Here are some tips taken from the 二三快读 guidebook to help promote early Chinese reading literacy.
- Learning through games
Kids learn best through play, so we should get them interested and get their attention. Once they reach a “word sensitivity” stage, they will pick up very quickly, and you can use books and worksheets. Meanwhile use games to pique their interest.
- A constant environment
Use a constant environment that your child likes for the Chinese lesson. This needs a little trial and error on the parent’s part, as it’s different for each child. Consistency includes a fixed time, place, person, method. This is important because it helps create a habit that the child looks forward to, and it helps kickstart “word sensitivity” earlier. One example can be enacting a classroom situation: Mom’s the teacher, child’s the class monitor, and soft toys are classmates. When mom asks soft toys a question, the child answers on behalf of the dolls.
- Always use the correct pronunciation at the first instance
- Bring creativity to teaching the words
Don’t just tell them, “这个字，是这么念.” Use creative ways to teach them. For example, using the word 哭, we can say “ Does it look like a pair of eyes, with a tear drop?” This brings the word alive.
- Get the child to be involved while learning / recognising words
It’s not just a one way teacher-student conversation. Ask questions and make it interactive.
- When explaining the words, keep it simple
Don’t need to say ”打人的打“, especially for younger kids. Just say “打“ because they tend to repeat what you say.
- Teach nouns first
- Encourage the child through achievement milestones
Suggests putting up a sticker board or taking photo at the 100 words milestone.
- If they are distracted, stop the lesson.
- Ask the child to repeat the word
- End the class when the child is the most interested
So that they will look forward to the next session
- Choose flash cards with no pictures. Bigger words for younger children
Or the child may identify the word because of the picture, and not the word.
- Don’t stick Chinese words on the objects.
Do not stick 门on the door, and 窗 on the window. Unlike the English language which is phonetical, children are still able to read the words if you remove the words from their respective objects.
For Mandarin Chinese, words are derived from pictograms (象形字). If the words are taken off the door and the window, the child may not be able to identify the respective words. Hence, letting them see the pictorial aspect of the word is more important.
- There’s no need to teach words with fewer strokes first
To the child, the Chinese word is a picture. Hence, with more strokes, it may be easier for them to remember how it looks. Whereas words with fewer strokes such as 三 and 川， may cause confusion for the child.
- Teach words singularly, and not as a 词组
An example is teach “朋，宝，孩“ at one lesson, and another session teach “友，贝，子” as the child may get confused if you teach them together, especially before they reach “word sensitivity”.
- Don’t teach similar looking words at the same time
For example, do not teach “鸟，乌，马“， ”甲，由，田，申“ at the same time because they may get confused. Put a significant duration between teaching these words, and when you do, explain the difference clearly.
- For 多音字，teach the one that is used most often.
好 should teach using the 第三声 first. Later on, the child may ask, why is it 爱好， not 爱好（第三声） then you can explain that in different context, the word sounds different.
- Start with a few words, short duration, and extend the duration longer
It should start with a few seconds, 1 or 2 words and extending it when the child gets interested. Do not force.
- Before the child has a significant vocabulary, do not explain the meaning of the different 部首。
This can be done when they recognise about 400 – 500 words.
- Revising helps the child remember the words
Methods of revision will be discussed in a separate blogpost
- Get into reading early
Spark interest by letting know they can actually start reading. Some kids, after knowing 1000 – 2000 words lose interest in learning because they do not see why knowing these words is beneficial.
- Watch out for the 3 year old “rebellion”
If the child is rejecting learning Chinese, keep playing with them games instead of forcing them to learn the words. Do not get frustrated, just stop word recognition and let it be enjoyable for them.
- For kids that are just not interested, do not force.
Otherwise, the child may have a dislike towards Chinese.