confused if he is exposed to two languages at the same time, because research has shown otherwise.

Ms Li-Anne Sia, Director of Two by Two Schoolhouse shares,

“Parents need not be concerned that their children will mix up languages. In fact, studies have shown that young children learn best through constant exposure to the language in all forms and that they may use the language interchangeably but as they grow and mature, they will develop the skills to use each language independently and competently.”

If you’ve missed exposing your child to Mandarin in his early years, it’s never too late to start! Start slowly by weaving Mandarin into activities that your child is interested in and try to make learning positive and enjoyable.

Picture courtesy of Two By Two Schoolhouse

Tip #5 : Be Encouraging

Most importantly, be encouraging towards any effort by your child to use the language, even if they may not get it right at first. Refrain from criticising or comparing your child’s abilities with others, as this would hurt their self-esteem and confidence in using the language.

Ms Joey Ng is a former primary school Chinese Language teacher who now runs her own website PlayLeXue about learning Mandarin through play. She shares how her 4-year-old son is learning even if she does not explicitly correct him.

“When my son speaks to me in English because there are some words he doesn’t know in Mandarin, I will acknowledge what he said, then repeat it in Mandarin. I don’t ask him to repeat after me, but after a while he naturally does. Language immersion takes a while, but trust that the child is absorbing all that you input and you’ll be pleasantly surprised one day.” 

Learning Mandarin through play with PlayLeXue

We hope the above tips will help your child become a happy Mandarin learner!

*In 2015, English was the most-used language in 36.9% of Singapore households, rising steadily from 23% in 2000, 28.1% in 2005 and 32.3% in 2010. Source: National Department of Statistics

From Today Got Class : We would like to thank our Chinese educators and services, as well as our parents for taking the time to contribute to this article.

💡 For more articles on Chinese language learning for little learners – Check out :

Ask The Experts Workshop #1 : Top 10 Tips by 5 Chinese Language Experts

Demystifying Chinese for Primary School Kids – Your Questions Answered!

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About the Author

Lydia & Jaclyn
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More about Lydia & Jaclyn

Lydia and Jaclyn are the Chief Mums of Today Got Class. As mothers of 3 young sons aged 5, 8 and 10 years respectively, we believe that enrichment classes are necessary for our children to pick up complementary skills to help them hone their learning and development capabilities. "Learn to play, play to learn" is our parenting motto.

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