I am so excited that we started studying Mandarin Chinese together this past school year. Because of our ties to China and our intentions of multiple trips there in the future, my husband and I felt it was an important skill for the children to learn. Also, with so many people using Mandarin globally, it seems like a very worthwhile language to study. My ultimate hope is for the children to be completely fluent. It’s a big undertaking but will certainly be an asset, no matter what field of work they end up in. I’d love to be fluent one day as well, but one step at a time 🙂
DH and I started individual self-study in 2013 with the Pimsleur Conversational Mandarin CDs. Especially for the price, it was a fantastic beginning point. It teaches lots of applicable phrases for travel to China. The CDs also explain the four tones well and discuss some sentence structure. This was perfect for DH because he picks things up easily by listening. Unfortunately I am not an auditory learner. Listening to the CDs was difficult and not all that productive for me. There was a ton of good information being taught, but I couldn’t retain it. So I started Google translating the phrases. Once I could visualize the pinyin, it was a whole new world for me. Pinyin is sort of phonetic for Americans, and I had read enough of it through the years in the adoption community that I was able to pick it up with the combination of Pimsleur and Google translate. I also used several apps to help me learn more. Then I started asking two dear Chinese students for help. We texted back and forth via QQ while they taught me more Chinese phrases. I started a notebook to keep track of everything I was learning.
In the fall of 2013, I decided to enroll in a continuing education basic Chinese Mandarin class at our local community college. I picked up a few new nuggets of information, but the class moved slowly and the material was too repetitive to be engaging. So I became a continuing-ed dropout. I did learn how to count in Chinese in my sleep though. The children were also picking up a little Chinese from me and DH, but not enough to be super useful. So I searched the internet and pinterest for child-friendly self-study options. After lots of research, I purchased the first level of Chinese Made Easy and signed up for the free trial of Better Chinese. Both looked like viable options to teach the kids, but unfortunately neither really clicked with us. We ended up not doing anything very productive with either one. We discussed Chinese school but it meets for several hours on Sunday afternoon and the timing just didn’t work for our family. DH and I also knew that if the kids were truly going to learn the language well, they needed to hear it from a native speaker.
The following school year (fall 2014), we got more serious with our studies and hired a Mandarin tutor locally. I checked out Wynzant and Craiglist to find someone. This was the best decision for our family. After interviewing a few possible tutors, I knew Lǎoshī Mei was the right choice because of her multi-sensory approach. She has been an awesome addition to our homeschool studies. She includes songs and games, which the children absolutely love. She even recently translated Jesus Loves Me into Mandarin for us. She also shares Chinese culture with us, a part of our studies that we all enjoy. She creates weekly lessons for us based on her expertise and what we would like to learn. She then also includes grammar, sentence structure, and anything else we don’t know we need to know. She’s fantastic about building vocabulary quickly so the children can share in simple dialogue with her. And then we add verbs, adjectives, nouns, etc., to expand. We work at Angel’s level to keep her engaged, even though the younger kids miss some of it. The assumption is they’ll pick it up in their own time by hearing it in our conversations. And they actually understand more than they can spontaneously come up with. If they hear a word in Chinese, they are much more likely to know what it means versus when I ask them to translate an English word into Mandarin.
We haven’t been meeting with Lǎoshī Mei steadily since my Daddy passed though. I just couldn’t get myself together enough and she just recently welcomed her sweet new baby girl! But we try to study our lessons several times a week at home and will continue to do so through the summer. I do try to include the Mandarin we know during normal conversation at home. I’m not the greatest at that, but I try. I know that the more we integrate our Chinese knowledge into life, the more it’ll be retained. So I’m working to make a more conscious effort during our everyday interactions.
Other than that, we have a pretty eclectic approach to Mandarin study. We employ a few other supplements, apps, and printables, watch Mandarin movies/TV shows (we bought a bunch in China, but you can find some on YouTube), and I keep a Pinterest board for further ideas. One last study method I will be starting on my own is memorizing Chinese hanzi (characters). I’ll be using a combination of the Tuttle Learning Chinese Characters book and the coordinating Anki deck. It’s an overwhelming undertaking, but I’m always up for a challenge and am going to move slowly. I have listed some of the other supplements we use below:
- Chinese For Kids Flashcards Vol 1
- More Chinese For Kids Flashcards Vol 2
- Chinese flashcards (more for me to learn vocabulary to pass onto the kids)
- Chinese for Beginners: Mastering Conversational Chinese
- The First 100 Chinese Characters
- A Chinese Phrase A Day
- A Little Mandarin music CD
- Chinese and English Nursery Rhymes
- Kids’ Chinese Magnetic Poetry
- Usborne First Thousand Words In Chinese
- Chinese Character Blocks
- Let’s Go Guang! Chinese For Children Vol 1
- Journey to the East: The River Dragon
- Mandarin Chinese English Bilingual Visual Dictionary
- My First Book of Mandarin Chinese Words
Obviously we don’t use all of these on any give day, week, or even month. But the more that Mandarin is just a part of our lives, the more it’ll become second nature to use it! If you’d like to start teaching Mandarin to your children, start slow with simple vocabulary. Learning to count, using the kids’ flashcards, maybe purchasing a vocabulary book, and listening to music are great ideas. We also enjoy celebrating Chinese holidays, like the Dragon Boat Festival that’s coming up soon!