Experts Say: Help with Mandarin

Is your child having difficulty learning Mandarin? Read on.


My daughter will be heading to primary one next year and she refuses to speak mandarin and can’t read many words. How can we help her prepare for primary one? We’re worried it’s too late.


You must first understand why your child doesn’t want to use the language before you can find the right solutions to encourage them. The most common problem that children encounter is the lack of opportunities to speak, along with fear or shyness to use the language. This is invariably due to the traditionally harsh teaching methods in school or parents’ high expectations of their child. Naturally, parents want the best for their children but often place a lot of pressure on them with a tendency to scold them if they use the language incorrectly. Parents like you who face the challenge of nurturing an enjoyment of learning Mandarin in your child could follow these useful tips:


Be a role model. How can the child be interested if the parents are not? If you are not a good Mandarin speaker, show a personal interest in learning Mandarin yourself. Remember to involve all the family members, not just one parent or carer.


Tap into their interests. What are they enthusiastic about? Whether a love of animals, dance or sport – make an effort to support and encourage their passion using Mandarin. When my son was five, he was mad about volcanoes and earthquakes! He watched a lot of documentaries in English, so I sourced Mandarin books on the subject and read these to him. After which, he would happily chat in Mandarin about his hobby.


How about a cultural exchange? One of the best ways to learn a language is to visit the country where it is spoken. Just two weeks of total immersion within a rich language environment has an amazing effect on language development. When my son was younger and attending programmes at Julia Gabriel Centre, he joined an Overseas Learning Adventure to China. It was a great opportunity for him to practise using the language in real life situations and to understand more about Chinese culture at the same time.


Learn from other children. Children learn from each other and they are the best language teachers. During the Overseas Learning Adventure, my son picked up a lot of vocabulary and sentences from local Chinese students while attending the immersion classes.


Create a Mandarin environment. It’s important that the language has a direct relevance to everyday life, otherwise, it becomes an academic exercise and that is the fast lane to dousing enthusiasm. Label items around the home and begin to introduce the Mandarin names for objects during daily conversations. Encourage friends, relatives, babysitters, siblings and other visitors to speak and play with your child in Mandarin.


Appreciate and praise. All too often I hear parents say the following: ‘My child’s Mandarin is not good. He doesn’t want to speak it’. ‘She cannot remember the words’. If we do not believe in our own children and show them that they have our support, we cannot expect them to find their own confidence. Encourage your child to speak freely without fear of judgment. Praise, praise and praise!



Answered by:

Huang Ying

Principal, Chengzhu Mandarin Centre

Thanks for sharing!