This post was sponsored by Sagebooks. All opinions are mine and mine alone.
In my lofty position as Blogger of Chinese Language Things (yes, that’s the official title), people often ask me how they can teach their kids Chinese if their own Chinese abilities are mediocre or non-existent.
I, being the flippant person that I am, usually respond with something like, “Throw money at it.”
And while my answer isn’t exactly wrong, it’s also somewhat incomplete. However, before we continue, I’d like to address something that has been bugging me lately.
It breaks my heart that many people of Chinese descent feel as if their lack of Chinese fluency or literacy is a reason that they are unqualified to teach their kids Chinese.
If people with ZERO Chinese DNA in their bodies (except that dubious 0.01% some DNA company found) have every unjustified confidence that their kids are fluent in Chinese after half a semester at a 50/50 Mandarin Immersion school can teach their kids Chinese, SO CAN YOU.
Who said YOU had to do the teaching? And that if you didn’t do it yourself, you were somehow lacking in Chinese person qualifications?
I mean, I don’t know anything about kungfu but I’m pretty sure that if I keep throwing money at our kungfu school, my kids will eventually get black belts.
I say this a lot, but truly: you are Chinese enough; your kids are Chinese enough.
And if you or your children are not of Chinese descent, that part wasn’t for you – but your kids can still learn Chinese.
So, what is person of meager Chinese-ing abilities to do when their kids inevitably surpass them?
Well, including throw money at it, here are some (hopefully) helpful suggestions.
1) Do what you can.
Even if what you can is throw money at it (cuz let’s face it, that’s not nothing).
If you can only say hello and goodbye in Chinese, say it. Even if it’s poorly accented.
Whatever you can personally say, understand, read, write – whatever it is to whatever your ability, just do what you can. You’re still going to be better than your kid at the very beginning right? And as long as your child is getting accurate pronunciation as input, they will be okay in terms of pronunciation and tones.
2) Outsource it.
Yes, yes. This is the “throw money at it” portion of the advice.
But honestly, if you do not have the personal abilities to teach your children Chinese, at some point, you will need to get outside help. Whether that means hiring a tutor, signing up for classes, consuming a ton of Chinese media, or begging family/friends/kindly neighbors – do it.
In this super-connected internetty age, there are so many possible classes and courses – some that are even free or low cost – that there is no reason you personally have do the teaching.
Also, if your kids are like mine, they’ll likely listen more to someone else.
3) Educate yourself.
You don’t have to become fluent in Chinese, but you should know a little bit about the language, some schools of thought on how to learn languages (specifically Chinese), and a general understanding of Chinese characters.
Just like project managers don’t always know how to program or design or whatever it is they’re overseeing, they still know WHAT the people they manage are supposed to do. They know the end goal and the key deliverables and they also know enough to know when their people are bullshitting them.
Same with Chinese.
You don’t have to be fluent or literate in Chinese. But if you’re going to be investing all the time and resources, you should know what your goal is, some general idea of how to reach that, and some way to verify that your child is learning what they’re allegedly learning.
4) Get your child to a level of independence.
As many of you may have already witnessed in your children with English, at some point, you don’t have to do much. Once they reach a certain level of comprehension and literacy, all you have to do is provide them things to consume. (That’s the next point.)
Same thing in Chinese.
A few months ago, I wrote a piece called, Trust the Process, and it details my philosophy of teaching kids Chinese and gives an update on my older two children’s Chinese abilities. The tl;dr of it is that I no longer do much with my older kids except to remind them to do Chinese homework and their daily Chinese readings.
But of course, that discounts entirely the 3-5 years I put in before we reached that point.
So, however you can do it (I did it through a lot of teachers!), once your kids reach a base level of literacy or comprehension, you really only have to get out of their way. As long as you provide what they need to continue their fluency and literacy, you don’t have to do much except nag.
5) Provide the requisite materials.
Obviously, use your discretion and be wise about your budget and finances. There are many free options online – as well as options among what you’re already paying for (eg: Netflix Mandarin options), but you may also need to buy materials.
However you manage to do it, your children will have a greater chance of Chinese fluency and literacy if they constantly hear Chinese from native speakers and read books in Chinese. And if you cannot personally provide the Chinese or reading, then you will need to procure things that can.
Hopefully, you feel less overwhelmed and are approaching Chinese like any other skill or thing you want your children to learn that you personally do not have any sort of expertise in.
This is what you likely already do every day when you send your kids to school, to extracurricular activities, and quite frankly, let them loose on the internet.
You can do it! 加油!