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If You Think Teaching Your Kids Chinese Is Scary, Read This First

Jul. 2, 2021

If you are a parent thinking about having your children learn Mandarin as a second language, you might be wondering if Mandarin Chinese is a difficult language for kids to learn as opposed to a language closer to their mother tongue. You might even think that Chinese would be a scary option compared to Spanish or French, for example since there are characters to write and the speaking tones are unfamiliar. But by the end of reading this, you may very well change your mind or your uneasy child’s mind because Mandarin has a lot of aspects that make it simpler than you could imagine. Let’s take a more linguistic perspective and discover what makes Mandarin easier to learn than you might think. Let your child know the following facts if they are worried about how different the language seems.

HSK 3 quiz

Pinyin is an intuitive and simple way for English speakers to learn spoken Chinese.
Chinese pinyin is a Roman-letter-based system that China now uses to mark the pronunciation of Chinese characters. With four tones and pinyin, any Chinese characters can be pronounced precisely. Pinyin gives you a visual representation of what Chinese tones sound like as well. By learning pinyin first, you’ll be training your mind to process tones and your mouth to produce them.

Chinese is a logical and straightforward language
There are no verb tenses or prepositions, meaning that once you have mastered the appropriate vocabulary, you can pretty much go straight ahead to putting sentences together.

HSK 3 quiz

Compound words have logical meanings as well. This allows you to build vocabulary words quickly.
In Mandarin Chinese, there is a tendency to put words together to create a new word with a fairly obvious meaning. For example, the words for “电 (diàn) electricity” and “脑 (nǎo) brain” combine to make the word for “电脑 (diàn nǎo) computer”.

No verb conjugations to learn!
Students learning languages such as English, Spanish or French have to differentiate between which forms of verbs they have to use based on the subject and the tense. Yet using verbs in Chinese is less complex. The verb doesn’t change based on the subject. That’s a win for children and adults alike. As much as parents love hearing children study, listening to hundreds of verb conjugations is maddening!

To indicate verb tense, you add the time phrase for past/last year. That’s it. The simplest way to clarify which tense you are speaking in is to directly state the time expression (like today, tomorrow, yesterday) as part of the sentence. In Chinese, this is usually at the beginning of the sentence. If you want to express when you did something, you can say: “I yesterday eat, I now eat, I tomorrow eat, I in future eat, I plan to eat”. If only life could always be this simple!

For example:
Wǒ  zuó  tiān  chī  le   yí   gè  píng  guǒ .
我    昨   天     吃   了   一    个   苹   果。
I ate an apple yesterday.

Wǒ  xiàn  zài  zhèng  zài  chī  píng  guǒ .
我   现     在     正      在    吃    苹    果。
I’m eating an apple now.

Wǒ  míng  tiān  xiǎng  chī   yí   gè   píng   guǒ .
我     明     天     想      吃    一   个     苹    果。
I want to eat an apple tomorrow.

Pluralizing words is easy.
In English, why is the plural of dog “dogs” but the plural of mouse “mice”? To make something plural in Mandarin Chinese, you merely add the word for the number of the item. There are no other changes needed to the noun, verbs, or adjectives in the sentence.

HSK 3 quiz

Counting is easier than in English.

Take this Chinese song, Counting Ducks, for example. By learning to count to 10, children will find it’s just as easy to count to 99. The word for 11 is simply ten-one “十一 (shí yī)”. The word for 21 is two-ten-one “二十一 (èr shí yī)”, and this logical pattern continues to 99.

十一 (shí yī)

二十一 (èr shí yī)

Then, once you can count it’s easy to learn weekdays and months.
Six out of the seven days of the week become intuitive once you know numbers since, in Mandarin, you just add the word for weekday “星期 (xīng qī)” in front of the number word. So Monday is “星期一 (xīng qī yī) weekday-one”, and so on. Sunday is the exemption to this pattern – you still use the word for weekday, but combine it with the word “日 ()” meaning “sun” to recognize that Sunday is a special day of the week.

星期一 (xīng qī yī)

日 ()

Similarly, to get the months, you just add the word for “month” after the number word and that is “月 (yuè) moon”. So January is “一月 (yī yuè) one-month”. Adults and children alike find it rather straightforward.

There are heaps of advantages that come with learning Chinese.
If you’ve come to the end of this article and we have indeed changed your mind about how scary the prospect of learning Chinese is, we’re here to assure you that there is no reason for them, or you, to feel intimidated. Just know that it will open doors for them to speak with one-seventh of the people on Earth. Plus, learning any foreign language at a young age has been shown to have brain-building benefits that can last for life. Studies show it can even benefit test scores in core subjects and helps develop deeper cultural perception and compassion. And we could all use a little more of that in the world right now!

You May Want to Learn More :
“Are There Any “Best Practices” for Your Child to Learn Chinese?”
“Quintessential Customs of Double Ninth Festival 重阳节 (chóng yáng jié)”
”Top 4 Chinese New Year Traditions Explained”

HSK 1 quiz

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