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How to Teach Children Chinese: Reading and Writing

Due to the nature of single character pronunciation in Chinese, it is a difficult language to learn. For overseas Chinese children, who lack a common language environment, learning Chinese is especially challenging. To address this, Sinobus offers online Chinese courses tailored for overseas children aged 4 to 16, allowing your child to learn Chinese anytime and anywhere.

The timing of introducing Chinese characters in Chinese lessons is critical

There are many studies encouraging children to learn Chinese characters before school age, i.e. before the age of 5. Early introduction is mainly to give children a head start and to let them know that Chinese is not as difficult as they initially believed.

We believe starting at three years old is appropriate. Some parents may worry that such young children are not yet ready. However, as long as you observe that the child has a basic concept of visual recognition and can distinguish different shapes, their sensitivity in this area is adequate and you can try to begin.

For example, in a family with two children, the elder started learning to recognize words at the age of 5, which was already a little late. On the other hand, the younger child started learning at the age of three, and the results were significantly different.

Although the elder child learns quickly, he/she is quicker at learning English. Once mastering high-frequency English words, their reading speed has already surpassed that of Chinese. They can read chapter books and some simple books with plots and multiple chapters. However, when it comes to Chinese, they recognize close to 300 words but still read slowly, letter by letter, leading to an unsatisfactory feeling of progress.

We have found that if Chinese character recognition is introduced earlier, for example at age three, it may be more effective. When the child is still learning to recognize English letters, he/she could read Chinese sentences, which will give them a sense of accomplishment in learning Chinese.

It is recommended to teach Chinese character recognition before pinyin

Many Chinese schools currently use Ms. Ma Liping's textbook, which is also based on the idea of not teaching pinyin first. Why is this so?

Unlike English, Chinese is not a language where the pronunciation of a word is strongly connected to its meaning. Chinese characters are not phonetic, and it is not appropriate to start teaching through pinyin or phonetic symbols, as it will waste a valuable early study period.

Moreover, in American preschools, children learn natural phonics, and some letters have different pronunciations in English and Chinese. Learning the ABCs in English can lead to confusion with the abc's of pinyin.

Some interesting methods

Reading and writing content can start from everyday high-frequency words, preferably with some cultural encounters, which should be easy for children to understand and absorb.

What methods should we use? We hope to use a persistent approach. Many children go to Chinese schools but do not review their lessons at home, which can be less effective than learning for 20 minutes every day with their parents. However, if the child reviews the subject matter learned in school and participates in cultural activities, Chinese schools are still effective.

We encourage parents to teach children through recitation, pointing to each letter with their fingers and reading out loud. This trains the mind, mouth, eyes, and hands together, which helps with character recognition and improvement.

Another method is through TPR (total physical response), which is suitable for children who enjoy learning in a more lively manner. Children can act out the characters they are learning.

Should we teach children to write Chinese characters?

Some mothers also want to know whether or not they should teach their children to write characters, and at what age should they start.

We recommend teaching writing from age five and above, as hand muscle development is more complete. You can encourage the child to practice writing, but not necessarily to write a certain number of characters. If the writing practice become too mechanical, the child may find it dull and lose interest in learning. Writing can help with reading and help deepen the child's understanding of the character.

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