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Clarifying Chinese Education for Chinese-American Children: Pinyin or Character-Based Learning

With the rising popularity of Chinese overseas, Chinese-American parents are placing increasing importance on their children's Chinese education, especially for new immigrant families where Chinese has become a compulsory subject for their children. However, there are many questions surrounding when and how to learn Chinese. At Sinobus, you can have your doubts resolved.

At what age should children begin to learn Chinese?

A Chinese language teacher who has been teaching for more than 30 years believes that around 6 years old is the best time for children to start learning chinese language classes. His son came to the United States when he was just 10 months old and began attending a Chinese school at age 6. He believes it is essential for children to attend Chinese school rather than having parents teach at home. This way, children can make friends with peers their own age and receive systematic instruction.

Another Chinese teacher also believes that beginning to learn chinese language classes at around 6 years old is appropriate; however, she believes that sending children too early to school is not advisable. Many parents are eager for their children to learn Chinese as soon as possible, even as young as 4 years old, but children at this age cannot handle three hours of continuous Chinese instruction. This can be counterproductive, demotivating children and creating negative associations with Chinese learning.

However, other Chinese teachers believe that children can begin learning Chinese at 4 years old. At this age, children have stronger cognitive capabilities and are more sensitive to graphics. Chinese is a graphic language, and learning to recognize Chinese characters is the main focus at this stage. Their school even has a "Rapid Recognition Class" for 4-5 year-olds where children can learn up to 8 Chinese characters in two hours.

Should children learn Chinese pinyin or Chinese characters first?

Some parents believe that once their children start pinyin learning, they can learn Chinese on their own in the future. However, this is a misconception. Chinese characters are not pinyin characters, but a combination of form, sound, and meaning.

When learning Chinese overseas, it is not advisable to start with pinyin as the characteristics of Chinese characters themselves dictate this. Children around 6 years old have a strong ability to recognize objects as a whole, which means that they can recognize Chinese characters or pinyin using an image-based method. This is the best time to learn Chinese characters.

The teacher believes that children should first learn Chinese characters and then learn pinyin. According to their school's experience and tradition, students usually start learning pinyin after completing the first and second volumes of textbooks, about two years of study.

Special reminder: When facing the choice between four-corner coding and pinyin, it is essential to choose to learn Chinese pinyin. Only by studying Chinese pinyin can students connect with the Chinese instruction in mainstream American schools in secondary education. Otherwise, they would have to learn pinyin again.

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