Learning Mandarin Chinese is a remarkable goal for your child. It’s the language of the future! But how do you make sure your child falls in love with the language? You need to follow proven Chinese-learning fundamentals–especially if you’re not a native Mandarin speaker yourself.
Below, we’re listing four disastrous mistakes parents make when teaching kids Mandarin at home. By avoiding these pitfalls, you’ll set your child on the path to master the Chinese language & culture. Let’s dive in!
Mistake #1: Disregarding the Desire for Fun
As a parent, you may believe that learning Mandarin has to be difficult for your child to succeed. Fortunately, that’s not the case! Kids often learn best when they’re enjoying the process, which means you can loosen up and put the fun into your Mandarin exploration. While you can still focus on traditional methods, like character study or workbook grammar lessons, you can also bring in more lighthearted approaches like songs and games.
For Mandarin tones especially, you can bring some silliness to your speaking and listening practice. You can even find TV shows, games, and music that’s either natively in Mandarin or translated into Mandarin for your child to enjoy. Mandarin gets a bad rap for being a difficult language to learn, but it truly doesn’t have to be that way. Allow the fun into your process and your child will be much more likely to stick with their study.
Mistake #2: Ignoring Natural Curiosities
In the same vein, your child probably has natural interests or hobbies that they can use to shape their Mandarin priorities. Maybe instead of focusing on the most common vocabulary words or grammar concepts, you can start with the words and situations that they’re most likely to want to use in conversation. Depending on the kid, you can focus on themes around sports, food, music, TV, or even travel. For example, it’s always exciting to learn the words and phrases you might use to visit China in the future.
While you may feel the need to guide them right back to Pinyin phonetics or character writing practice, you can give some leeway to make sure your child is engaged in their own way.
Mistake #3: Removing Exposure to Native Speakers
Our third mistake to avoid is not including native speakers in your child’s Chinese study. Mandarin is a beautiful language, but it does have subtleties that can be hard to pick up from other non-native speakers. Small details like correct intonation or even slang phrases will really help level up your child’s conversation ability. But if your child learns from someone else who’s not getting it quite right, you might accidentally be encouraging bad habits.
Thankfully, there’s an easy solution. In virtually every city or large town across the world, you’re likely to find Mandarin instruction from native speakers. If formal education isn’t your thing, you can also connect your child to native speakers as pen pals or conversation buddies to practice once in a while.
If you’re not a native speaker yourself, don’t fret! There are plenty of ways to make sure you get that exposure without needing to speak or study the language yourself. For instance, you can send your child to a Mandarin language weekend school where they’ll be learning with other children while having fun. This will keep them motivated and engaged with your Chinese language learning activities as home.
Mistake #4: Allowing Improper Tone Use
Next on our list is a mistake that stands out for Mandarin learners specifically: allowing improper tone use. Mastering Mandarin tones can be one of the most intimidating parts of learning the language, but it’s also one of the most important! Tones truly set the foundation for everything else your child will learn in their Mandarin study, so it’s important to build a solid base with accurate tones.
One mistake we often see with parents is skipping overtone pronunciation quickly to get to the “good stuff” (like grammar and vocabulary) more quickly. The problem? This sets your child up to solidify bad habits around the tonal pronunciation, and it can really hurt their vocabulary progress down the line.
While in some other languages mispronunciation is just a minor error that may hold you back from passing as a native speaker, in Chinese, it can change the entire meaning and context of a word or phrase. Plus, it’s especially difficult to re-learn correct intonation once you’ve already gotten used to speaking with incorrect versions.
To avoid making this mistake, spend as much time as you need perfecting tones upfront—before you move on to anything else. The more time you spend building rock-solid tone pronunciation, the easier it will be to adopt accurate pronunciation for new vocabulary down the line. Win, win!
Mistake #5: Skipping Chinese Culture Study
Rounding out our list of Mandarin mistakes, you definitely don’t want to ignore Chinese culture study as you teach and/or learn Mandarin. Mandarin has undeniable ties to Chinese culture, which is rich with cultural significance and timeless values. To put it simply, it’s almost impossible to fully grasp the Mandarin language without taking some time to learn the culture.
At De Yin School, for example, our approach to teaching Mandarin completely revolves around culture and moral values. We’ve found that our students learn best when they get exposed to the character and history behind the language. It’s just how kids learn!
Plus, Chinese culture has many elements that are naturally interesting to children. If your child is a native English speaker, they may really enjoy learning about Chinese life and values.
Final Thoughts for Teaching Kids Mandarin at Home
At the end of the day, however, you choose to study Mandarin will work. Any exploration of a new language and culture is a step in the right direction! But, we hope you’ve learned a bit about how to avoid the mistakes above—and why you and your child will be better off.