The single most important factor in a child’s success with Mandarin is their parents’ interest and (positive) encouragement, no matter what their child’s age.
Forcing or nagging the child to speak risks making it into a negative thing and may hinder their language development, use or opinion about it. If they dislike the language, or the time they spend in class because it is not a nice environment or nice interaction with their parent, it will become more difficult!
Useful ways of encouraging and supporting learning
- Relax! Don’t worry if your child makes mistakes or doesn’t start speaking in Mandarin immediately or as soon as you had wanted. The brain needs to go through a process of decoding and pattern-finding during the language-learning process. Language production usually starts after a long period of listening, thinking and observing.
- Learn Mandarin yourself. Learning together is a great way to spend time with your kids and create a positive attitude towards learning and speaking another language.
- Try asking questions and using the vocab in an everyday conversation context e.g. “let’s eat ….”, “let’s use the …”, “do you want a …”. If you can;t say the whole sentence in Mandarin, just drop in the Mandarin word. The use of it is more important than having it perfect at lesser frequency! Note that this is very different from questioning a child about what they know and making them recite everything they remember (not the ideal way…).
- Play together in Mandarin! e.g. by dropping in little words or phrases in Mandarin during the week. Give the children a chance to learn Mandarin in the same way they are learning their first language. e.g. if they like Superman and dress up / pretend play, find what what Superman is in Mandarin, and you can use/learn it together while playing e.g. “Let’s fly like superman!”. It could be the one phrase the family repeats for the entire month!
Make mistakes in Mandarin.Let them hear you practice it, try it together! You can show your kids that ‘having a go’ and making a mistake is better than only speaking when you have the perfect sentence prepared. Languages don’t quite work like that…
- Have sing a long’s or play Mandarin songs in the background once in a while. It doesn’t need to be everyday! After a few listens to a song or nursery rhyme, children quickly start to hum, sing along to the chorus and eventually put together more and more words. Music and rhyme help children to use full sentences, intonation, pitch, and rhythm, as well as simply building confidence, in a way that we can’t achieve if we were trying to explicitly teach these language features.
- Short yet frequent bits of Mandarin during the week is much better for learning and progress than one long “catch up” session. It could be 2-10 minutes every day / couple of days, rather than one long weekly 45 minutes – 1 hour “revision session” at home!
Adapted from The British Council’s Ten ways to support your child’s English-learning at home, published 17 September 2015.