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Why criticising your child’s Mandarin won’t work

Being able to communicate in multiple languages has been known to expose you to a world of opportunities and is advantageous in various aspects of your life. Other than having another language in one’s arsenal to help build relationships in daily life or while travelling, it can also be an important must-have when it comes to employment.

As of 2022, the Chinese population in Singapore accounts for 74.2%, yet Mandarin is only spoken 35% of the time. Although Singaporean English (commonly known as Singlish) is widely spoken on a daily basis, getting ahead of the game and learning Mandarin from a young age can be advantageous once children reach adulthood.

The struggles of children learning Mandarin

With more households taking on English as their spoken language, it is common for children to struggle when it comes to honing their Mandarin language skills.

Besides not having adequate exposure to Mandarin, children also struggle with:

  • Having no confidence using the language
  • Feeling discouraged/facing criticism after making a mistake
  • Boring or traditional syllabus
  • Wrong focus

While it is in a parent’s best interest to push their children to master Mandarin at a young age, the approach in which it is being taught or “encouraged” may actually be responsible for holding your child back. As parents, we tend to have high expectations of our children. Sometimes our children fall short of these expectations, making us frustrated and often resulting in us knowingly/unknowingly criticising them.

Constructive criticism is important in helping our children to grow, however, mindless and destructive criticism whether in class or at home, can lead to detrimental consequences in their self-esteem and at times, self worth. This can lead to our children developing a dislike for the language and hence resulting in a “couldn’t care less” attitude.

Here are some ways you can support your child without criticising them and instead, helping them discover the joys and benefits of learning Mandarin.

1. Expose them to a Mandarin-speaking home environment

Exposing children to a Mandarin-speaking environment not only helps them get used to hearing the language, but also encourages them to naturally converse in said language. Constant exposure to any language at home, allows children to recognise it as important and necessary, thus eventually incorporating it into their daily lives.

Instilling a Mandarin-speaking environment can be done in a variety of ways such as speaking Mandarin to one another, watching or listening to Mandarin shows, or reading Mandarin books. Through these methods, parents can seamlessly incorporate Mandarin into everyday life, helping to expose their children to the language and encouraging them to converse in it.

2. Understand their difficulties with learning Mandarin

Each child learns differently and may struggle in different areas when it comes to learning Mandarin (or any other language). Understanding where their difficulties lie and finding ways to help them overcome obstacles in that area can help boost their learning and confidence.

The areas that children might struggle with are:

  • Reading: Mandarin characters are complicated and may be difficult for some children. However, constant practice and exposure can help children recognise the words more easily.
  • Listening: Mandarin speakers tend to talk fast and for children who are just learning the language, it will be difficult for them to pick up on what is being said.
  • Speaking: Confidence with the language must be built. Once the child is confident in his/her knowledge of Mandarin, speaking it will come naturally.
  • Grammar: English grammar and Mandarin grammar are very different. Children may struggle to form sentences in Mandarin because they often try to translate an English sentence into a Mandarin one directly. But this cannot be done accurately and might cause some confusion or misunderstanding.

Therefore, once parents have identified which area their child is struggling with most, focus can be shifted and tailored to the child’s needs in order to help them improve.

3. Learn Mandarin together

Monkey see, monkey do. Children learn best by copying their parents.

This is the same with language. The more it is used by the parent, the higher the chances will be for a child to grasp and master it. It is also easier for parents to encourage their children by learning the language themselves, as children are more inclined to learn when they notice their parents learning together with them.

Parents will also find it easier to help their children with Mandarin homework or be better able to relate with the struggles their child is facing. This way, both parent and child can work together to find a solution to their problems.

4. Cultivate confidence in children

It is common for parents to want their children to learn from their mistakes and improve, but it is also important to cultivate confidence in them.

As with learning anything new, mistakes are bound to happen. Instead of criticising children for their mistakes, recognise and praise them for the areas that they are doing well in, and encourage them to make improvement in areas they are weak in.

This will allow your child to grow without the fear of making mistakes which will in turn gradually increase their confidence in their Mandarin language skills. It gives them a sense of security that they will not be penalised for making mistakes and the encouragement to continue learning and growing.

5. Set realistic language learning goals

Setting realistic language learning goals will help your child both in the short-term and long-term. By setting these goals, it gives the child a sense of pride and satisfaction when these goals are met, and it helps parents to identify and understand the progress of their child.

Short-term goals may include:

  • Learning how to count in Mandarin
  • Learning basic colours in Mandarin
  • Reading simple sentences in Mandarin

Long-term goals may include:

  • Finding a learning rhythm
  • Forming sentences in Mandarin
  • Conversing regularly in Mandarin
  • Finishing certain levels of learning Mandarin by a certain date

Some timeless goals can include:

  • Making progress (both big and small) in each lesson
  • Enjoying the language learning process

Learning Mandarin doesn’t have to be stressful or unenjoyable for children. Phi Learning Chinese specialises in Mandarin enrichment classes in Singapore that engage students through role-playing and debates to improve how children think and better express themselves both in and outside the classroom.

Simply drop us a message and we’ll be in touch as soon as possible!


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