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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Developing the Mandarin Habit

"It's more important for preschoolers to develop habits than to learn material."  
         --Teacher Ling from Language Stars

When I first heard Ling say this to one of the other parents a couple of weeks ago, it was like a light bulb went on in my head.  This was what I was trying to do!  I hadn't known how to put it into words, but I had realized that pushing my children to learn specific vocabulary each week didn't work very well.  Sure, I could decide that we were working on "colors" or "animals," but beyond that, there was a point at which they would stop being interested.  And here's why:

Children learn language differently than adults.  We all know this from the research.  So, in order to learn a second language, it has to be presented to them in a manner unlike what adults need.  For example, I love the Little Pim DVDs.  My children don't.  The videos show people performing actions or using objects while the name for the action or object is repeated.  What a great visual way to teach vocabulary--to adults.  I still play them in the car so they can hear the words from a native speaker.  But, unless I learn the word first (from the tapes or otherwise) and then use it daily with them, they CANNOT learn it!  Even after watching a DVD several times, when I ask them how to say a word or even point to an object that was presented in the video and ask in Chinese, "What is this?" they give me a blank stare.  

At first, this made my heart sink.  I had tried so hard.  I had invested time and money.  Then, I stepped back and realized that they had to learn Mandarin by someone using the word in everyday conversation. Sure, I can decide to work on "animals" or "colors," but it has to be presented as a game or I have to put related objects out to play with, or I have to ask about the color of a new or favorite toy.  While, as an adult learner, I would love to sit down and memorize all the colors at once, compare their names and repeat them until I learned them, my preschoolers simply cannot do this.  It's not the way they learn language.  

Here's where the "habits" come in.  The way Ling presented the concept to me was sheer genius.  The idea is simple:  Don't push vocabulary, push a schedule.  So that's what we do.  Projects that the kids bring home from LA are reviewed, shown to grandma and anyone else who might vaguely be interested, and posted on the fridge.  They remind the children of their last class and that there will be another one soon.  While they play, we listen to Chinese songs from Language Stars  or other CDs that we have.  We purchased some preschool games for the computer, so they can choose to play these during computer time.  We do coloring sheets, cut out the pictures and play games with them.  We watch Chinese DVDs in the car.  We play some games with the Little Pim cards and I'm starting to make some on my own (see the end of this post).  And, we read (or I attempt to read) at least 1 book in Chinese every night before going to bed.
Our favorite is Brown Bear, Brown Bear:

(If you purchase the book, there are 2 or 3 videos
of people reading it in Chinese on YouTube.)

Developing the habit of learning Mandarin is a lot easier and less stressful than pushing vocabulary.  This way, there's a lot less pressure on Mom to present material and more emphasis on simply using the words we have learned in daily conversations.  Getting into the routine of having Mandarin sprinkled throughout our daily lives is still a challenge, requiring forethought and effort on my part.  But, I have to say that hearing Ling say those words was like lifting a burden off of my shoulders.  I can just relax a bit now and try to enjoy learning Mandarin with my little ones.  Well, right after I look up a few more animal names . . .

Teacher Tam
If you are learning Mandarin with your child(ren) or
would like a fun activity for Chinese New Year (usually in February),
here's a new game I made.  Just click on the picture and visit 
my TPT store to get your FREE copy.

*I get 50% off tuition at Language Stars for blogging about our classes.  
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  1. Enjoy a summer of learning and fun! Study Chinese Experience Shanghai.

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    Language of Instruction

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    1. Dear Parent,

      Greetings from YK Pao School! As you may know, this year we are organizing the Mandarin Summer Camp and intermediate Chinese program for 5-12 year olds and we would be delighted to have your child take part.

      Our Summer Camp is a constructive and enjoyable way for your child to pass the long summer months, experiencing life in Shanghai and learning Mandarin in a fun and educational environment. We will have activity based classes including sports, art and excursions round Shanghai and to nearby areas. We also have homestay opportunities. As you know, unlike many other language camps, our Camp is held on campus at our School and makes use of our indoor and outdoor teaching and sports facilities.

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      YKPao School Mandarin Summer Camp

  2. I enjoy your game cards. Thank you! I created games in Chinese for my children as well.