How to Help My Child if I do not Speak Chinese? (II)

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:
English: mom
Chinese character: 妈
Pinyin: mā

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:

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

How to Help My Child If I do not Speak Chinese? (I)

Chinese immersion programs are designed for students and parents who do not speak or speak little Chinese. Even if parents have limited knowledge in the language, they can still affect children positively in learning. We will have two blogs on this topic providing general suggestions, and also specific suggestions particularly for Chinese learners’ parents.

First, parents should be very serious about class attendance. Language learning requires consistency. Too many absences may impede children’s confidence and motivation when they find it difficult to keep up with other classmates due to missing classes.

Second, parents should always encourage your children to come to the teacher when they have questions. In our reading program, our children make one Chinese picture book of their own every week after class, which requires parents’ involvement. Parents can sense their children’s progress when working with children.

Also, parents can expose their children to different things related to Chinese language and culture, such as participating in cultural events, taking them to Chinese restaurant, or playing Chinese songs at home. They should also be encouraged to read Chinese for pleasure at home.

Our next blog will tell parents more about learning Chinese purposefully to work with children.

The Magic of Picture Books in a Chinese Immersion Class (II) Why Revisit One Single Picture Book?

“Can we do it again?” As Miss Jialu turned the picture book 《小熊哭了》(Little Bear Cried) to the last page, Piya – a four-year-old girl who has been in our immersion class for 5 months asked. As a matter of fact, this is not the first time for this group of children being exposed to the story. Children usually do not get bored with repetitive read-alouds of the same book. That is because every time they approach it, their relationship with the book is one step forward.

Rebekah, a researcher in the field of children’s literacy development found that when children approached picture books in a new language, they first relied heavily on pantomime, excited vocalization and sound effects to get meanings (Rebekah, 2008). Step by step, they transited from merely trying to understand the book to interact with the book. They may interact with the book through physical movements (e.g. Children may mimic what is happening in the book.), or make comments on the book (e.g. Children may tell their peers about their thoughts during read aloud). Every revisit of the book constitutes such a development procedure. As teachers, we ensure that children get enough opportunities to approach the same book through different ways.

As for Piya, when she asked for repeating the book, Miss Meggie simply said: “Piya来讲好不好?(Piya, can you tell us the story?)” As a result, with the help from teachers, Piya got the book, and told the story to her peers in Chinese.

Rebekah, F (1998). Let’s Do It Again, Language Arts, Vol. 75, No. 3

-Chinese with Meggie Language School, Austin, Texas

When Team Teaching Meets Language Classroom…

Early childhood educators tell us that children’s ears are highly sensitive in distinguishing sounds. And from our own experiences, language learning is not right if the learner can only understand his/her teacher’s talking. That’s how “team teaching” came to our mind. In team teaching, a group of instructors cooperate with each other in achieving the learning goal of students. The first hour of the class can be taught by one teacher, while the second hour will be taught by another. While teachers make sure the 2-hour class design is still a coherent whole, this teaching type involves variability.

Chinese with Meggie teachers have been trying this teaching model a little bit with our students, but we plan to make it systemized from the coming fall semester. Here is how we think about it.

Most apparently, team teaching means that children will have the opportunities to meet and work with different teachers. In general, it expands children’s life experience. Specifically in the field of language learning, it exposes students to different ways of speaking and communication in target language. Even though we set up general standards in what Chinese words/phrases/sentences we use with our students in classroom, each individual still talk differently by nature. To take the English acquisition as an example, when learning English, children hear the language with huge amount of variability influenced by gender, dialect, age and emotional state. But our children learn to adjust to the variability in English.

Therefore, in our Chinese class, with team teaching, such differences in English are made possible for our little Chinese learners. We make sure that our students can understand Chinese, but not “my beloved Chinese teacher’s Chinese.”

-Chinese with Meggie Language School, Austin, Texas

The Magic of Picture Books in a Chinese Immersion Class (I)

The picture book has been widely adapted in the pre-school classroom or as a good resource for story time. However, as a form of visual literacy, it is also a great resource of language development and literature exposure in language classroom. Here is how picture books create a magic with our kids in Chinese immersion program.

We do not use a picture book just because it is in Chinese. Every time before buying a picture book, our teachers decide if it is suitable for language teaching. An ideal picture book is one with repetitions in sentence patterns, and with pictures illustrating the story clearly.

For example, one picture book we are using with our kids is called, “妈妈的帽子不见了。” (Mom’s Hat Is Missing.) The whole book follows the sentence pattern of, “XX的XX不见了。” (XX’s XX is missing.) When read in Chinese, this sentence has a lively rhythm. And the illustrations in the book explain the story in a straightforward way. English is not necessary in class. Finally, every kid in our classes can recite the whole book happily just as a nursery rhyme. When they also had some gestures to go with the book, it has been so much fun for them.

-Chinese with Meggie Language School, Austin, Texas

Snack Time Helps Children Learn the Language

For every two-hour class, we have a 15-minute snack time. However, it’s not simply about having some food or drinking a cup of juice. Instead, it is an essential learning experience for everyone. It’s natural, productive and fun.

The following is a snapshot of what usually happens during the snack time. Three or four kids sit around a small table, and the teacher asks one of the kids to “拿盘子。 (Bring the plates.)” Then the teacher points to the snack bags “谁的包? (Whose snack bag is that?)” Children always answer:”我的包/某某的包。 (My bag. / Someone else’s bag.)” When the teacher distributes snacks, she asks questions such as: “吃饼干。谁的饼干? (Eat biscuits. Whose biscuit is this?)” “吃葡萄。一个,两个,三个,四个。 (Have some grapes. One, two, three, four.)” This is what we call as “situation-based learning.” Since the interactions are based on real situation, children grasp the meaning of sentences and words naturally without explanation in English. With consistent repetitions by the teacher, our children will finally be able to produce all these words and sentences by themselves.

They may notice that they are learning, or they may not, but at Chinese with Meggie, we strive to make every minute of our class time a wonderful and enjoyable language learning experience.

-Chinese with Meggie Language School, Austin, Texas