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My son is almost 8 weeks old. I don't speak Mandarin (yet, currently in progress) and am looking for ways to start him on learning Mandarin early, maybe at about 1 year of age. What is the best way to go about doing this?

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Tiger Mother joke: Buy him/her a text book on String Theory in Chinese Mandarin translation. That addresses two challenges at the same time :) –  Drux Jan 16 '13 at 8:02

7 Answers 7

up vote 11 down vote accepted

It would be worthwhile for you to read over what people say in this question: Would it be bad to only speak to a child in a language in which you are not completely fluent?

It raises some interesting points.

The top answer from Javid Jamae provides the following points:

  • Spend as much time as you can around native speakers (family, friends, church, temple, cultural organizations, etc.)
  • Make a concerted effort to improve your language skills by learning vocabulary that is pertinent to common dialog you have with your children (focus on commands, household objects, animals, etc.)
  • Keep a notebook near you and every time you can't remember a word you want to use with your child, write it down. Go ahead and use the English (or other language) word so you can complete your thought with your child. Then, after you learn the Mandarin word, make sure you use it from them on.
  • Find a list of most commonly used conversational words in Mandarin and make sure you know the first 300-500.
  • Put your child in language classes as soon as they're old enough (5-6 yo).
  • Play "What is this?" with your child. Point to things and have your child tell you what they are. Using flashcards works well too. I'm sure you can buy Chinese flashcards online.
  • Get some Chinese-language kids TV shows and cartoons that you can play for you child when he gets a little older.
  • Make a commitment to your spouse that you will only speak Mandarin in front of your child. Struggle through it and you guys will notice that you're getting better.
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+1 for addressing the problem highlighted in your linked question. I was concerned about that and thinking about answering. –  Alenanno Dec 13 '11 at 23:21
    
Any specific resources for tv shows for learning mandarin? –  mydogisbox Dec 14 '11 at 5:30
    
@mydogisbox - I can't provide a link now because I am in my mobile. You should check out xiaoxiaozhihuishu streamed from CCTV website –  xiaohouzi79 Dec 14 '11 at 6:57
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@mydogisbox - Link is here shaoer.cntv.cn/cctvchildren/xiaoxiaozhihuishu/videopage/… You can find full episodes amongst segments. Full episodes appear like this: 《小小智慧树》 20111213 –  xiaohouzi79 Dec 14 '11 at 8:58

Luckily, in learning Chinese, there are at least clues (radicals that are originally drawn from real-life objects) to help in the learning process instead of just memorizing vocabs boringly and endlessly. Therefore, the best way to teach a child Mandarin, according to our 10+ of teaching experience, is to teach the radical of the characters first, which by itself usually has a hint from the writing (or drawing) and then forms the character.

Many people thought it is difficult to learn Mandarin Chinese for English-speakers. However, that notion is not true because Chinese is quite different than English, which is a spelling language! Chinese is a picture language, which means ancient Chinese people draw different pictures as Chinese characters out of everything they saw in the environment, and which makes it advantageous to learn over other languages in a way. It does take time and efforts to learn it well, but what doesn't?

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You could take your child to China. I am serious... This is the trend in America. Here are my thoughts on the this. Watch the videos and let me know what you think.

Would you take your child to China?

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There's a new game for iOS/Android called Food Frenzy by Penyo Pal. It's specifically targeted at kids learning. The Food Frenzy game teaches basic vocabulary like names of fruits/vegetables, etc. but the company has other games in the works which are more comprehensive.

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I speak Chinese well, but I can't imagine speaking to my young daughter primarily in anything but English since 1) that's my best language by far, and 2) it's important that she develop outstanding English language skills because she is in the US. I think your intentions are good but there might be better ways of achieving the goal. Have you looked into bilingual/immersion schools? If you do that, you get the best of both worlds...fluency in English at home and fluency in another language at school. I think that's the absolute best way to go if it's available to you.

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Unfortunately there is no formal Chinese language instruction in my area. –  mydogisbox Feb 15 '12 at 21:21
    
I thought like you (Dan) for a long time until someone pointed out to me that communication isn't really hampered by imperfect language ability on my part until the child gets older. So, for young kids, I think it would be okay to use any language I'm reasonably good at, but I would never dream of using anything but my native language (Swedish) once the child reaches an age where I feel that nuances of words and more complex arguments become important. –  Olle Linge Oct 16 '12 at 7:46

Do you want mandarin to be his first language? Or are you planning to teach him both english and chinese together?

I know of many chinese american family that does the two combo language together. But what they usually do is speak to their child in a combination of both. Eventually at school age, the child will get more exposure to english due to the environment, so it's always best to limit conversation at home to mandarin.

But if there are no native speakers in your home it could be a bit difficult. Since the way an adult learns a language is different from a child, you can't exactly sit down and learn together. Instead you can only teach your son what you already know, which is just going to be naming things, feels, etc in Chinese and have your son naturally pick that up.

If you have have your child watch chinese kid shows it would most likely add to his comprehension and vocab. But like everyone else says, the environment is the most important. An foreign child that moves to china can pick up Chinese just like a native. So you must be able to accommodate that.

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They say the best way to learn is by example.

Why not learn it together with your child? Start with songs or flash cards.

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