Time for a Learning Mandarin Chinese Q & A

My children have been learning Mandarin Chinese since they were each just five years old. Thus, my daughter has been studying the language for 10 years. In May, she plans to take the AP exam in Chinese Language and Culture.

When we officially began homeschooling in 2007, one of the major driving forces behind our decision was my daughter’s desire to learn Chinese. I have periodically shared with you a little about their journey to fluency in Mandarin. Several years ago, I detailed How I Teach Mandarin Chinese, Not Speaking it Myself and have highlighted a few products or curricula that we have had the opportunity to work with.

Today I would like to answer a few questions that I am often asked by my readers and by people in my social circles when they learn of our decision to learn Mandarin.

learning mandarin q&aDo you think a private tutor for Mandarin is best?

My great grandparents emigrated to the United States in the late 1800s. Somewhere along the way, the ability to speak Norwegian had been lost – at least amongst my family here in the US. As we are in contact with our Norwegian cousins and the Norwegian culture is so strong in my family, I have always wanted to learn the language. I’ve used CDs and textbook programs but my pronunciation is poor. I can read and write far more than I can speak or understand orally.

As I do not speak Mandarin, I wanted to assure that my children would learn the correct pronunciation. I highly recommend working with a native speaker – whether you hire a private tutor, attend classes, or work with someone online.

The primary purpose of language is communication – grammar is important, but there’s a bigger picture. Language is no longer seen as being learnt through mechanical exercises, it’s developed through students interacting and engaging.

q&a learning mandarinCan you recommend a Mandarin tutor in my area?

Sadly, I am not familiar with tutors in areas outside my own small community. My suggestion is to reach out to the local homeschool community and/or the community college. When we moved to Redding, for example, I had posted on the local homeschool forum the following query, “My children are interested in continuing Mandarin lessons and would like contact information for local providers in the area.”  This simple question provided us the opportunity to meet Shawn – he and his wife attended the same church as a member homeschool family.

Where we are now in Oregon, the local college previously offered a community education course in conversational Chinese. I contacted the college and requested contact information and an email was provided.

Other options for native speakers or tutors is through video conferencing software. While we have not had the chance to try out each, here are a few providers:

How many times a week would produce the best result?

We generally meet with Shawn twice a week (initially in his home and now via Skype as he resides now in Indiana). He plans each of the two weekly lessons, assigns and grades homework, and generally works with the kids independently for an hour each lesson. On occasion they do cultural and cooking lessons together – I even get to join in on these.

In addition to their lesson, Shawn recommends they spend between 1 and 2 hours “actively” studying the language. As fluency is very important to her, Geneva meets this goal regularly. Jeffrey, on the other hand, often does his homework as quickly as possible. When they were younger, I pushed for daily practice more consistently. Now, I have come to realize they have their own individual goals and I allow them more autonomy.

mandarin q&aDo you have any experience with … ?

Until most recently, we have predominately been using the Better Chinese curriculum as we had previous experience with the program and the product line was diverse. They have gradually progressed from the elementary series, My First Chinese Reader to the more advanced middle school series, Discovering Chinese Pro. The material is presented in several formats allowing students with different learning styles to choose the method for which they are best suited.

Periodically, Shawn or I will also supplement their lessons with movies dubbed in Mandarin, music, other materials to enrich the lessons and keep the kids engaged. Some of the other resources we have used include:

About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥

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