Besides our general suggestions from last blog, parents can learn Chinese in a way purposefully to help their children. When parents find a way to interact with their children in the target language, children learn it better than merely working alone. Even though it is hard for an adult to pick up Chinese, we suggest that parents can begin from Chinese Pinyin.
Pinyin is used to transcribe Chinese characters to Roman alphabets. And it is easy for English-speakers to recognize and master the Pinyin system. It is a little bit like Spanish – when you know how to pronounce every alphabet, you can read the article without understanding it. Here is how the word “mom” appears in Chinese and Pinyin system:
Chinese character: 妈
Every Chinese character can be transcribed to Pinyin in such a way. And for every Pinyin, the item can be divided into “initial” and “final.” As in the example of “mā”, “m” is its “initial,” while “a” is its “final,” and the little hyphen on “a” indicates the character’s tone. There are 21 “initials” and 35 “finals” in Chinese Pinyin, and every Chinese character is made with one “initial” and one “final,” plus a tone. Here is a website with the complete Pinyin chart, and also their pronunciations: http://www.quickmandarin.com/chinesepinyintable/
Therefore, a sentence such as “What is this” can be transcribed into:
English: What is this?
Chinese character: 这是什么?
Pinyin: zhè shì shén me?
Therefore, once parents can read Pinyin, they can read together or interact with children when Pinyin appears in picture books, homework or flashcards (A lot of them have.)
-Chinese with Meggie Language School, Austin, Texas