Guess which language many people consider the hardest to learn and yet has more native speakers than any other language? That’s right, it’s Mandarin! Mandarin is the umbrella term used for dialects spoken in the north and south-west of China.
It has been predicted that China will become the world’s most powerful economy by 2027, making workers who can speak China’s most popular language highly valuable (i.e., your kids). Don’t worry, though; there are A LOT of fun and educational resources to help your kids learn to speak Mandarin Chinese – even if you don’t happen to know your Ni hao from your Zai jian.
Language DVDs for Children
Teaching children a new language is a big undertaking so if you are teaching your kids at home and aren’t quite sure where to begin to start with the essential words in the same way that you would teach a baby your mother tongue: colors, the alphabet, family, animals, items around the house. In the beginning, it is all about the repetition of words. Videos and DVDs are a great re-enforcer of basic vocabulary at this stage.
Most of the DVD’s that we checked out combine English and Mandarin. The standouts for the DVDs based on user reviews are Journeys to the East: The River Dragon King. Both of these DVD’s have great reviews for the educational value of the content, and they both have engaging storylines that help keep kids entertained. There are a few negative comments about the production value compared to Nick Jr.’s Ni Hao Kai-lan, but overall they are the best choice if you are looking for a Mandarin-English DVD.
If you are looking for a total immersion DVD Smart Tiger is a great choice or Bin Bin’s Magical Bubble Adventures: Learning Mandarin Through Stories (Colors, Foods and Sleepy Time) also has excellent reviews.
If you are looking for something free, you can try Sesame Street’s Mandarin Learning Program.
Language Learning Programs/Websites
There are quite a few options for language learning programs for children to learn Chinese. If you don’t mind spending some money, Muzzy is one way to go ($200 plus). It’s a very popular program, but the negative reviews seem to outweigh the positive for this program. One of the big complaints with Muzzy is that some people find the animation to be a little primitive. If you are looking for something to expose a baby to a new language, you can try Baby Learns Chinese. This program generally has positive reviews.
As far as what might be the best bet for a language program, the choices we narrowed our search down to were Chinese for Smart Kids and Language Nut. If we were going to purchase a language program for our children, we would probably go with Language Nut. Language Nut was primarily designed as a teacher resource to be used in schools, but they do offer a home user, single computer license for $29.50. It has 24 units, with songs, stories, and games. The graphics are super cute, modern, and child friendly.
If you are looking for a DVD based learning system, you could try Dino Lingo’s Chinese for Kids or Little Pim Chinese. Both systems generally get good reviews and are suitable for younger kids who are just starting to learn a new language.
As far as the best free sites, we like Poisson Rouge School and Kid Chinese they both have lots of free and fun lessons.
Five Free Online Games
Games are a fantastic way to help children memorize vocabulary and keep things fun, so children will want to continue learning. No big surprise, but there are lots of online games to help with language practice. The following are our top five favorite games. See our more extensive list of games in our resource guide.
- Zon is a multiplayer, online learning environment designed to teach language and culture through gameplay. Kids can practice their language skills and learn about the culture.
- Kid Chinese is an excellent free resource for helping you teach your kids. The ‘Fun World’ section of the site has very good games.
- Chinese iLab has games and quizzes that use audio, so you need to have headphones or speakers. With these games, you listen to the words and match up to the items in the game.
- Digital Dialects gives you a list of words to learn, and then it tests your knowledge of the words with a game.
- Chinese Staff Room is another excellent resource that has games that help kids learn greeting emotions, colors, clothes, verbs, etc.
Apps also help keep the learning process fun for children as well as reinforcing vocabulary with pictures and sounds. There are too many great apps for helping kids learn to pick just one, so we are highlighting the top five apps that we found:
- Animal Fun: Chinese for Kids generally has excellent reviews. The highlight of this app includes flashcards and games that have great animation and fun background scenes, including the sea, insects, the jungle, and the farm.
- Learn Chinese by MindSnacks has five games and a polished interface. One of the language apps for this company was named as “One of the best education apps of the year” on the App Store Rewind 2011.
- Learn Mandarin Vocabulary from Penyo Pal is another excellent app to help teach kids. This app has super cute graphics that uses a combination of story, games, and language learning to help children learn to identify new words.
- Check out Speak Mandarin with Private Eye also from Penyo Pal that can help kids start to learn this new language by playing a mystery game.
- LinguPinguin – English / 汉语 英语 has nine different visual worlds: e.g., animals, transportation, body, and toys. A total of ninety objects are made available to explore. When tapped, each item comes to life with sounds revealing the spoken word for the object.
Mandarin Kids Books
If you are looking for some websites to buy books, try Chinese Child Book or Read with me Mommy. Both sites have a good selection of books to choose from. Another interesting place to find language books is Language Lizard; this site offers dual language books for popular titles like Dear Zoo or The Wheels on the Bus, which just means that each page of the book includes Chinese and English text on the page.
For those people who are just looking for some good language titles for kids, a good one to start with is Mandy and Pandy. These books use easy words to teach kids up to grade 3. The books have topics that include greetings, counting, traveling, sports, colors, and animals. Each book has an audio CD which consists of both English and Chinese text. Another great title to look for is Taoshu Learn Chinese, if you are looking for a book that includes an audio CD.
An excellent workbook that you might want to have a look for is Chinese Made Easy for Kids, although you might need to have some knowledge of Mandarin to get the most out of this book.
If you are looking for a reading system that is like the LeapFrog Tag Reading System or Vtech Bugsby Reading System, you should have a look at Touch Reading Pen with Chinese Books, and this could be very helpful for non-Chinese speaking parents.
And Finally …
Since the more exposure kids get to a language, the more likely, they will pick it up. Remember to check your local library for more free resources to help kids learn, also YouTube has a lot of great quick lessons that you can show to your kids that will help them learn in a fun way.