I am by no means fluent but I am determined to continue to learn Mandarin Chinese and teach my children in the process. I’ll write more about my thoughts on language learning in the future but I wanted to start off with 4 practical tips because I’ve found that’s the most important part. Simply learning 1 thing each day will help build confidence and excitement for your kids and yourself!
For background, I am a non-native Mandarin Chinese learning mama to an almost 4 year old daughter and 9 month old son. My husband’s first language is Mandarin but he still takes reminding to use it around the house. We lived in Taiwan for 9 months in 2014 and 2015 and I studied for 3 of those at the Mandarin Training Center at National Taiwan Normal University or Shīdà 師大.
#1 Google Translate App on my phone
As a non-native speaker trying to teach my daughter a tonal language, it is imperative that I teach her the correct pronunciation of each new word. I rely on the free Google Translate App’s speaker function to repeat teach the new word and it’s an added bonus that she likes pressing the button! I use Google Translate throughout the day when I come across a word I don’t know. Also when we have a pocket of free time (and I remember!) I will ask my daughter if there are any new words she wants to learn. Usually it’s quite funny to hear the random words she comes up with!
Couple of tips to maximize this free app:
Tip #1: Download the offline translation file so you will always have access to the Chinese dictionary. The app will prompt you in several places including the home screen and when you select the “live” feature.
Tip #2: Place a yellow star next to the words or phrase you want to practice in the coming days and weeks. This is a sort of flashcard system built right into the app. Simply select the star icon next to the vocab word that you searched for and it will be saved in your “favorites” section where you can review at anytime. To delete a “card” just swipe left.
Tip #3 The “live feature” button can be helpful specifically for learning written Chinese. When we lived in Taiwan this was useful to read food packaging at the grocery store or a menu at a restaurant etc. It is not always perfect, but helpful to get closer to a translation if you have limited experience with Chinese characters.
#2 Instagram…or whatever social media platform you use the most!
This is a new discovery for me and already I have seen results! Over the past year I would often fall into the same pattern each week. I would schedule time to learn Chinese or have intentional playtime with my daughter to teach her new vocab. More often than not I would never cross it off my to do list. There would be interruptions or more pressing things to do around the house. And if I am completely honest, it’s easy for me to procrastinate this important activity because I am often tired and don’t have the mental energy to go into the “language learning mode.” But ever since I joined instagram and followed some Chinese language accounts, I have been learning more throughout my day by simply scrolling my newsfeed! Below are a couple of accounts I’ve fo
und helpful that post vocabulary images and quick videos to jumpstart your curiosity:
#3 CDs in the Car
We drive to preschool or errands at least once a day and I try to have Chinese instruction cds or Chinese kids music from my music app playing most of the time. I love NPR but my daughter will usually ask me to turn off the “boring people” and play Chinese songs. It’s amazing how quickly children will pick up songs, especially when it’s fun upbeat music!
There are lots of youtube videos with Chinese kids songs for free that you could stream.
One of our favorites is not free but I highly recommend it. Our main staple is “Let’s Learn Mandarin Chinese with Miss Panda” which you can find on Amazon or iTunes or her website. My daughter loves Miss Panda. She has a calm voice and each track includes a couple minutes of a short spoken instruction and a song.
We also love Stream of Praise Christian worship music from Taiwan for kids. They have lots of CDs and DVDs you can purchase on their website or YouTube has lots of videos.
#4 Peppa Pig in Mandarin on YouTube
If you have toddlers you’ve probably already come in contact with Peppa Pig but in case you haven’t, Peppa Pig is a simple 5 minute British cartoon and it has translations on Youtube in Mandarin! (As well as in many other languages including Cantonese, French, Dutch, Italian etc.) I probably don’t have to tell you how great cartoons are for toddlers!
Here’s a link to a playlist of 91 episodes of Peppa Pig in Mandarin — 不客氣/Bù kèqì (You’re welcome!)
What language learning tools have you found helpful? Any social media accounts you recommend to learn Chinese?