Family Language Alive - Children Learning Chinese

Situation #4.7: Pinyin and flashcards are easy tools to use, but I am not sure whether they are effective…

October 2, 2010

4.7 Main Article

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Situation #4.7: Pinyin and flashcards are easy tools to use, but I am not sure whether they are effective.Reality: Pinyin (a romanization system that helps instruct Chinese characters by representing the sounds in alphabetic terms) can be easier to grasp, making a child more inclined to start learning and less likely to shun away from the first sight of characters. One thing you need to take notice, however, is whether there is confusion if your child is simultaneously learning the English phonetic alphabet at the same time. Pinyin may also help the child to read sooner since he can then put together the sounds and figure out the unrecognized Chinese characters during reading. With that said, pinyin can only help a child if he is orally proficient in the Mandarin dialect. The main disadvantage of pinyin, or any phonetic assistance, is that it takes away the urgency to recognize characters. Hence, a child may eventually lag far behind in character recognition and rely too heavily on pinyin alone. He may thus become less competent in reading text that consists solely of characters. Therefore, it is important to take notice and evaluate periodically that pinyin is used only as a guide to pronunciation and perhaps a stepping stone toward reading in characters, but never an end to itself. On another note, however, pinyin can be used in character typing on a computer, but it is not the only method.

Flashcards, as we refer to them, are a set of cards to teach Chinese characters. It usually includes a clear, large print of a Chinese character written on each card along with a picture that shows what it means. There is sometimes an English translation on the back or the front as well. These can easily be found in educational stores, especially in Asia. A Chinese character, however, is already a pictorial representation, often of its own meaning. Having a picture associated with the character may create unnecessary distractions and may, as a result, hinder the progress of character recognition. Showing only the Chinese characters is the most effective method. Actually, it can be quite enjoyable for the child because the composition of the characters is interesting and meaningful in itself.

Considerations:

  • How does my child’s curriculum utilize pinyin in the scaffolding of the Chinese characters?
  • Is a strategy evident where more and more characters are introduced and recognized, especially in reading?
  • What do I decide about the use of pinyin in light of my mission?
  • How do I make use of flashcards that have only the Chinese character(s) on the front (optionally some explanation, pictures or hints on the back)? How can I make simple games out of these cards (e.g. Memory, Go Fish)?
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