Multilingual kids series: Learn Chinese with us!

Learn Chinese with us!  

However unusual it might sound but non of us - both parents or our relatives speak Chinese. I am a linguist (specializing in Indo-European group), and was always fascinated by ancient languages but due to the lack of resources during my University years back in Russia could never start learning them. 

Now while my children are very young I set goals for us every year to start on some new learning as a foundation of some new skill and new amazing experience. It inspires me immensely to see them learning so successfully at this age! (1, 3 and 5 y.old). It makes me happy and ready to now spend all Saturdays and Sundays mornings and afternoons in the classroom with them learning languages rather than to stay home and rest. I learn to ignore lack of sleep by simply imagining how excited and happy they are when they learn!

This year I decided to TRY to introduce another new language - long awaited Chinese. Why long awaited: I see a lot of aspects of this language being so contributional to a very young mind.

1. Chinese is the MOST Widely Spoken Language in the World - 1,197,000,000 speakers!

2. Chinese belongs to Sino-Tibetan family - a language family completely different from Indo-European language family that me and my children became familiar with through learning German, English, French, Spanish and Russian.

3 Mandarin is one of the most frequently used varieties of Chinese communities internationally 

4 Evolution of Chinese character and its symbolic nature.

5.Calligraphy!  - artistic aspect of communication. More fun for children at learning!

6. philosophy of nature being more powerful and global than a human, high appreciation for nature forces, closeness to nature. Adoration for peaceful beauty.
7. beautiful cultural aspects, friendliness and openness ones of them.
   I found that completely new type of knowledge is easy to grasp and accumulate due to its completely out of ordinary nature from a young child point of view. And great for parallel learning: Learning Chinese never seem to "conflict" with other language learning at our household, because again it is not alike Indo-European languages that we speak and learn in our house at the same time. 
   I had to research a lot: schools, sources, classes, but main goal being nothing is better for learning language than a COMPLETE IMMERSION.
1. The best way is to travel and live in the country of language best for a year.
2. Or recreate it to as much degree as you can and possibly the most affordable way.
    I decided to try to recreate immersion using my experience from successful learning of Russian and French with my children through sources at hand, the only difference now that we do not have Chinese speaking person in the household - we needed a teacher and classroom environment at least once a week.
     I wanted more than just a class, things I was looking for are the following:
1. Interactive class setting, listening, watching, visuals, as much Chinese speech around as possible
2. desirably put my 3.5 y.o daughter together with my son- this is I believe the BEST AGE for LANGUAGE LEARNING AND ABSORPTION
3. affordable price  
4. good text/ workbook/learning materials, calligraphy painting!
5. preferably traditional version vs. simplified, where traditional is richer in representation/symbolics. My first opinion was learning simplified version, just because it is easier for children to learn due to reduced number of strokes, but I changed my mind after asking Chinese teachers around, their opinion: "If you know traditional version you can understand simplified version and learn it with no effort on top of traditional very easily, traditional characters are more beautiful and allow to derive meaning by looking at them, however the stroke count can be very high and time taking. Traditional version is the closest to ancient form. If  you only learn simplified, almost impossible they say to learn the original traditional form and the most beauty of the ancient language will be missed. It is personal preference again. My goal was to show my children how the art evolved into language and that language is form of art. I wanted my children to look into the character and see a horse, a bird, a person, a mouth...
5. continuous learning, with progress in mind (rather than 4-8 week language courses with interruption)
6. and of course me being able to present during the class. I cannot emphasize enough the role of a parent- it is essential to commit to be present as much as possible during their learning, learn yourself and OBSERVE your children to give them guidance for successful learning. And of course who can resist learning chance too! 
Results of search:
  a. Language classes were my last resort: very expensive, non continuous -8 week courses, calligraphy painting not present (again I am describing my options, you might be more lucky!) parents are not allowed inside.
 b. Chinese Sunday school  - 3 hours a week BUT starting age 5 y.o, would be still be ok if they didn't have to stay in one room all three hours with naked walls (no material on walls, no stimulation, the room was used for babysitting regular days), tiny board and 15 minutes breaks in between with no space to run inside the same room, not an option for young kids, especially no parents allowed inside and I would really want my daughter to be in as well . They offer Simplified version only.
c. Chinese school organized in Chinese area of our city by native speakers, 30 minutes drive, one time a week Saturdays for 2.5 hours, my daughter and son enrolled for 6 months into the beginning Mandarin program for fraction of a language course price textbook and registration included. I can be present in class. Walls are full of informative character writing and calligraphy paintings! Tv and audio settings. Great immersion environment- large room is divided into 3 sections - features older kids class in one with Chinese speech heard during the breaks,  enrollment for every six months with 2 year program in mind, solid curriculum,  they have a goal to which degree to they want their students to master the language . They teach Traditional Chinese.
  One of the most wonderful things about Chinese is calligraphy. Beauty of it and close resemblance to the pictorial representation of the phenomenon represented. I believe it is amazing if my kids can learn to decipher them. It is very enriching.  At school where we go now (listed 3rd under c option) we met the artist Su Jia Fang -truly embodiment of Chinese spirit and beautiful peacefulness - who invites students to paint during the break. Kids are all about it! She takes her calligraphic brush out, pours some ink, unrolls soft paper and softly saying the stroke names, writes student names holding brush together hand in hand with the student just like in the old Chinese tradition. I knew I found what I need. My children are mesmerized!
Materials:
  1.The textbooks we are using Chinese Made Easy 1 Traditional Version: workbook  and Chinese Made Easy 1 Traditional Version: Textbook. They are great especially there is a CD included, so even if you don't have access to a teacher, you still have the source of how to pronounce correctly. 
We purchased these books through Amazon.com, please see image below.
We really love our  calligraphy set we offer here at AlenaSani. It has plenty of lightweight paper and ink for practicing, plus these natural brushes are perfect for little hands! I will be posting images in action in out Techniques post, which is coming next.
 
At Home
to make TV time useful. Keep mornings learning style for children, while you prepare breakfast or get kids ready and just need to keep them still for a little bit. To fill in the gaps. I will be posting all great material lists we found online, in the library and stores . My kids love listening to the Chinese songs and sing them on and on. By the time they started to cover animals at our Chinese school, they knew all of them already!
We have one of the VIZIO 4k TV, which allows to have WiFi and YouTube - I find it vital during our day routine with children
a. YouTube mandarin preschool playlists (just type in mandarin preschool and play all), busy beavers, Chinese with Emma, betterchinese.com has great resources and more!
Do search for Evolution of the Chinese characters, great animations!
b. check your public library  for DVDs and CDs: Little Pim Chinese, Language Tree Chinese, Professor Toto and so on
In the car?
My library has Baby's First  series  in multiple languages. Cannot say enough praising for these! They are geniously put together. Especially great for 0 month and up. Also available through Amazon.com
For teaching techniques and activity ideas please refer to our coming  post Multilingual Kids series: Learn Chinese with us Techniques where we have illustrated ideas on how to master and memorize characters for very very young kids.
Please post your experiences and comments    
Thank you for joining us,
Alena




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