Often parents worry about how they will be able to help their children learn how to speak Chinese when they themselves don’t speak it. It can feel as daunting as hiking the complete length of the great wall of China!
But don’t worry! You don’t have to speak any Mandarin for your children to succeed. At the same time, you can provide your children with time to practice their Chinese during the school week. Just as skills like reading English and doing math need to be reinforced at home, so do the Chinese skills your child is learning. This does not need to be incredibly time-consuming. Fifteen to thirty minutes of Chinese time each school night can give your child the reinforcement he or she needs. The following are suggestions of how non-Chinese speaking parents can help create this Chinese time for their children.
1. Support your child in doing any Chinese homework they have. For example if s/he has a take home reading book listen to your child read it. If your child has spelling words, have them write the words two or three times each night. If your child doesn’t have homework, ask your teacher for some, or use some of the below resources. 15-30 minutes of Chinese practice at home can definitely help your child learn Chinese.
2. Currently, some schools use a Singapore reading curriculum. You access their website and have your children read you the books they are studying in school. The website can be a little difficult to navigate because it’s in Chinese, but don’t be intimidated – it really isn’t that hard, especially because your child can probably figure it out. If that fails, contact your child’s teacher.
3. Some students use Better Chinese. Your school may provide free or discounted membership; it is typically about $25.00 a year. Having your children read you the online stories can be very helpful for them to reinforce their reading skills.
4. Math flashcards that children can use to remember math vocabulary. (English translation here).
5. Digital flashcards based on the key vocab words are available to help your children reinforce their skills. First grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade. Notice that there are some games that can be played. Some are harder than others, “Scatter” is one that many children will enjoy.
6. Practice reading with Chinese Immersion teachers from Canada reading Chinese books.
7. Let your children watch Chinese video clips. For example, they can watch Dora the Explorer or Spongebob Squarepants (note – both of those links are to YouTube-like sites that display ads. Putting the display to full-screen often eliminates the ad. Both of those links are for individual episodes; additional episodes appear underneath). Younger learners might enjoy Sesame Street or Thomas the Train in Chinese. Several other videos, songs, etc. are linked here.
8. Connect with other parents of immersion students and work together. Get connected if you aren’t already.
9. Help your children type in Chinese. This YouTube video explains how to make it so that you can type Chinese characters on your computer. Some children will have fun typing letters to each other using characters. For those who like pinyin, this macro can help you quickly transform a word like “wo3” into “wǒ.”
10. If you have a smart device, get some apps for your kids to play with. Speak and Learn Pro (iOS only) works like Rosetta stone, but much cheaper ($9.99). Should be a fun review for most students and a good way to reinforce learning.
The main thing is to keep on trying — a consistent effort to help your child spent 15-30 minutes a day having fun with Chinese at home can pay big dividends.
What tools/ideas have you found to be successful?