Family Language Alive - Children Learning Chinese

Situation #1.7: My child is past the optimal stage of learning Chinese. I should have done it when he was much younger…

August 30, 2010

1.7 Main Article

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Situation #1.7: My child is past the optimal stage of learning Chinese. I should have done it when he was much younger.Reality: In the child’s early years, the family may talk to him in Chinese, and English if desired, if that is what the family is comfortable with. Even before the child is born, research has confirmed he has already started to listen to the mother’s voice. It is definitely beneficial to begin these types of connection early on. Between birth and nine months of age, the child starts to acquire, rather than learn, the language(s). That is the first window of opportunity. There may not be any prevalent result at that point, but it will serve as a strong foundation later on when he does acquire the language(s). He will benefit much by having lots of human contact and verbal interactions with parents, siblings and primary caregivers at this time.

The second window of opportunity is between the age of four and seven to introduce a second language if your child is raised monolingually up until then, or a third language if your child has been bilingual. The years before that window of time, a child’s cognitive skills were in rapid development, which perhaps explains why he was mostly shaping the language(s) he acquired in the first window and could leave little room for another new language. The second window is also the time to start introducing and teaching reading and writing if biliteracy is in your plan for your child. Be aware though when your child should start writing by hand, however, due to individual development (see Situation #4.2). Another reason to start biliteracy is so that it is introduced prior to any formal schooling, so that he has a positive attitude toward his home language(s). You should try to use the child’s first language (i.e. Chinese) to provide academic content and real life experiences as long as you can prior to schooling as well. You can be sure that all these knowledge will eventually be transferred to the second language (i.e. English).

There is not a biological marker when a person stops being capable of learning a language. Different ages pose different advantages and disadvantages. It is never too late to learn. In all these windows of opportunities, you need only to provide your child a rich environment with an active approach to drive the learning.

Considerations:

  • How should I start introducing Chinese to my child if I have not already done so? When should I start to teach reading and writing? Is my child ready?
  • How can I provide a rich environment for my child during his optimal window of opportunity to learn Chinese?
  • What kind of approach am I using in teaching my child Chinese?
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March 27, 2016

Including Academic Subject Content in Chinese Learning

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Water Cycle in Chinese learning

When children are young, providing meaningful context in language learning is much more natural. Our daily living almost automatically serves that platform, that is, as long as we are more intentional about it. When they grow older, however, especially when schooling and peer influences start to dominate in English, children tend to stay at that level of proficiency, at best.

 

It seems more intention is in order. Subject-related content in Chinese is crucial in continuing their level of competency, especially in science, mathematics and history. Research shows that there may be cognitive costs due to language switching. But as in all extent of bilingualism, the long-term benefit may outweigh today’s pace of learning. It is a value your family needs to hold fast to while under the pressure of comparison.

 

As much time as your family can allow, in all academic content, a child will benefit to know the vocabulary equivalence in Chinese, both in terminology and in concept. Today, ample modern resources are widely available to complement our incompetency in many subjects.

 

In science, narrating simple processes such as the water cycle, photosynthesis and earthquake is a good start. Doing a nature walk will provide that backdrop of topics to discuss. In mathematics, multiplication table and fraction operations are areas to explore, even at a meal time setting: we have only two hot dogs on the table, and we have three people, how much hot dog can we eat? (All spoken in Chinese of course!) Playing card games such as Uno in Chinese can be another fun way to practice numeracy. (You may also make up many math games using the Uno cards.) For history, a family dinner table discussion over current events, political movement, or the past can be more wholesome and effective than an actual lesson.

 

We must be aware that teaching academic content does not need to be all didactic. It can continue to be meaningful and fun, as it used to be when the children are younger. The key is your intention and persistence. Fostering curiosity and imagination in a real context is still key to teaching the habit of lifetime learning.


 Math in Chinese learning. Comparison of Math in Chinese and English. Compare the English and Chinese equivalence in learning numbers. The word third is also used as an ordinal number, making the fraction terminology confusing in English. At one glance, use English in your head to memorize this sequence of numbers say it out loud without looking. Now use Chinese. This skill becomes extremely useful in mental math.

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