Updated: Mar 20
Studies into brain growth and early language development – a fascinating and complex process – indicate that how an infant acquires language is dependent on the early neural connections (synapses) that are stimulated through responsive interaction with others, ideally during the first two years of life. The most effective learning occurs when these interactive experiences are both nurturing and enjoyable. The more positive, fun and importantly, natural, a child’s experiences, the easier it is for them to pick up one, two and even three languages simultaneously. But how can you ensure that the process of learning Mandarin for your toddler remains fun and effective? Here are a few tips:
1. Keep it natural. Language is ‘caught not taught’, so from day one, talk to your baby (not at him) using a mixture of baby talk and adult language. Use a wide range of words, incorporating them in reading games and other activities. Use them frequently and naturally in the baby’s presence.
Children learn through osmosis which means they will acquire language if exposed to it regularly and in natural settings, for example at home or in a play environment. Interact with your child as they develop and grow, creating dialogue as you go along and exposing them to a variety of experiences that bring them into contact with different places, people and material in Chinese, especially if you are not a confident Mandarin speaker yourself.
Keep in mind that as they grow older, their horizons need to expand in order for their vocabulary to expand too.
If you are able to write in Chinese script, label objects around your home, introducing new words into your conversations gradually. Encourage friends, relatives, siblings and other visitors to speak and play with your child in Mandarin.
2. Exposure! Exposure! Exposure! Expose your little one to real-life experiences in places where Mandarin is spoken. When language has a direct relevance to your child’s life they will absorb it easily. A short break to China or Taiwan will be fun for all the family, though you don’t even have to travel that far as there are so many opportunities for exposure here in Singapore. You might consider joining an adult accompanied Mandarin or bilingual enrichment programme that uses lots of play, music and colourful activities, enabling your child to absorb Mandarin in a rich language environment.
3. Read stories. Children love stories and they love being read to. But get creative with your reading. Use funny voices, make funny faces. Enjoy reading together; keep it light and fun! Similarly, find good quality, age-appropriate videos that are fun to watch and enable you to use words in conversation afterwards.
4. Music and songs. Music is a great way for young children to pick up the natural rhythm of language, to hear correct pronunciation of sounds and to remember vocabulary. Songs with simple melodies and repeated phrases work best. Let your child fall asleep listening to their favourite CD; play it in the car. You may get tired of it after a while but your child will not! And again, if not a natural Mandarin speaker yourself – it’s a great way for you to learn the language too!
5. Be a role-model. Experience the process of learning with your child too. Your toddler will be much more excited to learn something if they feel your excitement! You will both benefit so much from this process.
Finally, remember the two magic Ps – Patience and Praise. Both help make learning Chinese a fun and natural part of everyday life. And your toddler will grow up living and loving the language.
These suggestions will help you to develop your child’s full potential. Don’t be afraid that you might get it wrong or that you don’t possess the skills to nurture your child. Every little effort counts and everybody can do it. It is a little effort for an enormous gift; the gift of good language is invaluable and costs nothing.
Source: All images used with permission from Chengzhu
About Huang Ying
As the Principal of Chengzhu and Mandarin Programmes. Huang Ying has been inspiring learners and teachers for nearly 30 years. She was born and raised in Beijing and worked as a kindergarten teacher for 10 years before becoming a pre-school principal. In 1997, she joined Julia Gabriel Centre and worked in a variety of teaching and leadership roles before becoming the Head of Chengzhu Mandarin Centre, a subsidiary of Julia Gabriel Education, in 2011. She is currently the Principal of Mandarin Programmes for Julia Gabriel Education in Singapore, which includes Chiltern House Preschool. She enjoys sharing her expertise and experience on how parents can support their children’s learning of Mandarin through public events and articles.
Chengzhu supports children’s ability to speak, read and write confidently in Mandarin at every level, ensuring maximum enjoyment of learning in the process. Whether at Chengzhu Mandarin Centre, where children experience full immersion within a dynamic, culture-rich environment from 6 months through to upper primary, or through a comprehensive Mandarin preschool curriculum at Chengzhu Mandarin Kindergarten, the Centre ensures meaningful experiences that place language in context for every child.