Thursday, 29 August 2013

Planning: Foreign Language

Tiger has been studying Mandarin Chinese now with very slow progress.  We have been using the same level one book for three years and he still hasn't completed it.  Gasp!!!  The slow progress is due to a combination of a lack of exposure as well as my insistence upon him knowing how to write the Chinese characters fluently (a similar process to the English dictation) before moving on to the next lesson.  Tiger progress steadily conversationally but I don't consider him to be literate in this language until he can write it fluently.

The Chinese language is very different from the the English language in terms of sounds, characters, and sentence structures.  I imagine the difficult Tiger is facing is the same as if I were to try to learn the Russian language while residing in Botswana.  It just doesn't seem so relevant to him.

There are many examples of adults of European and African origins who have successfully mastered the Chinese language, so we will not be giving up on learning the language any time soon.  It may take Tiger twelve years to get to the equivalent of a primary school level in Chinese, so be it.  I would be worried about his progress if we were living in China where exposure to the language is in abundance but I realise that we are living in an area in England where we hardly see another Chinese person.  So far, I have been able to prevent Tiger from abandoning the language totally by going at his pace.   The last thing I want is for him to develop a distaste for the language because he is learning it in an environment with very little readily available, real-life exposure to the language and its usage.

To improve Tiger's reading ability, I have him read one basic reader (simliar to the English learn-to-read type books) to me each day.

As Tiger has been using these same books for several years, he is able to read them quite fluently.  Hence, I have raised the bar slightly by having him translate each page to me as he reads.  This is to ensure that he understands the content of what he reads, rather than merely reading from memory or parroting the phonetic pinyin sounds.

In addition to conitnuing our lessons at home, Tiger is doing a 15-minute daily practice of the HSK Level 1 Mandarin.  I have also found a weekly children's Mandarin class near us which Tiger will start attending in September.

This post is linked up to:
  1. iHomeschool Network Not-Back-to-School Blog Hop: Curriculum Week 2013
  2. Lesson Planning Link up -Foreign Language
  3. Collage Friday - First Week of Foundations
  4. TGIF Linky Party #92
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with the Crazy Week
  6. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {August 31, 2013}
  7. Hip Homeschool Hop - 9/3/13


  1. I'm probably going to come across a bit ignorant, Hwee but is Mandarin Chinese your first language?
    It must be wonderful to speak more than one language so you pass that onto your children, even at a slow pace!
    It is definitely one area we fail completely in. I only speak English and really I think it is hard to teach something you don't know (and have no interest in learning for yourself!).
    We bought Rosetta Stone Spanish, but gave up after the first year after the children continually yelled at the computer who kept telling them they were getting it wrong and to repeat themselves!!
    It was a couple of years ago we tried so I might resurrect it sometime to see if they could cope now.

  2. I'm impressed that you are both sticking with it. Where did you get the books? Do you speak, read or understand Chinese?

    My son expressed an interest in Chinese and worked on it throughout the year last year. Since we live in Germany I'm having him study German, and since we're planning to move back to the US someday and Spanish is becoming very useful there he is working on that language. I'm not sure if he will jump back into Chinese or not this year. When he was studying Chinese he was using a computer program called Transparent Language which seemed to work out alright.

  3. Claire - yes, I am a native Chinese speaker. As for passing the language on to my child, it doesn't seem to be an automatic process, which often gives me a sense of failure because everyone, including myself, expects that my son should be familiar with the language but that's not the case.

    Your story about using Rosetta Stone is quite a funny one. I can't imagine your children shouting at the computer, but it must have been very frustrating for them.

    And you're absolutely right about how difficult it is to teach a language that you're neither familiar or interested in.

    I really won't get stressed over learning a foreign language unless your children are really interested, or that it is relevant to their lives in some ways. English is still the dominant business language around the world so having a good command of the English language is just as useful in itself. :-)

  4. Julie - giving up on the Chinese language is not an option for us, so we keep going even at a tortoise's pace. :-) Most of the books are from Amazon, or online bookshops that specialises in Chinese language learning. The books I use may not suit a non-Chinese speaking teacher because they assume the teacher is a native speaker.

    Being in continental Europe is very advantageous to learning many Latin-based European languages because most people whom I know, who live on the continent can speak at least 3 European languages purely because of the promixity of their location to neighbouring countries. I would have made the same language choices (German and Spanish) if we were in your situation. Learning German while living in German is a given, while Spanish is so very useful in South/Latin America and most of the ex-colonies of Spain. I think your son is heading in the right direction for his foreign languages study. :-)

  5. I read recently that reading Chinese uses a whole different neural network compared with reading English. How cool that Tiger is literally growing new brain networks as he learns Mandarin!

    I love languages but mostly I'm a dabbler. One day I'll learn a language with a completely different alphabet - I'm quite excited at the prospect of all those new brain connections and the insight into another, completely different, culture. The closest I've come so far is a little Ancient Greek.

    I love your blog's new look, btw. It seems to reflect your blogging voice much more than the old one :-)

  6. Thanks, Lucinda. I change my blog look from time to time when I get bored. :-) Glad you like the new look!

    I love languages too, and also really enjoy learning about the cultural aspects that go with the languages. In fact, I seriously considered looking into anthropology at one time. I learnt Arabic for a while, but stopped once I had Tiger. Maybe I'll get back to it one day. Right now there seems to be so many other things to learn that are of higher priority, eg all things related to homeschooling! :-)

  7. Nice to find other moms that like languages too. I am a native of Brazil and I speak Portuguese, Spanish and English. I know a bit of French and Italian. My kids don't know much of Portuguese either. Every time my parents come to visit they complain that I should be teaching the kids Portuguese. But it's so hard when you are the only one that speaks the language. The best way to learn a foreign language is to be exposed to it 24/7. Living in the country where the language is spoken is the way to do it. That's how I learned my second and third languages. And the learning process is quick too. I commend you for not giving up on teaching your child Chinese. I am hoping to be able to live in Brazil in the future for a year or so. I know the kids will pick up the language quickly. It's so funny how in just a couple of months they can communicate with my parents in their limited Portuguese.

  8. Wow, my daughter who is 12yrs has been asking to learn Japanese for years. Now I'm starting her very slowly with free videos, learning basic communication before we delve into writing it. I am taking a much more relaxed approach this first year of exposing her to it. The way you are teaching your son is amazing and making me rethink my original method.

  9. Tereza - Thank you for stopping by and sharing your experience. It's good to know that I'm not alone in my experience! :-) I agree with you that being immersed in the natural environment for any language is the quickest way to learn it. Let's continue to do our best to teach our children the languages that are part of their culture. :-)

  10. Nita - Japanese is a very interesting language (the same can be said about all languages, really). I'm glad your daughter is interested to learn it. It sounds like you're doing the right thing by taking a relaxed approach. I think keeping the child interested in the language is very important to keep the learning going.

  11. We have that textbook. My son is not as interested in Chinese as my daughter.

  12. I'll have to check out memrise! We have not done any formal lessons, and I want to start incorporating reading/writing. I can't read Chinese books myself (unless it's got Zhu-Yin in it), so I can't just read books, although our library does have a surprising amount of Chinese books including kids' books. I think maybe I will try to take out a few and attempt some reading with them .I do that from time to time, but get discouraged when I trip over the words myself! I need really simple easy readers!

    1. Slow and steady is the best way to go. Also, the child must want to learn the language or at least see the relevance to his/her life to stay motivated to keep going, so I really won't panic too much about it. A little exposure at the start, like what you're doing, is a good way to introduce children to the language without overwhelming them. :-)


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