How often do you help your child with their homework?
Do you find yourself struggling sometimes?
Do they seem to figure things out before you do?
Isn’t it great being shown up by children?
Don’t feel too bad about it. When it comes to learning or relearning things, especially languages, children have a knack for grasping concepts quickly. And Chinese is definitely a difficult concept to learn!
It’s pretty easy to assume that since teaching Mandarin to adults is hard enough, teaching the language to children is near impossible. But remember that time when Billy figured out his geometry homework right before you almost gave up? It’s absolutely not impossible to teach children a difficult subject.
With the use of handy apps, fun games and learning tools, we can absolutely teach children more about China and the Mandarin language.
Plus, if you’re just starting to learn Chinese as an adult, you might just find a fun new resource or two to include in your current Mandarin-learning routine!
Why Should We Teach Kids Mandarin Chinese?
- It’s fun. Kids love to learn, but it has to be facilitated in a way that makes it click with them. Chinese culture is challenging, new and cool to kids. Why not teach them all about it?
- Mandarin Chinese is usually only offered at the high school level. However, learning a bit about the language at a younger age can only improve fluency in the long run!
- It could broaden their occupational and financial future as a bilingual adult. A bilingual or multilingual adult has a good chance at making more money in certain fields. By teaching a child a new language, you’re setting them up for a brighter future. And since Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, you’re definitely broadening their horizons even more.
- Learning a new language opens doors for kids to learn more about cultural diversity. Hate is a learned thing, not something children are born with. When you open doors and show how diverse and cool the world is, you’re playing your part in raising tolerant, open-minded children for the future. Teaching children about Chinese culture and a bit of Mandarin is one great way to do this.
4 Fun Ways for Kids to Learn Chinese
1. Use Apps and Digital Games
Apps are a great way to learn Mandarin Chinese, no matter your age. Just download and install these apps on your smartphone or tablet, and let your child explore! Apps are a great way to facilitate “lessons” for kids without having to do the work of designing the lessons yourself.
iOS | Android
This app is a great tool for learning how to write, read, speak and listen in Mandarin. Although it might be a little advanced for the youngest learners, it’s a great comprehensive resource to put new learning into practice.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
As you watch a video on FluentU, click any word you don’t recognize and you’ll get in-context definitions as well as visual learning aids and pointers to any other videos that use the word. After you’ve finished watching, FluentU will transform the video content into flashcards and exercises to ensure your skills grow with every video you watch.
Plus, FluentU remembers what you’ve learned and suggests new content based on that information, so it’s a truly personalized platform.
Not only is this app free, but it’s also specifically designed for preschoolers. Cute and colorful cartoons and graphics are used to teach kids how to speak and listen in Mandarin.
This app has nine different topics including animals, transportation, food and more! The skilled animation and graphics makes this app appeal to even adult learners.
This super interactive free app associates fun flashcard-style images with their respective Chinese word. This app focuses on teaching kids how to sound out everyday words in 拼音 (pīn yīn) — Chinese romanization.
It also features e-books with professional translations and beautifully illustrated flashcards appropriate for beginners and advanced Mandarin students. This app will surely grow with your young learner!
iOS | Android
This all-in-one app uses challenging but fun games to teach children how to read, speak and spell in Mandarin. With over thirty different games to choose from, your child is sure to get addicted to learning Chinese!
Just download and install these apps on your smartphone or tablet, and let your child explore! Apps are a great way to facilitate “lessons” for kids without having to do the work of designing the lessons yourself.
2. Use Educational Videos and Television Programs
We’re no strangers to educational television. “Sesame Street” and “Dora the Explorer” are just two examples of children’s media that are popular choices for teaching kids language skills, among other life lessons.
There are actually quite a few helpful Chinese videos on YouTube for kids, as well as television shows, that you can use to teach young learners about the Chinese language and culture.
Even when you’ve had your fill of the ones we suggest below, they’ll lead you to many more that are sure to be great additions to your Mandarin Chinese learning routine! Here are a few to get you started.
“Ni Hao Kai-lan”
This show is often hailed as the Chinese counterpart of “Dora the Explorer,” and that’s pretty accurate. “Ni Hao Kai-lan” uses similar interactive methods to teach kids Chinese words, such as posing questions and waiting for the child watching to answer.
This television show also boasts some pretty cool facts about Chinese history and culture, as well as life lessons.
“Busy Beavers: Chinese”
Be “edutained” with Busy Beavers’ animated videos and language clips. The video we’re highlighting is a full-length episode and can be watched all at once or divided into individual lessons. At 56 minutes long, you’ll learn some of the basics of the Chinese language like colors and basic phrases like “My name is…”
Kids and adults alike will appreciate how the topics are divided, as well as the pronunciation examples!
“Chinese Learning” by Feet Love Socks
This series of YouTube videos are broken up into individual lessons that focus more on pinyin, speaking and listening in Chinese. This particular video clip teaches basic introductions, but other videos include colors and numbers.
They even have a fun “Hello Song” video sung to the tune of “Skip to the Lou, My Darling.”
“Twinkle Trails: Chinese Lanterns”
The videos from Little Lives follow the learning adventures of Ms. Twinkle and her class as they discover the world around them (typically in song form).
This particular episode of the popular YouTube learning series focuses on teaching children how to count in Mandarin. Narrated in English, kids can hear the numbers in Chinese and see the corresponding character.
3. Good Ol’ Fashioned Flashcards
Flashcards have been a useful tool for teaching children just about everything for many, many years.
It’s pretty easy to make physical flashcards on your own. Simply gather some index cards and pens, write a word in English on one side, pinyin on the other, add some illustrations if you’d like and use the cards to help your child memorize different words and their translations.
If you’re not interested in being so creative, YellowBridge has some awesome digital flashcards specifically geared towards teaching children and adults the basics of 拼音 (pīn yīn) — Chinese romanization and 汉字 (hàn zì) — Chinese characters. You can also customize lessons using this resource as well.
To use flashcards, we recommend starting simple. Put together five or six easy basic words such as 你好(nǐ hǎo) — hello, 不 (bù) — no or 是 (shì) — yes. Give your child time to look them over, sound them out, etc. Make sure they can grasp tones a bit.
Then begin showing them the flashcards one at a time to see if they can associate the characters with the Chinese verbiage and English translations. Give him or her a minute or two between cards so they don’t get too frustrated or overwhelmed.
4. Use Hands-on Activities
When all else fails, make it into a game! Hands-on activities are a stellar way to get a group of children excited about making something with their own two hands while teaching them something else at the same time.
Check out this Hanzi+Pinyin+English Chopstick Game from Rosetta Stone. It’s a great project that combines Chinese culture, games and translating words in one. All you need to set up this project is a pen, paper, scissors, a bowl and chopsticks. It doesn’t get simpler than this!
That’s not the only way to get nitty-gritty with Mandarin. You could also host a Chinese culture day for your children where you cook Chinese food, watch some “Ni Hao Kai-lan” and do some Chinese-style crafts together.
Even though you’re not actively teaching your children pinyin or hanzi, you’re still introducing them to Chinese culture in a way they can understand.
Are you ready to teach Chinese to your children?
We can promise that with a little bit of planning and some fun hands-on activities and resources, your kids will definitely have a great time learning more about 中文 (zhōng wén) — Chinese!
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.