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Teaching my daughter Mandarin Chinese when I don't speak it!

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

I have a 2.5 year old daughter who is bright and very verbal in English. I only speak English (some "tourist Spanish") and I hate that (and very much want to remedy it). I know her brain is a sponge for language right now and so I've gotten the kooky idea of making sure she learns a second language now while it is easier for her to do so. 


So, why not go "all the way" with a difficult language? There is actually a Mandarin Chinese Pre-School here in town that would take her. It is 3 hours a day, 3 days a week. I would supplement with Chinese videos and music and (God willing) a Chinese babysitter sometimes. I would also learn some basic Chinese and help her with her vocabulary words.


Is this planned doomed to failure? Be honest. Thank you!


There is a more "realist" plan that involves the two of us learning Spanish together, but I was really taken with the idea of her learning such an "exotic" and complex language. It seemed like it would be such an amazing gift for me to give her, if it was a possibility. 

post #2 of 6

I think it's great for children to learn a second language. My eldest takes Spanish and is OK. My youngest in a Spanish Immersion/ Mandarin Enrichment program. As a 6th grader, he's fluent and bi-literate in Spanish. I tell you, the Mandarin is tough. DS has had 3 years of classes 3 days a week and while he has an excellent grasp of the tonal properties, he's still barely conversational (knows lots of individual words but not mastered putting them all together. He can pretty much only order food and talk about the weather and he was considered their top Mandarin student!) He will only start learning the written aspect of Mandarin this year in 6th grade. If he continues to study, he won't be considered fluent until graduating high school.


Personally, I'd enroll her in the Mandarin preschool for fun and exposure but just be aware that without a full immersion program, it'll be slow going and difficult to maintain. Before committing to a language, I'd research the long term opportunities. Is there a Mandarin immersion elementary school? Is there a high enough population of Mandarin speaker for her to get regular practice using her language? Trying to teach her Mandarin without being a fluent or highly trained speaker will be difficult as the tonal aspect is very subtle and you need a trained ear.


In the states, Spanish can be more useful and accessable. Your chances of an immersion school are higher. The Spanish speaking population is higher. Spanish is similar to French and Italian making those languages easier to master in later years (and both tend to be languages teens are interested in learning.)



post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 

Thanks for your input whatsnextmom. Do you think that yours son's Mandarin learning hasn't really been worth it? Not that  it's useless but maybe he should have put the effort toward something more attainable? It's just so hard to quantify the value of these sorts of things.

post #4 of 6

Even if she doesn't leave knowing the language, learning more than one language often helps one understand their main language. My experience in learning three non-english, latin-based language from a textbook and also from immersion experience in latin-based and arabic based languages. I am no longer fluent in a lot of the languages that I have learned, but it has especially helped me with understanding english syntax, as well as in helping me figure out (english) words that I wasn't originally familiar with.

post #5 of 6

No, Mandarin has been worth it because my son loves it. It's his 3rd language and I really don't mind that it's going slow. Learning the tonal properties early is helpful in developing your ear. I just feel like it's an all or nothing language. Unless you are in an immersion setting, it's slow to aquire. Because of the delayed gratification of fluency and lack of community resources, many don't continue their education long term. There are less Mandarin immersion schools, less schools offering it for middle and high school as an elective, fewer and more expensive tutors, fewer online and computer support programs, ect. Then if you don't live around a high Mandarin population, you don't get that much opportunity to use it.


I think exposure is great. If you do live in an area where there is lots of support in learning the language go for it. Any second language is a benefit and makes learning subsequant languages easier.


Something to consider though, if you do have your child in an immersion preschool, she may actually not want to use her Mandarin at home. It is exhausting working in a foreign language and kids can resent mom trying to teach more at home. Plus, it doesn't take long for immersion kids to surpass a learning adult. The amount of support you could really give her at home would be limited. Yes, I thought I'd learn Spanish alongside my son but he outgrew all my Spanish in about 3 weeks lol.


post #6 of 6

My dh grew up in S. E. Asia in an English speaking family.  His second language at school was Mandrin.  It was a struggle for him because his parents did not speak Mandrin, so he could not practice outside of school.  When he was sent to boarding school in the UK, he switched to French.  Interestingly enough, as an adult working at a university, he has had many opportunities to use his Mandrin, and he remembers enough to communicate effectively.  He has talked about how difficult of a language it is to learn.  


I do not really know about the success of language emersion programs especially at the preschool level.  Good luck.

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