Can I raise my child to achieve a native like proficiency in Chinese if I am a non-Chinese? If yes, how?

Let’s start with discussing our benchmark in proficiency for native like language skills:

***Requirement to achieve high proficiency in all 4 skills namely listening, speaking, reading and writing (handwriting can be replaced by using computer input system to accomplish this)

***The minimum for the proficiency level in each skill is 3.5 out of 5 scale or 70 out of 100 score.

How to achieve this goal:

【A】Few important concepts:

1) The importance of age:

Our focus is getting children started in their formative years when the learning and development potential is highest. Therefore, we believe in introducing the child to Chinese as the first language namely, the first language approach and not as a second language introduction or the second language approach. The first language approach is found to be more effective and feasible for children under 11-12 years of age to acquire and reach native like proficiency. It is evident that younger the age, the better and easier for the child to reach this goal. (The critical age for first language acquisition is about 11 years old and younger. The second language approach is usually adopted for those over the age of 11.)


2) The importance of persistence:

Children are gifted learners of language. It is easy for young minds to pick up a new language, yet it is also as easy to lose it, if “daily” practice is not carried out. Developing the habit for 10 years of consistent daily practice (assuming they begin at age 2 until they are 11-12 years old) is the essential key to unlocking the child’s language learning and retaining potential. The learning process is quite similar to the process of learning to play the piano. It is difficult to observe improvement in the skill in shorter time intervals as compared to improvement observed in longer time frames.

3) The importance of parents’ attitude:

This is probably the most important factor in a child’s language learning journey.

  •  Giving positive encouragement instead of pressurizing.
  •  Communicating with your child only in Chinese (if one of the parents can speak Chinese)
  • If both parents are unable to speak in Chinese, they are encouraged to try their best to provide and create the “first language learning environment” as much as possible to let their child “immerse” in it. This includes:

  1. Trying to arrange opportunities to let their child play/communicate with Chinese native speakers as frequently as possible.
  2. Encouraging your child to watch cartoons, age-appropriate movies and programs in Chinese.
  3.  If convenient, hiring a Chinese speaking nanny or teacher 2 or 3 times a week just to practice through “play” with your child.
  4. Organising and participating in activities such as sports, games, cooking lessons, art classes, karate etc. conducted in Chinese. Ensure all the activities are age-appropriate and involve some dynamic movements.
  5. The above 4 suggestions are meant to create a native and meaningful immersive environment to maximize your child’s exposure to the target language***. Ensure your children enjoy these activities while learning the language. Best results are observed when they are fully engaged in a meaningful and interesting context.
【B】The suggested steps:

(Receptive skills/input comes first, productive skills/output comes afterward)

Begin with introducing the child to oral language to develop their communicative perceptiveness and sensitivity for the new language. It is a good idea to start with frequently used daily phrases, expressions, greetings, animal names, memorizing simple nursery rhymes, singing short songs, listening to Chinese stories and playing simple Chinese games, etc. Try to use body language instead of translation to help the child understand the target language.

After this, in a few months children may be able to copy some speech they heard or start speaking some of the words on their own. The length and amount of the speech may vary from child to child and depends on the exposure time to the language. Children are not expected to completely comprehend all what they hear. Their brain needs “time” and “repetitiveness” to accurately grasp the meaning from the input speech. Patience is key for their readiness to move on to the next step or level.

When the child has acquired some basic oral language, they can begin to read a few of the “essential story books” on their own (with the aid of an audio pen if available) or with an adult who is able to read Chinese story books. Hearing these story books creates an audio-visual environment which further enhances the child’s listening skills and encourages them to pay attention on the written characters. It is important to ensure that the reading material is age-appropriate and match the child’s level of interest.

LeLe Reading System believes in “literacy through literature”. Therefore, we strongly recommend our 300 age-appropriate picture story booklets as their first primary introduction to reading Chinese. If you join our online study group, you can get help for your child and also you can use our audio pen to acquire the 1000 most commonly used characters with great pleasure.
After completing the LeLe Reading System, we encourage the child who has been equipped with 1000 characters, to expand their vocabulary and enhance their reading skills by continuing to read as many picture story books as accessible to them. The more the child reads, the more they will be interested in reading. Like a snowball effect, the child’s vocabulary and reading skills will be improved immensely through their own efforts unconsciously. This symbiotic “literacy and literature mutual reinforcement” process will continue to grow for a few years through their consistent reading practices. Reading will gradually become their habit and eventually an essential part of their life. When you find your child taking initiative to explore more Chinese books to read and use their own effort to comprehend them, we would say their Chinese proficiency will multiply exponentially in due course. In the meantime, one can now clearly observe the child’s language proficiency improve drastically to native like without any forced intervention.

In a bilingual environment, you will find that the two languages being used may both be requiring equal attention to improve the language skill and not enough time is available for reading both languages. Nevertheless, as long as the child keeps up the reading habit of both language reading materials, instead of only one, they will become a successful bilingualist eventually.

Lastly, it is most essential that the parents understand that the child may be good at learning many other skills other than language skills. Identifying the child’s unique abilities and aptitude through observing the child’s interests and activities they enjoy the most. Allowing the child to develop the skill of their choice rather than forcing them to develop a skill of the parent’s choice is far more important in building their personality and shaping their future than learning any language. Raising a child to be a bilingualist may have some advantages but in no way does knowing a second language make them any superior to the peers. Appreciating a child for who and what they are ultimately decides the progress and learning capabilities of a person.

***Early immersion and late immersion language programs:

—The early immersion program requires children to start learning the target language from Year one 100% gradually decreasing to 0% by Year 6/7.

—The late immersion program requires children to start learning the target language from Year 6/7 100% gradually decreasing to 0% by Year 12/13.

—Some people who went through the late immersion program felt that the early immersion participants had higher proficiency than that of the late immersion participants.

—Majority of the grown-ups did not start either in early or late immersion program. They started learning the second language as a subject in school from junior high. In these cases, it is observed that it is very difficult to reach native like proficiency except those few who have an aptitude for learning languages.

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