Teaching Children Mandarin Chinese
Chinese for Kids is Fun!
Learning Mandarin without Chinese School
Two of my five children are adopted from China. Instead of just trying to teach those two children about their Chinese heritage, my husband and I decided to "adopt" China and Chinese culture as part of our family heritage, just as we have adopted his French/Irish heritage and my German/Scottish ethnic roots. Of course we have eaten lots of Chinese food, searched for recipes, gone to Chinese festivals and made a lot of Chinese friends. However, we also wanted our kids to learn Mandarin.
Below are the best videos we have found for teaching our children Mandarin. Unless you are a native speaker of Chinese or have a Chinese language school in your town, it isn't easy to find materials to help your children learn this language spoken by one out of every 6 people on the planet. However, my husband and I are determined to help our children learn a little bit of Mandarin before we travel there as a family next summer and so we've been buying and trying out many different products.
Teaching Babies Chinese
Baby's First Words in Chinese
Baby's First Words in Chinese
Training Tonal Memory: This CD gives you a chance to help your children, especially very young children, to train their brains to know the sounds and tones of Mandarin. I suspect this would actually be good for all ages to give an understanding of the sound and pattern of Chinese speaking. So if you play it for your young children, it might be helpful for your own Mandarin learning too!
Sounds not Words: Instead of trying to teach using English and Mandarin, this approach is total immersion. All of the words and songs are Mandarin only. You won't know what is being said unless you already know the words, but that is not the goal. The goal is to help you and your baby to hear and memorize the sounds of the language, so that you will be able to pick up the meaning in later language lessons.
Immersion Experience at Home: One of the hardest things about learning a language is to get the experience that native speakers have of being immersed in the sounds. Studies have shown that birth to 2 is the crucial time to make sure that kids do hear the sounds of a language so that they can re-produce them more easily when they later learn to speak. So playing this soothing CD as your child goes to nap, or plays in their room can give them that immersion experience, even if you can't speak the language yourself.
You Can Learn Chinese on Your Own
We don't have a Chinese school in our area and although we discussed getting someone to tutor our kids, we never were able to get that to work out. Instead, we've embarked on learning how to find materials to teach ourselves Chinese and to teach our children as well.
The good news is that there are a lot of good videos that teach the first 50 to 100 words in Chinese. Many of these videos are engaging and use a variety of methods to help kids (and adults) memorize and repeat the words. It is really quite possible to have your kids speaking some Chinese words after watching these videos just a few times. The bad news is that none of these series seems to have been able to get enough funds to keep on going. Most of these videos only have the first or second volume, even though many of them promise more. I certainly hope that some of them do succeed. In the meantime, you may want to use these beginning videos to teach your kids as much as you can.
My other hubs discuss my own journey in learning Mandarin, but in this hub I want to focus on the best children's materials available. I will also steer you away from some materials we haven't found as useful.
The River Dragon King
Chinese Learning DVD
Journeys to the East: The River Dragon King
This is by far my kids favorite video. They've watched it over and over and memorized the songs so that they were singing them over and over during our vacation. I used this one when I taught Mandarin at Dillon's Chinese Camp for adopted Chinese kids this summer. It was especially good for 1st and under.
Interesting Story: Unlike Jade and Mei Mei, this is an animated story which teaches the words as the two children in the story go on a mystery hunt. Although the animation is rather primitive, my kids didn't mind it because the game format of the story was enjoyable. In fact, it reminded me of one of the computer games they like to play which has them collect objects to win a prize.
Easy to Learn Words: The 50 Chinese words are taught using games and songs. I was astonished by the fact that my kids learned all of these words after only watching the video 4 or 5 times. I went to purchase the whole set of DVDs only to be very disappointed that this is the only one they've produced so far. Hopefully, this company will be able to make a whole series, because I think the mystery format of the story and the question and answers along with the song make this very appealing for a wide range of ages. Moreover, I really can tell my kids learned the words they were taught on this video.
Learn Chinese with Jade clip
Mandarin Classes Videos
Follow Jade ( videos: Let's Visit Chinese Kindergarten, Let's Go to the Market in China): These videos teach about 40 words each. Jade is a very sweet and engaging young teacher. Her students are both Chinese and Caucasian kids. These videos are rather low quality, but do teach the words clearly, with a fair amount of repetition. My kids really enjoyed the fact that they include scenes of children in a Chinese school. They also enjoyed the songs and quickly began singing along. I also liked the fact that the words that were taught are ones that would be useful to use at home. There are some simple animated quiz sections which let your children guess at the meaning of different words. Since the videos were produced in Beijing, they also include some very typical outside Beijing scenes which are nice for the kids to see. I would recommend these videos as a good introduction. I only wish there were more available.
Mandarin Teaching with Mei Mei
Experienced Teacher: Unlike Jade, who seems like a young mom, MeiMei seems more like a grandmother. I would guess that she is an experienced and patient kindergarten teacher. Her videos seem to have been made based on a curriculum she teaches in small classes.
Songs and Dances: She introduces some words and usually has a song or dance at the end which puts those words together. My girls really enjoyed watching the dances and singing along. Luckily, there are more of these videos, so your kids can go further in their vocabulary. Like Jade, MeiMei focuses on teaching words and phrases that kids could actually use in conversation, like the parts of the body, foods, greetings and talking about where they are from and how old they are.
For Younger Kids: Using these videos is like bringing a Chinese teacher into your home. However, my 9 year old girls didn't like these videos as much as The River Dragon King or the Jade videos and weren't willing to watch quite as often. I think that is because these videos are more geared towards the younger set (ages 3-8).
Learning Chinese is Fun!
Learning Chinese is Fun!
Culture and Writing along with Mandarin: This program doesn't aim at teaching as many words per episode as the other programs, but focuses on teaching about Chinese culture and tradition as well as writing. There are six episodes that are each about 12 minutes long. Each episode tries to teach just 3-6 words through lots of repetition.
Mixed Race Family: The family in the story is an Asian mom and a Caucasian dad. They have two kids who also look Asian. If your family looks like this one, your kids might especially enjoy this series.
Mandarin taught in Variety of Ways: The words are introduced through family conversation in a skit. Afterward, there are children who say the vocabulary words. I've found that my kids like hearing other kids say the words and not just adults. Like many of these videos, there is a song and dance to learn.
Positive Theme based Lessons: Next, there is the dad reading a Chinese story to his kids which illustrates the final word of the show: compassion. My kids enjoyed the fact that they saw the family reading together and also got to see the pictures of the book. Though a bit forced in acting (like many shows with kids) the lesson was clear--families show compassion to one another by thinking about little things which help.
Lessons on How to Write Characters: Unlike most of these beginning videos, Learning Chinese is Fun ! actually starts teaching how to write the characters in the first lessons. Moreover, they do a good job of making it seem fun and easy to do. They use an animated demonstration of how to write the word. My kids liked following along with a paper and pencil, and actually wanted to stop the viewing so they could get a brush and ink.
Let's Go Guang! Preview
Chinese Mandarin Learning Kit
Let's Go Guang! Multimedia Mandarin Learning
Let's Go Guang! is similar to Journey to the East video in teaching around 50 words in an English and Mandarin story line.
Multimedia Mandarin Learning: Like the other videos, the learning begins with a DVD storyline for each lesson series. What this series adds to the DVD is a a storybook, a CD of songs that you can play in the car to practice, and also flashcards which help kids to learn the words in a different way. My kids also like to use the flashcards to play memory games. They love it when they remember better than the adults and older kids in the family!
Fun Storyline: This storyline has kids Ling and Kai on an adventure with a dragon. The video goes back and forth between animation and live video, so it keeps the kid's attention. They also teach cultural lessons so that the words are learned in context with Chinese life.
Easy enough for Youngest Children: Even young children will be able to pick up the words quickly and easily with the different ways this Mandarin Learning system provides.
Start of a Series of Mandarin Lessons: The first lessons are "Meet Guang, the Chinese Dragon." Recently, they have released a second video, "Journey to Terra Cotta City," and I'm hoping for more!