China travel 097

Published on April 29th, 2011 | by Paz


How our 14 month old is learning Mandarin

We choose to move to China for many reasons, but one of the most important reasons was to learn Mandarin. There are many other countries that pay more and offer much better teaching packages, but we thought that was a short term benefit and that living in China would give our kids the long term benefit of learning Chinese.

I don’t have to explain to anyone how fast China is progressing and how many people they employ. If you don’t know how many…well lets just say 1,339,724,852 people live in China compared to the U.S. 311,247,000 and China had 752,000,000  people employed in 2005 I can only imagine what the number is now. So if you were just playing a numbers game well let’s just say you could run into a person or two that spoke Mandarin and you might be interested in a job where knowing Mandarin could be a huge advantage.

The Chinese people are very eager to learn English. So just because you don’t speak Mandarin, please don’t think that you won’t be able to communicate in China. In China currently there are more students learning English than there are people in the United States. So in short…yes learning English is very important in China. All public school must teach have English classes by the 5th grade, the better ones offer English classes at an earlier age. We visited many schools that offer two English classes a day for the preschools. The majority of  classes are taught by foreign teachers.

Mandarin goes beyond just China.  Countries where Mandarin is one of their official languages are: China (including Taiwan, Hong Kong, & Macao), Singapore, Malaysia, and there are extremely large populations of Chinese that live in Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam. So as you can guess speaking Chinese could benefit you in these countries as well.

Now that I have bored you with who speaks Chinese, let’s talk about how we are teaching our Abe (14 months old) Chinese.

Here is Abe just chillin in China!

I am not going to lie, it is much easier to teach him Mandarin since we are living in China because we are reminded of it everyday….I should say every minute. However, there are many things that we are doing and will continue to do when we return home to continue his language education. (p.s. we also are learning Spanish….but that is another post) So none of what we are doing you can’t do at home with your own kids or on your own.

We hired a Chinese nanny who only speaks Mandarin in our house. She also speaks Cantonese and her village dialect. Yup most Chinese are actually trilingual. Go figure. We have asked her to only speak Mandarin with us and the kids. It would be too confusing to learn Mandarin and Cantonese at the same time. Abe is with her and Zeek during the day. We also ask that she reads books to Abe everyday. At least two books a day. We bought some children’s books in Mandarin for her to read. He enjoys the story time and I think so does she. It is probably the only time he sits still.

It is very important to read to children, no matter what the age. Keep in mind that you don’t have to have a perfect accent to read to your child in another language. Zeek and I also read to Abe in Mandarin (obviously books in pinyin) and I know that we are totally mispronouncing the words but that is not the point. The point is that he continues to become familiar with the tone of the language and new vocabulary words.

We bought small poster sized signs that have pictures of fruit, vegetables, and animals that are in Mandarin and have them up all over the house. We reference these posters everyday, showing him the picture of the carrot and then pronouncing it in Mandarin. We have fun saying what we can in Mandarin and filling the rest in with English.

Is your child too young to learn another language? Many people said: Oh Abe won’t even pick up Mandarin because he is so small. He is too young to learn a second language. He will be confused. I am happy to say that yes Abe is young (14 months), he has already begun learning and no he is not confused. Also, he is not a genius. He is just a normal kid learning different languages. Keep in mind that kids everyday of all ages and backgrounds are learning new languages and experiencing new things. Why not your kid? Why not you?

Here is a video of Abe saying thank you in Mandarin. Xie Xie.
Please forgive my newbie-ness with this video. I  took it on our i-pod touch so the sound quality isn’t the greatest. I promise to continue improving my video taking/uploading abilities.
So there you have it. He is saying thank you in Chinese.

What are we doing to help Abe learn Mandarin?

It is very important for everyone to get involved in the language learning experience. Have fun, make mistakes, go crazy! Who cares….if you care about making mistakes and being embarrassed of speaking in another language than how can you expect your kids to! I know everyone knows this…but your kids don’t do what you say, they do what you do. Wink, Wink

We practice our Mandarin as a family and include everyone, even Abe although he doesn’t participate in the conversation very much. Though we are in China, it would be very easy to only speak English to the kids and go on our merry way. So we have to remind each other to use the Mandarin we do know regularly. We ask Lupita and Abe to ask the nanny for things in Mandarin. Even though she understands their body language pretty good, we need to practice. We also use the Mandarin we know with each other. I will say please, thank you, I like, I don’t like, no, yes, and excuse me in Mandarin to the kids, Zeek and the Nanny. That way they see that I am using my Mandarin and we encourage them to answer back in Mandarin. If they forgot something or don’t know how to say a word we look it up together and give them the answer. The kids then repeat it after us and we move on. We always include Abe to repeat after us, and if he does great, if not, great. It doesn’t matter how much they say, it is the positive reinforcement and encouragement that matters. Kids are like sponges, they pick up everything. If it takes them a little while to regurgitate it, well that is fine. Trust me once they start they don’t stop. hahahaha

Here is another video of Abe saying zài jiàn or good-bye.

What we have learned through teaching our kids Mandarin is that human interaction in the early years is the most beneficial. I am sorry to say that sticking a one year old in front of a Dora cartoon will not help their ability to learn Spanish. However reading to your one year old in Spanish or going over Spanish flash cards together will. The statistics are drastically different on how much more an infant or toddler learns through human interaction versus non-human interaction. Save your money and don’t buy a tons of baby DVDs instead spend that money on bilingual books or hire a high schooler who is studying your language of choice to read and play with your toddler only in their second language. Trust me your money will go a lot further and you kids will have a lot more fun.

I am earger to find out what others are doing to promote/learn a second or third language with their kids. Please share your thoughts and suggestions.

Adios! Our post on how Lupita is learning Spanish and Mandarin coming up next!

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About the Author

Paz is an avid adventurer in life and food. Traveling across the globe with her family they enjoy cultural immersion and checking out the local eateries.

7 Responses to How our 14 month old is learning Mandarin

  1. Jamie says:

    I have really enjoyed your blog! My family is moving from Tennessee to Chengdu, China in August. I am really pushing language. I realize many people move abroad and are just fine without language skills, but I am hoping my children take advantage of our move and learn Mandarin. I bought flashcards and have left a large poster on our refrigerator that includes pictures with Mandarin words written phonetically. My 7 year old seems the most interested. We also purchased Rosetta Stone, but haven’t pulled it out just yet!
    I will be interested in your progress! Please keep us informed!

    • Paz says:

      Jamie- So great that you have started early. That is what we regret the most is not learning more of the language sooner. You pick it up fast…but being a family who loves to talk it makes it hard. I am very interested in learning about your move. The posters have helped a lot and I think the flash cards are a must. Not sure if you have found the Kai lan books, but they great. We love reading them together and it introduces new vocabulary in a fun way. Zai Jian!

  2. Jaye Mortensen says:

    Interesting read and thanks for sending the videos. Great photo of Abe in the teal wash tub (or whatever that is) Cool colors and birds-eye view. I recognize the Mr. Potato Head shirt!

    • Paz says:

      Jaye-thanks Zeek took that photo at my work. Ya we aren’t sure what it is….but kids like to play in it. hahaha

  3. Angela White says:

    Wow! What a life long skill to have! Both your kiddos will be superstars in foreign language class when they get older. Love the videos.


    • Paz says:

      Ang- We totally should have started sooner. It has been hard not to talk to people about regular things. But the kids seem to be picking it up quickly and having some fun. Give Caleb a kiss for us. Love ya paz

  4. Pingback: Why did we move to China? – International Cravings

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