Learning Chinese Alongside My Toddler

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I did not think it would happen so soon — the Dumpling is now learning Chinese words in school that is beyond my elementary knowledge of the language. Frankly my exact reaction when I saw her second semester vocabulary list was “WTF?!”

Semester 1 vocabulary list: 大, 小, 人, 口, 月, 手, 貓, 狗, 魚, 車, 門, 山, 男, 女

Semester 2 vocabulary list: 花朵, 青草, 杯子, 新年, 米飯, 牛奶, 兔子, 樹木, 刷牙, 洗手, 雨天, 跑步, 打球, 游泳, 爸爸, 媽媽

While she is not expected to write at three years old, her current curriculum requires her to recognize characters. Feedback from the school’s initial progress report stated that she “needs more practice”.

I dislike the competitiveness, methods, and intensity of the Hong Kong school education system (her current kindergarten is actually considered lax by local standards), so I am unwilling to deploy any tiger parenting tactics that would add additional pressure. That means I do not intend to enroll her in after-school tutoring or various extra-curricular courses so she can “get ahead.” I believe that learning at her age should be done seamlessly through play; anything extra should be purely based on her interest level. For example, I will only sign the Dumpling up for additional classes because it is an activity she loves to do—not something I want her to learn.

My challenge, therefore, is integrating Mandarin into our daily routine without making the process feel like a “lesson.” Despite living in Hong Kong, English is the primary and dominant language in both our household and expat community, so Mandarin is actually a very foreign sound. In order to do that, however, I first have to learn the words myself. Google Translate has been my BFF, and I have been practicing the activities below alongside the Dumpling (and pretending like I know what I am talking about).


Flash Cards

I made flash cards and taped them on relevant or highly visible places around the house. For example, 花朵 (flower) was taped right next to my vase of flowers and 牛奶 (milk) was taped on the fridge. Sometime we would play a “scavenger hunt” for the words or we just pointed to them as we went about our day. Those few seconds of daily exposure added up — by mid-semester, the Dumpling’s progress report improved to a “well done!”

Images used in puzzle are downloaded from Freepik.
The flashcards were taped next to relevant objects around the house.

Coloring Sheets

I made coloring pages of her vocabulary words in PowerPoint, which can be done with just a few clicks!

Turn any text into outlines in PowerPoint to create coloring sheets.

Instead of using just markers and crayons, below are few ideas to keep the activity fresh by “coloring” with different materials.

  • 花朵, 青草, 樹木: Scavenge for small flowers, grass, and branches to glue onto the characters
  • 米飯: Glue rice (I dyed mine with food coloring)
  • 兔子: Glue cotton balls or white pom poms
  • 刷牙: Paint with toothpaste (preferable a colored one) on with an old toothbrush
  • 洗手: Paint with colored foam soap/shaving cream
  • 雨天: Draw raindrops with white crayon and paint over with blue watercolor (wax resist)

Below are a few other learn-through-play activities I have done with the Dumpling in the past:

Self Correcting Puzzle with Vocabulary Words

The Chinese characters used in the puzzle correlate with the vocabulary words from her Semester 1 vocabulary list.

Some images used in puzzle are downloaded from Freepik.

Chinese and Arabic Number Puzzle (Click here to download)

I created this puzzle to help the Dumpling recognize Chinese numbers and associate them with their Arabic counterparts.

Directions: Glue each printout onto a piece of cardboard. Carefully cut out the Chinese number puzzle pieces with an X-Acto knife. Lay the Chinese numbers sheet on top of the Arabic numbers sheet.

Missing Number: 1 – 10 (Click here to download)

This was another puzzle to help the Dumpling get familiarize with Chinese numbers. When we first started the activity, the Dumpling actually lacked the coordination and strength to pinch the clothing pins open, so clipping them on became an exercise in itself.

Directions: Cut the strips along the solid lines. Label clothes pin with numbers 1-10 in Chinese characters.

Memory Game with Colors (Click here to download)

To play, lay the pieces with their backsides facing up. Flip over two pieces on each turn with the goal of finding two matching colors in as few moves as possible. Again, I do not expect the Dumpling to read just yet; I just say the colors aloud as we play. We initially started with only two colors and have currently built up to six.

Directions: Make two copies of the printable and cut out each color circle.

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