"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart." - Nelson Mandela
This quote is a beautiful way to consider language learning, not only as an academic pursuit but as a way of communicating directly to the heart of another person.
Both language teachers and students can sometimes forget this while going about day to day lessons, meaning we tend to study more technical aspects of a language.
While the grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary of a language are important, we also need to remember to have fun communicating. This is especially important for young learners.
It's unlikely that a young learner is thinking of their future career in their language classes, but rather are excited about learning a new skill that they can play with. This is why parents and teachers need to work to make each lesson interesting!
Mandarin Chinese is a popular option for many students to learn across Australian cities like Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, especially due to the large diaspora they have.
In fact, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Mandarin is the language most spoken at home after English. It's pretty easy to see why parents would want their child to study Mandarin Chinese.
Let's look at some ways of teaching Chinese outside of traditional education, with fun games and activities!
Resources and Apps to Learn Mandarin for Young Learners
It can be very difficult to hold a child's attention during a Mandarin lesson, so teachers need to have plenty of resources at hand so they can move through them quickly.
There are plenty of more traditional academic resources from textbooks to bilingual dictionaries that can help with things like:
- Characters and ideograms
- Being about to read and write
- Vocabulary and pronunciation
- Culture, and literature
The benefit of these kinds of activities is that they're generally easy to find at the level of your children, and students have a physical reference that can help memorise information.
However, this type of education can get boring very quickly, and you might find some kids don't want to sit through their class year after year.
A great alternative is audiovisual and online materials. These might be anything from a Youtube series to phone apps or an online learning program.
Here are some interesting online materials that might be worth a read:
- Duolingo: This popular app turns language study into a game by playing with flashcards and more.
- Muzzy BBC: Run by the BBC, this program of animated movies is designed to teach Chinese easily and naturally, in the same way that they learned English.
If a teacher can combine a range of these materials during classes, it makes study much more interesting for the child.
Not only this, but it also offers them an opportunity to practice all of the skills that you need when speaking a language in the real world.
Videos allow for listening practice, online games can teach and test anything from vocabulary to grammar to pronunciation, and some phones apps even listen for the pronunciation of words.
You can find a more in-depth explanation of Mandarin study resources for kids here.
At what age should your children start Chinese lessons?
We all know that understanding how to read and write using another alphabet is not an easy task, especially once you reach a certain age.
Some may be worried that a Mandarin program will be too stressful or difficult for their young ones, and may ask themselves what the best age to start Mandarin classes is.
Well, the answer isn't as simple as you might hope. First, we need to think about the difference between active learning or passively acquiring new languages.
Native speakers of English should think about how they know English so well. Did anyone ever teach it to you? Did you read textbooks or take courses with a teacher?
Probably not... your education came from listening to the people around you and copying the words they used, accumulating more and more over time. This process is called acquiring, and it's how young people tend to learn best.
Instead, actively studying requires materials like textbooks, teachers to explain rules and more. Unsurprisingly, young ones aren't very good at sitting through this kind of traditional class.
They find it difficult to pay attention, to memorise characters and grammar structures, and simply to sit still during the lesson. Adolescents and teenagers are much better in this type of course environment.
In fact, different studies have shown that, in traditional lessons, older students (around 12 years old) do better than younger learners (around 8 years old) at listening to, understanding and applying a language rule.
Instead, younger learners are much better at simply listening and imitating. In fact, the best resource for young learners is constant contact with native speakers.
So what does all of this mean in terms of the question we've posed about what age to start Mandarin classes? Well, if your kids are around 8 years or below, it might not be worth it to enrol them in a classic school course, where they study from book term by term.
A more effective way of studying would be to simply try to place them in situations where they get to hear native speakers talking to one another.
If your family is from a Mandarin-speaking background, then you can simply do all of the regular things you would do with your kids, like playing games, doing craft activities and more, but simply in Chinese.
For parents who don't speak Mandarin themselves, things can get a little bit more tricky but never fear... there are still plenty of options!
If you're fixed on enrolling your children in a school program, do some research and look for a school in your area that focuses more on immersive learning.
For example, Australia Mandarin Education Academy (AMEA) in Sydney uses what they call their Immersive Situational Based Learning program.
This means they encourage their students to use Mandarin as a way to communicate while solving problems, accomplishing tasks and working with others, and the teacher will speak almost exclusively in Mandarin.
AMEA offers a range of classes for each level, as well as bilingual programs. They also offer online classes, so even if you're in Melbourne, you can try their interesting teaching method.
Another benefit of AMEA is that they offer a free trial, so you can decide if their course style is right for your children, without worry about term fees.
Mandarin Stars is another Australian leader in immersion-based study, and they have locations in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne.
They have a range of courses for each level that all include games and activities from dance and singing to arts and crafts.
Mandarin Stars offers classes for learners from pre-school years up to 12 years old. They also offer a free trial, so you can see how their methodology works.
Of course, these are just two schools that use an immersive methodology, but there are schools across the country that offer a similar class style.
Search to find easy ways to learn Mandarin as a child on Superprof.
If you're not interested in classroom education and want your kids to build their skills in the real world, you can look for events that might be run in your local community.
These are often free and can offer the opportunity for your kids to make friends with other Mandarin speakers, helping to speed up their learning.
For example, the Chinese Museum in Chinatown in Melbourne offers fun workshops for young people, from lantern-making to learning Chinese characters.
Your local council might offer a Chinese language club, where young learners can chat with each other in a more relaxed way, both online and in person.
For those of kindergarten age, you might even be able to enrol them in a bilingual daycare or group, like Kimmba Mandarin Playgroup Melbourne, where kids can play together.
So to summarise, there's no one age that's best to start learning a language, you're never too old or too young. The thing we need to think about is the best way for me or my children to learn at their current age.
Younger kids need fun, immersive experiences, whereas students from 10-12 years on can try more traditional lessons.
Here are even more tips for teaching Chinese to children!
Starting your children on the path towards learning a second language is a great choice, especially if it is one like Mandarin Chinese, which could be extremely useful for their future.
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