Published by under categories Bilingual Baby, Chinese Lessons, From Lina | comments Comments (4)

Last Sunday was DD’s first day in Chinese school. She had three kindergarten classes back to back in one afternoon, each 45 minutes. I was a little bit concerned whether she could survive a total of approximately 3 hours in one sitting.

It turned out my concern was completely needless. She said “the time flies fast” at the end of the class and told us she couldn’t wait to go back to Chinese school. We were extremely happy to hear that.

Last Sunday was also my first day to teach in Chinese school (see Going to Chinese school together). Before the class, I had the same concern whether first-graders in my class could have the patience to learn a foreign language for 3 hours. It seemed to be ok. At least kids in my class didn’t count the minutes for the break. I even extended the class for an extra ten minutes. Nobody was complaining.

When the class was over, everyone shouted “zaijian (goodbye)”, the Chinese words they just learned. Chinese for Goodbye

I got this teaching job because of my experience of teaching my own children Chinese as a minority language.

But after the first class, I realized it is different to teach children a second language as a parent vs. a teacher.

First, learners are different. My children were exposed to Chinese since their birth. “For these children, then, second-language acquisition is not a process of discovering what language is, but rather of discovering what this language is” (Tabors, 1997, p. 12).

They pick up the vocabulary and the grammatical patterns in a similar way as they acquire English, the community language. To them, all I need to do, as a Chinese parent, is simply speaking Chinese to them. I don’t need to translate or explain. I don’t need to make a conscious effort to teach them.

On the contrary, most of my students come from non-Chinese families. They have established English as their first language. As their Chinese teacher, I need to make a conscious effort and work hard to instruct with the help of English, their first language.

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Next, methodologies are different. Some methods that work for my children may not work for my students. For an example, I am a big fan of using lullabies, nursery rhythms, and children’s songs to teach kids languages. They are playful (e.g. “Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub”,) and are easy to remember.

They also help babies build phonological awareness and sensitivity—the ability to hear the breakdown of sounds within words and to diagnose rhythms and patterns of languages. As he grows, learning the rhymes himself will help him expand vocabulary, learn number skills and get confidence to express himself through speech (see How to help babies acquire languages? (Method 2).

However, when I played the song in the classroom, it didn’t work as the way I had expected. Two boys put hands against their ears and refused to listen. I immediately realized that I needed to find a different way to grasp their attention.

So I divided the whole class into two groups and let the two groups compete with each other. Group members need to either to sing songs, practice Chinese dialogue or write Chinese characters correctly to score stars for their group.

This method worked for students, especially boys. I was so amazed to see two boys writing down Chinese characters nihao (hello) and xiexie (thank you) correctly after such a short time of learning. These Chinese characters are rather hard to memorize.

Chinese for Hello Chinese for Thankyou

Nevertheless, there is one thing common between a Chinese parent and a Chinese teacher, which is: doing the best to give my biggest support, no matter to my students or to my children.

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References: Tabors, P. (1997). One child, two languages. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes. (ERIC Document No. ED405987)

Related posts:
How I help my baby acquire a second language?
Advice from Susan H. Siu, a multilingual mom
How strictly or consistently do we need to follow OPOL?
OPOL series: OPOL and child bilingualism


  1. 1
    Jen // August 25th, 2013 at 4:15 am

    Competition really works for many boys I find! My son really needs that but has no peers to compete against in the home so we get him to compete against the clock.

    Thanks for participating in the Carnival!

  2. 2
    Lina // August 25th, 2013 at 5:42 am

    @Jen: compete against the clock? How interesting! How do you do it?

  3. 3 // September 3rd, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Wonderful, I am impressed that your learners memorized the characters so quickly too, well done! 🙂

    Thanks for linking up with the Tuesday Baby Link-Up! 🙂 Please come back on Tuesday to see if you were featured 🙂

  4. 4
    Lina // September 3rd, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    @Christine: thank you for stopping by. Keep in touch!

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