Developing a love for Chinese in children

This is the second week that Sophie came home with homework from her Mandarin teacher. And just when I thought she was so excited at the idea of doing homework, this week she kept whining and telling me that she didn’t know how to write the Chinese strokes and was even reluctant to try.

For me, it doesn’t matter so much that you don’t know how to do it. But what matters most is that you have a correct learning attitude and that means giving it your best. Sophie is usually one who displays more tenacity when it comes to trying but these days she’s been getting more unwilling to converse with us in Chinese.

When we speak to her in Mandarin outside, she’ll ask, “Why are you speaking in Chinese mummy? This is a English shop you know.

At other times, she’ll fake ignorance and tell us in an irritated voice, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I only understand English.

While her Mandarin teacher has been doing an excellent job, I feel that I have to do my part as a parent to cultivate her love for Chinese at home. So these are some of the things that I have been doing at home.


As part of our bedtime routine, I always read books to Sophie before she sleeps. And now, I always make it a point that she has to pick out 1-2 Chinese books as we usually read up to 4 books.

In her childcare, she’s taught 弟子规, a character building syllabus that is introduced by MOE to schools. And since she’s expressed an interest in it, I bought the book from Popular and read it to her. To help her express herself in Chinese, I will encourage her to tell me what each phrase means in Chinese and how she can apply it.

I’m blessed to have been gifted a lot of learning recourse from my cousin whose children are now in Primary school. So we have flashcards and books like these where there is an English version and Chinese one to help Sophie understand the book better. The words are also relatively easy for her level which helps her to read independently.


Conversing in Chinese 

To help Sophie be effectively bilingual, we have been making an effort to speak more in Mandarin. Like I said, she gets quite irritated at time. But slowly, she’s getting used to it and we try to make up silly games like, I can speak English and Chines and get her to translate a English word to Chinese or vice versa, so she doesn’t feel so dreadful towards her Mother Tongue.

Learning creatively

As with all kids, they don’t like to feel like everything is about studying or learning. So I’ve been cracking my brains on how to make learning Chinese more fun and engaging.

When Sophie had to learn the strokes 丿and n (What’s the han yu ping ying for it??), she kept telling me she doesn’t know how to write it. So I taught her by showing her that the strokes resemble a tree trunk. Quite smart right? Except, she went on to say, but what if it’s a coconut tree?


The next thing I’m considering is to send her for enrichment classes conducted in Mandarin. But I’m not keen on Berries, Tian Hsia, etc as these are too academic and was thinking of perhaps, art or dance class where the teachers use Chinese to communicate with the student. This way, it’s more of an immersion learning process rather than pure learning.

If you have been successful in developing a love for Chinese in your kids, do share them with me. I would love to learn from you  🙂 Meanwhile, I’ll continue to motivate her to pick up the language by making it fun and engaging.


Do link up every Monday with my Motivational Mondays post. Don’t forget to grab my badge and include it in your post after you have linked up and leave me a comment too. I will be hosting Motivational Monday every week and I hope that you can join me every Monday. Have a great week ahead!
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Comments: 18

  1. Adeline September 2, 2013 at 2:35 pm Reply

    I recently wrote about my challenges on mother tongue language with my children. And I can absolutely identify your helping Sophie with this. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would enrol them to a speech n drama class because oral exam in primary school carries a high weightage. I think it will be good to be able to converse confidently. 🙂

    • Susan September 2, 2013 at 4:00 pm Reply

      Thanks Adeline. I just read your post on it and have the same anxieties. But I don’t wish to overworry about it as she’s only four. But the suggestion on mandarin speech and drama class sounds good and I’ll be checking out places that conducts them. Thanks 🙂

  2. The Little Mom September 2, 2013 at 3:21 pm Reply

    I also make sure that I borrowed Chinese books for my boy every time we visit the library. However, it is my MIL who really make him speak Chinese. She insist that she doesn’t know English and will only reply him when he talks to her in Chinese.

    Recently we also send him to Berries for Chinese Enrichment. We were quite surprise that he enjoys the lessons there so far. For a N1 class, I think they are still not too academic. But focuses more one sight words, singing and listening to stories.

    I recently saw an ad on Mandarin Speech and Drama at Art Bug. Not sure about them, but maybe you can check it out.

    • Susan September 2, 2013 at 4:15 pm Reply

      Thanks for recommendation on Art Bug Chinese speech and drama class. I just checked out their classes on their website and their class look interesting. We also make it a point to borrow Chinese books for Sophie from the library and she enjoys reading them. So I have to remind myself not to get overly stressed by the academic side of things for now and pushed her too hard.

  3. Adora September 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm Reply

    Hi Susan. We sent poppy to a kindy where all her classes are taught in mandarin. It helped tremendously. Prior to that I faced the same challenge as you are facing with Sophie now, that she would acknowledge that I was speakin mandarin but refuse to take part in the conversation. Now it’s better. I got her books in mandarin, books that we have the English version of and that she loves. We also have character books that are bilingual. With calla I coverage with her in mandarin about 75% of the time. Up till recent months it was almost 100%!

    • Susan September 3, 2013 at 9:24 am Reply

      Great that Calla has a head start! I regret not making a greater effort to speak to Sophie in Chinese more often when she was younger. I do notice that you converse to Poppy in Mandarin, and I suppose that really helps to develop her Chinese language abilities. Gotta learnt that from you 🙂

  4. Motherkao September 3, 2013 at 12:28 am Reply

    I faced the same challenges that you faced with Sophie with Ben. He’ll gladly tell me he’s “English-ren” and not Hua Ren! He thinks it’s a big joke whenever I speak to him in Mandarin and I also have some difficulties being as animated and enthusiastic reading him his Chinese stories.

    This was what I did – and it fixed all the issues I had. I sent him to Berries. Berries is not all academic and a lot of what he learned is made very, very fun! (Hmm, I should do a post to share this soon!) He comes home with craft (made by his teachers and sometimes he gets to do a little too) and the accompanying phrases to recite with the craft. For example, his teacher made this simple bird stuck onto an ice cream stick and tied two raffia strings with an attached picture of worms (such that it becomes like a rattle – not sure if this description cuts it) and he goes “Xiao niao chi chong” when he rattles it. So every week, he learns these simple phrases, idioms in fun ways, listen to stories told 10x more animatedly than I tell him, and does activity worksheets that are quite interesting.

    Why did I say it fixed my issues – because I outsourced when I saw the problem coming (which is me as his teacher), he’s liking the language, pronouncing things right, learning with no pressure (haha, more pressure with me, plus I don’t know how to teach him in fun ways) – and now he speaks to me confidently in Mandarin.

    All I do is revision. Yay.

    • Susan September 3, 2013 at 9:26 am Reply

      Oh yes, I got that from Sophie too. I am English, not Chinese! So funny, I just LOLed.
      Guess it was my impression that all these Chinese enrichment classes tend to be more academic. Thanks for clarifying and I will also do some research before sending Sophie for a trial. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  5. Emily September 3, 2013 at 9:07 am Reply

    Hi Susan,
    My son is a true blue potato too. No matter how hard I’ve tried, he still dislike the language and he refused to speak Mandarin at home. I started him on Chinese enrichment class at Han Language Center early this year. I don’t see any great improvement yet, but at least he can start to recognize more Chinese characters and learn HanYuPinYin.

  6. Daphlyn September 4, 2013 at 8:10 am Reply

    I’m not sure if you’ve heard of chengzhu (the Chinese branch of Julia Gabriel) it is more of cultivating children to have a love for Chinese. A friend whose children attend both chengzhu and berries did mention that berries is more academic as compared to the former. Give it a try. Most of all, the teachers are very dynamic and encouraging. My son enjoys it a lot and has been attending for a year now.

    • Susan September 7, 2013 at 4:43 pm Reply

      Thanks for the suggestion. Will include it in my list to find out more.

  7. Irene Soh September 5, 2013 at 1:59 am Reply

    Wow! I love how creative you were in teaching Sophie chinese. I must agree that chinese the weakest link this my household too. I found the creative technology play chinese helpful when it comes to learning chinese.

    • Susan September 7, 2013 at 4:35 pm Reply

      Hi Irene,
      Just trying my best to keep it interesting for Sophie. How old did your kids start on play chinese? Looks more suitable for 6 and up.

  8. The Growing Mum September 5, 2013 at 5:13 pm Reply

    Thanks for sharing these creative ideas. I’m looking at teaching my Tot Chinese too. Your ideas came at the right time!

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  10. Lill August 27, 2016 at 4:29 pm Reply

    Thanks ladies for sharing your experiences. I am at a lost cause i cant really speak or read chinese and neither can my hubby. It doesn’t help either that the MOE writes its chinese syllabus for primary school in mandarin. So its reading post like these that I get enlightened as to what is expected at school and how i can go about preparing my 5 year old son. BTW what is 弟子规. Is this required in primary school? thanks

    • Susan August 29, 2016 at 8:09 am Reply

      弟子规 is a teaching of Confucius on how to be a good student, child, citizen and largely teaches about the attitude and behaviour that one should have towards others.
      For your 5-year-old, I would suggest exposing him to Chinese story books and even going for story telling session which you can find in libraries. There are lots of Chinese books that you can find in our public library and I do allow my daughter to watch Chinese cartoons to expose her to the language. At that age, I find teaching flash cards useful for commonly used terms. Hope it helps 🙂

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