As quoted in an ancient Chinese proverb, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
There isn’t a better learning method for languages other than using the language on a daily basis, and in as many ways as possible. Since the basis for all languages is listening and speaking, it is essential for parents to start early with their children. Apart from reading age-appropriate Chinese story books, parents can encourage their children to watch Chinese TV shows, listen to Chinese radio station, or simply just strike conversations in Mandarin.
With English being the first language in schools, children will pick it up easily once they start going to school. Hence when at home, engage them in conversations in Mandarin whenever possible.
Below are some daily examples that you can use with your child.
During meal times:
Ask your child what would he/she want for breakfast / lunch / dinner. Get them to tell you if he/she likes or dislike the dish and why. Encourage them to talk about what he/she has observed at the dining place.
"Let's look at the menu! What would you like to eat?"
"Mommy's prawn noodles are yummy! Would you like to try some?"
"The lady over there is looking for a seat to have her meal. If you were her, what would you say to the person at the table, that you would like to share the table with him?"
While waiting for bus / cab / train:
Talk about what you see on the road / at the bus stop / at the train station. It can be the colours of the car, a brief description of the passengers alighting from the bus or what behavior he/she has spotted.
"Wooh! Mommy just saw a red car whisk by? What about you? What did you see?"
"Yippee! The bus is here. Let's make a guess - how many people will be getting off the bus?"
"Look, there's a lady over there carrying so many grocery bags. Where do you think she had gone to earlier?"
Ask about what happened in school:
Talk about what happened in school, what has the teacher taught, what did he/she do with the friends during break time.
"Can you tell me something interesting that has happened in school today?"
There are so many opportunities in our everyday lives for you and your child to converse in Mandarin. Start young with them, expose them to the language whenever possible and show them how you converse in Mandarin with the cafe staff, librarian, your neighbours, her Chinese teacher, or even to her peers. Your child will pick it up from you and model after you. Be daring, and have fun!