8 Tips For Teaching Your Kids Chinese (Without Speaking Chinese Yourself)

When you move to China or Taiwan, being able to speak Chinese will be of great help. Although you may get by without speaking the language, what about your kids? They are more sensitive to new experiences and have less experience navigating a new world where they can’t speak with others or read.

The solution: teach them Chinese!

You may be scared out of your wits and wonder if it’s even possible to teach your kids Chinese if you don’t even speak the language yourself. But, you know what? It is definitely possible. While teaching them, you’ll be learning Chinese yourself at the same time.

See our top 8 steps for teaching Mandarin Chinese to your kids when you can’t even speak Chinese yourself.

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1. Use Traditional Supports (Or Realia)

In your Chinese lessons with your students, you should make use of realia, like:

  • An illustrated English-Chinese dictionary
  • Age and level appropriate reading or story books
  • Chinese manuals, textbooks, workbooks, etc. that are age-appropriate
  • Appropriate worksheets that you can get from the Internet (or make your own). Great resources include: Teach Kids Chinese, All-in-One Chinese Fun, Ling-Ling Chinese, Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest, and Education.com
  • Kids movies and TV shows (especially if it tells stories they are already familiar with in English) – think Chinese Sesame Street
  • Kids songs and nursery rhymes
  • Youtube videos for beginners
  • Objects and flashcards
  • Simple board games (for reading)
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2. Use Apps

There are so many language apps these days, and if you can use tablets or iPads in your lessons, then you can set aside time in your lesson and use Chinese language apps and games to help your students learn.

In addition, you can also use some of these apps to help you learn Chinese; plus, they’ll be a big help when it comes to the pronunciation of Chinese words, especially if you are still learning this part and struggle with the four tones.

Here are some app recommendations (and even though most of these are for kids, you can also use this to learn Chinese – a win-win for you AND your kids):

  • Duolingo
  • Chinese Skrill
  • Miaomiao’s Chinese for Kids
  • Kids Write Chinese
  • Gus on the Go: Mandarin
  • Kids Learn Mandarin KLM
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3. Participate In Chinese Events & Cultural Workshops

Using a variety of learning resources is the best way to teaching Mandarin to pre-schoolers more effectively. Thus, it would be great if you can find Chinese cultural workshops and other Chinese events to take your students to as this will increase their interest in learning Mandarin and they get to learn about the Chinese culture too.

See if there are local Chinese associations or search the web for Chinese events near you.

4. Do Fun Activities In Chinese

You can easily incorporate fun activities in your lessons. A few ideas to do this:

  • Teach them about Chinese traditional painting and then let them create their own masterpiece(s).
  • Do a Chinese food workshop – you can do a tasting session or let you child help you make traditional Chinese food. You and your child can use the food- and kitchen-related vocabulary words from a previous lesson. A plus is that while you can focus on Chinese food, you can also make other non-Chinese food and your child can still practice what she’s learned.
  • Play your kid’s favourite movie, TV show or cartoon in Chinese.
  • Do a Chinese calligraphy lesson and practice session with them.
  • Cover Chinese events like Chinese New Year, Dragon Boat Festival, and the Spring Lantern Festival and then attend one of those in your area, and you can celebrate events yourself, for example by making Chinese lanterns.
  • Get a Chinese martial arts instructor to teach your kids for example Kung Fu.
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5. Create Or Use A Set Curriculum

If you don’t have a curriculum to use, you can easily put something together.

Usually, for beginner students in any language, you start with the basics and use Stephen Krashen’s “i + 1” input hypothesis, which posits that “i” is what the student knows or has learned and “+ 1” is the new information they learn.

A beginner/novice language curriculum will start with high frequency words and phrases, like greetings and introductions, your family, numbers, weather, months of the year and days of the week, body parts, clothing, colours, nature, food, shapes, action words.

Each of these themes can be broken up into parts: Food > Fruits > Veggies > Meat > Liquids > and so forth. As these students are beginners, you will mostly focus on vocabulary, pronunciation, reading, speaking, listening, and perhaps some writing (i.e., learning their first 100 Chinese characters).

The next phase would be for your kids to understand and start using some simple Chinese words and forming sentences to communicate and continuing to build on the vocabulary and skills they’ve acquired in their novice curriculum.

6. Balance Chinese With English

Just because you are learning Chinese and teaching your kids doesn’t mean that you have to try speak it all the time. That would be quite difficult if you only know a little (or nothing at all!). Explanations and references in English can help you and your child learn Chinese faster than simply being thrown in the deep end.

7. Set Your Goals

This should form part of setting the curriculum; each lesson should have a set of goals that you want to achieve and then the curriculum (and you can break it up into novice, beginner 1, beginner 2, pre-intermediate, intermediate levels) will also have its own set of goals. And include outside and other fun Chinese activities in these goals.

8. Focus On Relevance

While your child should know generally useful words and phrases, you should also indulge them and teach them words and phrases for things they are most interested in. For example, your child may love manga, so find age-appropriate manga and anime cartoons and books that you can use.

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Final Thoughts

Key takeaways to teaching Mandarin Chinese to your child if you don’t speak the language are:

  1. Find level- and age-appropriate materials and realia to help you teach
  2. Make use of apps to help with pronunciation and letting your students learn by playing
  3. Focus on things they are interested in
  4. Immerse them in Chinese culture and take part in fun Chinese activities and attend events
  5. Set out your goals for each lesson, each section, and each curriculum level that follows “i+ 1” and develop a curriculum to follow
  6. Balance Chinese with English in the classroom

With these tips, it is possible to teach and learn Chinese at the same time while you spend quality time with your child.

Author’s Blurb

Denine W is a freelance EFL teacher, writer, and editor/proofreader. She taught EFL to young learners (from kindergarten to high school students) in Taiwan and to adults and young learners in an online EFL environment. In whatever free time is left, she likes to read, plan her next trip abroad, scrapbook, and do online grammar quizzes.