How Should Children Learn Mandarin?
Children are learning Cantonese at home in Hong Kong, other than Cantonese, Mandarin is an essential language to learn for children in Hong Kong, but…
Are your kids reluctant to speak Mandarin? Is the time of their Mandarin class at school not enough for mastering the language? Is Mandarin always a headache for you and your little ones?
How should Children learn Mandarin? That must be an issue which parents in Hong Kong are concerned about. Don’t worry! Here are some tips that could arouse children’s interest in Mandarin and help with their learning.
- Make sure of your children’s learning goals
Children in different age groups focus on different issues in Mandarin learning, and the family’s language background is decisive as well. Therefore, it is crucial to figure out what you would like your children to achieve.
For children in kindergarten, the most important is the cultivation of language sense and confidence in speaking Mandarin. So, there are no worries if your kids cannot memorize Pinyin (Mandarin phonetic symbols). In this period, children need to listen to audios and watch videos in Mandarin and speak more Mandarin. What’s more, it would be better if children can memorize simple words and expressions, such as fruits, animals, greetings, etc.
For children in primary school, learning Pinyin becomes necessary, because only if we know it can we pronounce every Chinese character, especially for most children in Hong Kong, whose mother tongue is not Mandarin. In this period, listening and speaking practices are also important, which can be aided by their schools, Mandarin tutors, and daily “Mandarin time” (which will be mentioned below).
For children in a non-Chinese-speaking family, being good at Mandarin seems not that easy, then it’s better to encourage them to make progress gradually instead of setting a goal too hard to achieve.
For children in a Chinese-speaking family (which means Cantonese in Hong Kong), they have natural advantages because they already know many Chinese characters. While we need to pay attention to if their Mandarin pronunciation is affected by Cantonese. For example, children tend to mistake the first tone for the fourth tone. Then daily Mandarin exercise would be beneficial.
After talking about different goals for different children, then let’s check how to learn Mandarin to achieve them.
- Find a nice Mandarin class for your children
First, let’s talk about the Mandarin class in your kids’ school.
If you would like them to be proficient in Mandarin, choosing a kindergarten and primary school that offer systematic and interesting Mandarin lessons could be of great help.
Nearly all the schools in Hong Kong provide Mandarin courses, while the proportion varies among different schools, and the teaching qualities are uneven. To perform better in the language, it would be better for you to check how Mandarin courses are instructed and how the courses are evaluated when selecting the school that you would send your kids in the future.
However, except for some schools that use Mandarin to teach Chinese, the Mandarin lesson of most schools seems not enough for kids to perform well in this language. Furthermore, there are also students in Mandarin-speaking schools that are not able to keep up with the class because they seldom speak Mandarin at home.
Then a nice Mandarin class outside school would be beneficial for improving their language skills.
A nice Mandarin class does not mean a “perfect” class, but a “suitable” one!
As different kids have different personalities, teaching methods should also be adjusted in accordance with their characters. Some children perform well in pronunciation, but they are too timid to express themselves, then they need a Mandarin class that helps them build confidence in that language; some others are brave enough to communicate in Mandarin, but the pronunciation needs to be improved, then they need a Mandarin class that helps them consolidate the foundation.
To find the suitable teaching methods for your kids, find a suitable Mandarin tutor first!
What does a suitable Mandarin tutor mean? Firstly, it must be a tutor that your kids like to get along with. Please pay attention to your kids’ reactions after the class. That is the most direct way to tell whether the teacher is the one you are seeking for!
Then, just find whether the tutor’s class is systematic enough.
The tutor ought to teach your kids in a way that corresponds to their age, language background and personalities. They need to figure out the weakest part of your kids’ Mandarin quickly, and offer proper solutions. For example, if a child is not good at Pinyin, a suitable tutor may provide jingles and songs that help him to memorize initials (聲母) and finals (韻母).
Last but not least, please make sure whether the tutor speaks standard Mandarin.
In fact, people in almost every region in Mainland China speak Mandarin with some accent, even Beijing people, whom Hong Kong parents often regard as speaking the best Mandarin.
The most direct way to check the tutor’s accent is to communicate with him/her in person. What’s more, you may also refer to the tutor’s certificate on National Putonghua Proficiency Test (普通話水平測試，PSC) if he ever participated. Generally, the level should be higher than Level 2-A (二級甲等).
Grading of National Putonghua Proficiency Test (普通話水平測試，PSC):
Candidates who pass the test are given a Certificate of Putonghua Proficiency Level at levels 1, 2 or 3, each of which is subdivided into grades A and B:
Level 1-A (97% correct) is required for presenters in national and provincial radio and television.
Level 1-B (92% correct) is required for Chinese-language teachers in northern China.
Level 2-A (87% correct) is required for Chinese-language teachers in southern China.
Level 2-B (80% correct) is required for Chinese teachers teaching other languages in China.
Level 3-A (70% correct)
Level 3-B (60% correct) is required for civil service jobs.
(The source is from Wikipedia)
- Set a daily “Mandarin time”
One of the problems that cause children not to be proficient in Mandarin is that children are not exposed much to that language in their daily life. Just think about the cartoons and TV dramas your kids are watching: how many of them are in Mandarin? It is natural to be shy and not confident when speaking a language that we are not familiar with.
Therefore, apart from taking class, we may also set a daily “Mandarin time” of 1 hour or so. During the “Mandarin time”, children are to be provided audiobooks, cartoons, TV dramas, and variety shows that are in Mandarin.
You might find that your kids are not willing to watch Mandarin stuff. That may because they found them too boring! Let’s suppose they could already watch TV dramas such as The Kissing Booth on Netflix, then how can we expect them to sit quietly and watch videos of BabyBus on YouTube (寶寶巴士)?
So, one key of letting your children be interested in Mandarin is to find materials that are suitable for their ages and comprehension ability, just like what children in Mainland China do for entertainment in their leisure time.
There are many audiobooks that have a Mandarin version in Hong Kong, and parents are suggested to buy them to help children with their language learning? However, what if your kids do not like to read books, and what if all the books have already been read? Here comes a better option: online videos!
For children in kindergarten, YouTube channels like BabyBus could be a nice choice! There are worries if subtitles are not provided on videos, because your little ones can understand those videos gradually by watching images and inferring from dialogues.
Recommended YouTube channels: BabyBus (寶寶巴士), Shimajirō Shimano (巧虎), Pink Fong (碰碰狐)
For children in primary school, they may find the videos above too naïve and too boring. Then cartoons that children in Mainland China also watch can be a good choice! Most well-known Chinese online video platforms, such as iQIYI and Tencent, have opened a channel exclusively for kids.
Taking iQIYI as an example, it has a Kid Channel, where children of different age groups can find cartoons and dramas fit for them respectively. By the way, Peppa Pig (小豬佩奇) is also popular in Mainland China, and your kids may have a watch of the Mandarin version in accordance with the English version.
For children of an elder age, cartoons might be too “childish” for them, then how about trying variety shows that are on-trend in mainland China? Many media companies have their official channel on YouTube, so children are able to have access to those variety shows easily.
Recommended variety shows: Keep Running (奔跑吧兄弟), Youth With You (青春有你), Street Dance of China (這就是街舞)
Children might not like videos that are too “educational”, which means too oriented to Mandarin learning. Therefore, the videos for daily “Mandarin time” should be entertaining enough. The variety shows mentioned above are either humorous or compassionate, which arouses children’s interest and helps them persist in Mandarin learning.
In addition, the “Mandarin time” does not need to limited to audiobooks and videos. It would be a good idea if parents arrange trips to Mainland China as well. By talking to local people, kids will find the Mandarin that they learned in Hong Kong really useful and thus have more interest and build more confidence in that language.
In conclusion, as long as we figure out our children’s learning goals, provide them suitable Mandarin lessons, and develop their Mandarin learning habit with entertainment, children’s Mandarin language learning can be a piece of cake!