How to Teach a Child a Language You Cannot Speak

When hubby and I first discussed schooling for Gavin, we wanted to send him to a Chinese school.  This was primarily because we wanted him to learn how to read and write Chinese – something neither of us can do.  Well, hubby can read some words (mostly food-oriented) and I can’t even understand it being spoken.  Gavin learned a new word at Kinderland the other day and I thought he was just babbling and pretending to be like his brother.

In the end we dropped the idea of Chinese school because we have heard so many horror stories about kids being stressed out by the syllabus.  Chinese schools are intense and the teachers sounds merciless.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was also made to understand that corporal punishment is accepted.  Well, if I don’t hit my kids, I sure as heck ain’t going to let someone else hit them.

Chinese schools also focus on rote learning.  Personally, I want my child to have some leeway to explore his individualism and be able to express that.  The work load at Chinese schools seems rather excessive as well.  I want my children to be well-rounded.  I want them involved in extra-curricular activities that don’t involve tuition for the subjects they are already taking at school.  To be quite honest, I doubt Gavin would thrive in such an environment either because he doesn’t like repetitive work and gets bored easily.

Since I don’t know enough Chinese to teach my kids, I started buying programs for them.  I can’t use flash cards or any text book learning materials because I can’t read pinyin.  I don’t know the differences in the intonation and don’t want to teach my kids the wrong pronunciation.  One of the first programs I bought for Gavin was “Wink to Learn“.  It is a flash card learning series on DVD.  Gavin seemed to enjoy initially but eventually grew bored of it.  I honestly don’t know how much he learned watching those DVDs, but I can say I learned nothing from it.  I cannot recall any words I didn’t already know.

Recently I went by a stand selling Language Teaching software.  I have seriously been looking for something like this since I first came back to Malaysia in 2001.  The stall is called Red Rock and I’ve seen them at Pavilion (Level 5), Ikano (the connecting walkway to The Curve), and Sri Hartamas shopping center (Level 3).  They sell language teaching software by EuroTalk from beginner to intermediate.

Deciding it was time to seriously rectify my own language deficit, I bought the Mandarin set.  I figured that if I could teach myself to speak, it might not be too late to use what I’ve learned to teach Gavin and Gareth to speak Mandarin.  It wouldn’t be as effective as sending them to a Chinese school and they won’t learn how to write but at least they will know how to speak the basics.

Since purchasing and using the software, I’ve discovered an additional benefit resulting from “monkey see, monkey do”.  Whenever I turn the program, Gavin wants to participate.  Indirectly, as I am learning to speak Mandarin, Gavin is also learning.  He enjoys playing the games portion and appears to be picking up quite well just utilising that portion of the program.  Encouraged, I’ve been using the program regularly in front of Gavin.

How much will he learn?  I really don’t know.  But at least he’s interested to learn.

The Mandarin set also comes with a “vocabulary builder” which is recommended for children.  I have yet to try it on Gavin but I assume that if he is enjoying the adult’s program, I’m sure he’ll love the vocabulary builder.

While we’re on the topic of Mandarin-teaching software, while at Heguru, one of the mothers told me about a series of Mandarin software for kids by A-Star which is available online from Singapore.  I don’t know much about the program other than their description online but it does sound interesting.  The mother that told me about it says she’s used it with her children and they love it.  If you’ve heard of this software and/or used it before, I would love to hear your feedback.  It is an uphill battle trying to teach the children how to speak a language I can’t even understand.

In the meantime, stay tuned for my next post to hear more about the EuroTalk: Chinese Set.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

2 thoughts on “How to Teach a Child a Language You Cannot Speak

  1. national type chinese schools tend to be very examination-driven. lots of extra classes to ‘push’ the kids to get better results. corporal punishment is EXPECTED. kids are taught to memorise essays in order to write them. school books weigh a tonne! and the poor kids are usually punished because they did not bring the correct book to school. teachers carry long thin canes to classes!

    i know all this because both my brothers were educated in a national type primary school…. and also, i was a temporary English teacher in one during my university semester break.


  2. Thanks Hui-Wearn. It’s good to get the inside scoop from someone who’s really been there. At least we now know that the horror stories are really true. I’m glad we’ve decided not to send the kids to Chinese school. I want them to learn how to speak Chinese, but not like that.


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