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8 Ways for Parents to Improve Kids' Chinese Speaking Skills

For families living in English-speaking regions of the world, a common challenge we hear about from parents is how hard it can be to improve kids’ Chinese speaking skills. This is often true both for families where parents are native Chinese speakers living outside China as well as for those families where parents are learning Mandarin as a second language themselves. 

While parents might be able to get their children to soak up some Chinese grammar through classes and books, it can be much more difficult to figure out how to teach kids to speak Chinese in everyday life. In many situations, even when parents make the effort to speak Mandarin to kids at home, their kids only respond to them in English. Sounds familiar?

Unfortunately, without regular speaking practice, your child’s speaking abilities will lag behind their other Chinese skills in reading, writing, and listening. To avoid this and to make sure your kid’s Chinese language skills develop evenly, try incorporating some of these changes into your life with your kid.

1. Be Consistent with Chinese Conversation to Improve Kid’s Chinese Speaking Skills

Parents who want to improve a kid’s Chinese speaking skills should allocate time slots to speak to their child only in Chinese. If you as a parent are only starting to learn Chinese yourself, don’t let this stop you from practicing it together with your child. This activity will help develop your child’s Chinese language skills over time through consistency.

But let’s face it—parents are busy, and while having consistent Chinese conversations with your child might sound like a great idea in theory, it can be difficult to figure out how to get kids to speak Chinese regularly in practice.

You can make consistent Chinese conversations easier to accomplish by making them a part of your regular daily routine. For example, when you and your child talk about how your day has been going, your child’s interests, what they’re up to, what they’ve been thinking about, etc., take these opportunities to converse in Chinese. When your child has done something good or faces a challenge, take the opportunity to encourage them in Chinese!

In all likelihood, these are already things you talk about with your kid. When you encourage your child to converse with you about these everyday topics in Chinese, they’re getting more of the regular speaking practice they need to grow their skills.

2. Talk to Yourself in Chinese

Talking to yourself might seem silly, but this is actually a smart and easy way to help your child pick up Chinese speaking skills.

This method is effective because your child learns by copying you! As you go about your daily tasks with your kid nearby, just say whatever’s on your mind in Chinese (provided you don’t mind your kid knowing what you’re thinking).

When you think out loud to yourself in Chinese, your child is able to observe how Chinese is used in different scenarios. They will learn how thoughts, opinions, questions, and answers  both sound and are structured in Chinese. They’ll also get to see how you use Chinese to emote about real-life situations, whether you’re surprised, joyful, bored, or frustrated.

Through simple observation, your child will be able to learn linguistic subtleties that they might never be able to learn from a class or a book. All you have to do is talk to yourself a bit to improve your kid's Chinese speaking skills this way. Just be sure to also answer any questions they might have.

3. Incorporate Tactile Learning

If your child can "feel" what you are talking about, the tactile stimuli will help them remember the words they’re learning better and faster. This is a great way to teach your child about objects around the house and ensure that they remember the associated Chinese vocabulary.

For example, if you’re talking to your child about a toy car, hold it in your hands while describing its appearance in Chinese. Encourage your child to touch it and feel the details as they listen to you and practice learning key words like “红色” (“red”), “汽车” (“car”), or “轮胎” (“tire”). This will help your child intuitively learn Chinese vocabulary.

4. Emphasize the Importance of Chinese

You as a parent have a huge impact on the way your child sees the world. When you take the time to educate your child on the reasons why speaking Chinese is important, you can not only encourage them to learn Chinese now, but also impress upon them a lifelong enthusiasm for the language.

When you talk to your child about Chinese, your goal is to inspire them to learn it, so be sure to tell them about all the benefits! Mention how important it is for them to be able to communicate with their Chinese relatives or friends. Introduce them to books and movies in Chinese that will capture their imagination. Listen to Chinese songs and sing along with them. If you have a joke or secret to tell them, make Chinese a special language by telling it to them in Chinese!

As you go about showing your child how important Chinese is to you and why it should be important to them as well, make sure to include some examples drawn from your own life. These examples will make the benefits of learning Chinese much more relatable.

5. Celebrate Traditional Chinese Festivals Year Round

Chinese festivals are always a great opportunity to get kids to speak Chinese through some hands-on activities. With ample opportunities for fun, good food, and excitement, these celebrations can even become events that your child looks forward to all year!

If you celebrate the biggest Chinese holidays like Chinese New Year or the Mid-Autumn Festival, there are plenty of fun, traditional ways to involve children in festive Chinese traditions. For example, if you celebrate Chinese New Year with your child, make dumplings, give them red envelopes filled with money, and explain the legend of the Nian.

Your child will love these activities, and while you and your child spend quality time together, make sure that you both speak in Chinese. Take time to explain any new or interesting Chinese words that your child hasn’t encountered before. As you have fun together in this way, your child will soak up Chinese language and culture, all while having a great time. 

6. Talk to Your Pets in Chinese

As you probably know, most children adore their pets and love spending time with them. If you have a pet, try to use some Chinese words and phrases to communicate with them. This makes learning how to speak Chinese for kids a fun activity.

Since your child learns by copying you, they will definitely pick up on how you’re talking to their furry best friend. You’ll even catch them trying to say the same things to your pet!

Here are some phrases that can help you get started:

Chinese

Pinyin

English

嘿 小宝贝/小家伙!

Hēi xiǎo bǎobèi!/xiǎo jiāhuo!

Hey little cutie/little handsome!

来,过来,别害怕。

Lái, guòlái, bié hàipà.

Come here, don’t be afraid.

是不是饿了?这就给你弄吃的。

Shì bùshì èle? Zhè jiù gěi nǐ nòng chī de.

Are you hungry? I’ll prepare you some food.

过来吧,这有吃的。

Guòlái ba, zhè yǒu chī de.

Come, come and eat.

不要着急,慢慢吃。

Bùyào zhāojí, màn man chī.

Don’t rush, eat slowly.

在家乖乖的哦。

Zàijiā guāiguāi de ó.

Be good at home!

 

7. Introduce Your Child to Mandarin-speaking Environments

If your child is surrounded by the Chinese language and not by English, then naturally, they’re going to be much more motivated to learn how to speak Chinese.

You can expose your child to a Chinese-speaking environment through travel. Traveling with your child to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and other areas with native Chinese speakers is one of the most effective ways to improve kids’ speaking skills.

When your child visits a Chinese-speaking area, not only will they know from experience that Chinese is an important language that many people speak, but they will also have nearly constant contact with the Chinese language. This will help them pick up Chinese very quickly.

However, traveling abroad is not feasible for all of us. Fortunately, there are other ways to immerse your child in a Chinese-speaking environment.

Depending on where you live and how big your local Chinese-speaking community is, your available resources will vary, but for leads, you can seek out performances, events, and groups that focus on Chinese language and culture at community, religious, or educational centers. If they’re available, you can also enroll your child in academic programs geared towards learning Chinese, whether they’re after school programs or schools with bilingual curricula.

8. Never Give Up!

If you’ve had trouble getting your kid to practice speaking Chinese, you’re not alone. It’s tough! Hopefully, this article was able to give you some helpful tips and ideas to try out.

In the end, there are plenty of ways that you as a parent can encourage your child to practice speaking Chinese, but you will have to be persistent. Particularly if you are your child’s main connection to the Chinese language, most—if not all—of their Chinese learning is coming from you. This means that you play a very important role in your child’s education, and as long as you don’t give up, your child will continue to be exposed to Chinese.

Even when it gets hard, remind yourself of why it’s important to improve your child’s Chinese speaking skills. If you manage to persevere, you—and your kid—will thank you later.

About the Author:

Daniel_Nalesnik_founder_Hack_Chinese

Daniel Nalesnik, Founder of Hack Chinese

Daniel moved to China in 2009 for a year of full-time Mandarin immersion at Peking University (in Beijing) and Fudan University (in Shanghai). In the years since he has worked with teachers throughout China to discover what learning methods are most impactful for Mandarin Chinese learners. This experience inspired Daniel to found Hack Chinese, a spaced-repetition platform for learning Mandarin Chinese.

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