I used to think that the immersion parent’s job was to strengthen the home language, usually English. I’ve since come to realize that the immersion parent has the double job of strengthening both English AND Chinese. IKR?! 😛
There are powerful ways that you can support your child’s language development even if you don’t speak a word of Chinese!
Disclaimer: The following information comes from my experience working at an award-winning Chinese immersion school for five years and German immersion school for one year. Ideas and opinions are my own and not representative of any school I previously or currently work at.
7 Top Strategies:
#1. Teach your child to read in his first language
I put this first because it’s probably the most overlooked strategy. Reading is a transferable skill, even if it’s between two completely different languages like English and Chinese. A child that can read fluently in his first language will have attention, stamina, understanding of how phonics and reading works… these will help him read in Chinese!
Reading in English enabled my son to read pinyin easily and he used that to learn characters.
If you’re looking for a good English reading program, I recommend The Reading Lesson: Teach Your Child to Read in 20 Lessons.
#2. Become BFF with your child’s teachers
This is hard for me to do as an introverted person, but really reaps huge benefits. When you get to know the teachers, they will share all kinds of unbelievably useful information and resources with you.
Obviously, don’t be a pest or parasite. I maintain mutually beneficial relationships by helping teachers with small tasks and they in turn help me with Chinese stuff. Win win. 🙂
#3. Hire a tutor
Assuming a 6-hour school day and 28 kids per class, your child only gets about 12 minutes of speaking per day! If you can afford it, hire a tutor to increase the amount of individualized attention for your child.
I suggest not doing academic activities like worksheets because your child already does enough of this during school hours. Instead ask your tutor to engage in interactive reading (video example below) to discuss storybooks with your child, which is FUN and will improve language and literacy.
Many immersion teachers tutor after school. They can also help you choose and borrow Chinese books from the school library, thereby eliminating the need for you to source down Chinese books yourself. 🙂
#4. Understand Chinese language
Without prior background, the chances of you mastering Chinese language as an adult learner are… slim (sorry). Instead of trying to learn Chinese, set a goal to learn about it like what are radicals, tones, pinyin, strokes, etc. so that when your child’s teacher talks to you, you will understand what he/she is saying. (And if you still don’t know what they’re talking about, write it down to Google later)
View this PPT by Kexian Qu, Professor of Chinese Literature and Culture, A Brief Introduction to the Chinese Language
Your school and community probably offer extracurricular activities like Chinese calligraphy, art, orchestra, dance, etc. Find out which ones are taught by native Chinese speakers and sign up for them. Some teachers may not have websites or advertise online so you will only find out about them through word of mouth, which goes back to #2 above.
There may be opportunities to host an exchange student from China. DO IT (free language learning for your child!).
#6. Book/CD sets
If you’re not able to read to your child yourself, then book/CD sets are your best friend. These are preferable to just CDs as beginning Chinese learners (K-1st grade) NEED pictures to help them understand.
Here are some options from AsianParent.com:
Options from China Sprout:
As your child gets more proficient (2nd grade and up), you can transition to more challenging audiobooks of chapter books, many of which can be found online for free. I would suggest that you get copies of the books too so your child can attempt to read them after listening to them.
#6. Print environment
Increase the Chinese print environment in your home with books, posters, games, movies and TV shows on Netflix and YouTube. Always turn on the subtitles when watching Netflix so your child can absorb the print (I learned a lot of characters from reading subtitles).
The more print you have available, the more your child will learn without you even teaching him. Seriously, kids are crazy observant and my students are always pointing out things on the wall that they see and know.
#7. Always speak positively about Chinese
Even in Singapore (where 80% of the population is Chinese!), people often make disparaging remarks about China and Mainland Chinese people. Or they bemoan how difficult Chinese is. These types of comments will 100% derail your child’s learning! I avoided speaking Chinese for most of my growing up years because I associated it with being uncool.
Do whatever you can to make Chinese fun and desirable and COOL. Often what hinders kids is not the lack of ability to speak Chinese, but the lack of motivation to.
A final note of encouragement…
The gift of being bilingual will benefit your child for his entire life. The journey is not easy but the results are so worth it.
Share this article with your friends if you found it helpful!