Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Our Effective Ways of Learning Chinese

For someone who is proud to be bilingual, I must admit that I failed to pass on this trait to DinoBoy, it was my greatest regret that I did not expose him enough to this beautiful language when he was a baby.  I didn't think much when he prefers English story books over the Chinese story books, I didn't want to force him so I decided to leave it to him and kept thinking that ONE DAY he'll pick up a Chinese story book without hesitation.  That day of course did not come and till today he still refuse to pick one up to read unless I forced him to do so.

Well, as expected we struggled with DinoBoy's Chinese when he entered Primary 1, you can read about it from the post we wrote here back then, I tried to make him like and appreciate Chinese but it proved to be really challenging.  To me, learning Chinese comes easy for me as I mastered them through my extensive reading of Chinese story books and novels, but since this is not the way with him, I have to find some other ways that works for him.

Due to our financial commitments we couldn't afford tuition so we have to tackle this "problem" on our own.  We've tried so many methods and ways these past 4 years to revise or improve his Chinese, most of the time it ended up with some scolding from me and temper flaring by both of us.  Miraculously he managed to pass the subject with above the average marks.  Thank goodness we learned from our mistakes and today I can safely say that learning Chinese is much easier than before.

We know many of you also faces the same challenges as us and we are glad to share our experience and methods with you.  This is only a guideline, may not work for your child so you just have to tweak it or choose the method(s) that fits.

#1 Online Dictionary
When he was in Primary 4, I made him do assessment book assignments daily, but I realized that he got many of the questions wrong and some were even easy questions!  That's when it hit me that his Chinese language foundation is really not as good as I thought they were.  Upon checking with Dinoboy, he told me that he couldn't understand the questions, he could pronounce the words but when they come together to form a sentence or phrase he is clueless and is lost.  Now it makes me wonder how in the world did he manage to past the Chinese exams all these years...

Since his English is stronger than Chinese, I needed something that can translate Chinese words or phrase into English as accurately as possible and in simple words so that he can understand it's meaning easily.  A search on the web and leads me to a user friendly dictionary apps -  LINE Chinese-English Dictionary, they have both the web version and also apps version for Andriod or iOS smart phone.

The app looks simple and have minimum but clear options in the menu bar, we are mainly using the dictionary section but I do encourage you to explore the other section of the apps.  When you are at the main page you can immediately start looking up words by tapping onto the clear space on top of the screen and proceed with keying in the Chinese alphabet or hanyupinyin to find the word.  If you don't know how to pronounce the word, have no fear, all you need to do is simply call out the writing pad by clicking on the pen icon (see orange arrow in photo below) then proceed to write the character on it.  The apps will proceed to suggest a few examples of words that are close to the Chinese alphabet or  hanyupinyin or word you have entered, choose the one that you want and out pops every thing about this word from definition down to the video showing the correct stroke order.

DinoBoy relies heavily on this app when he is doing Chinese homework but I am not too worried that he will be over reliant on it as this app has helped him to find out the meaning of words in shorter time as compared to using the physical dictionary.  He is able to understand the passage or questions thus takes a shorter time to complete his work on his own without waiting for me to come home to do with him.

#2 Chinese E-dictionary
Students are allowed to use Chinese E-dictionary or Electronic Dictionary during school days and also during Chinese composition tests & exam.  There is a list of approved Mother Tongue Language (MTL) Dictionary and E-dictionary by Ministry of Education (MOE), click to see the list.

Since last year, we have used two E-dictionary; the BESTA All Pass 2 and Creative's HansVision PX2131, we prefer the latter because it has a back light for the screen, without this it is difficult to see the words clearly and effortlessly.  Even though HansVision has smaller screen than BESTA but it is also the writing pad which means it has a bigger writing area than BESTA and for the kids to scribble the words.  E-dictionary does not have a speaker outlet so you can only use an earpiece to listen to the pronunciation of words, we find that BESTA's volume control quite limited and the highest volume is too soft and if the surrounding area is kinda of noisy we can't hear the words clearly.  HansVision on the other hand has an higher range of adjustable volume and the words are pronounced more clearly.

These pocket sized E-Dictionary is almost similar with Online Dictionary with the exception that it does not translate the words or phrase in English and that is the reason why we are using them concurrently.

#3 Word Bank Book
I remember when I was a little girl, my primary school's Principal told me to read more books and keep a Word Bank Book with all the words I came across that is unfamiliar to me.  I diligently entered the words in the book together with its meaning for a year plus, showing the book to my Principal weekly.  I seriously think that is how my English language foundation was laid.

Since it has helped me tremendously I am using the same method with DinoBoy with hope of helping him recognize and understand more Chinese words.

When does he writes on his Word Bank Book?  Well, basically whenever he has to do Chinese work, it could be school's homework or assessment assigned by me or story books that I wanted him to read that afternoon on his own.  We will go through both the work and the list where I will further explain to him the meaning, usage of words/phrase/Chinese idioms in the list.

It can take a longer time to finish a piece of home work because looking up words and writing the meaning requires time and if he has many words that he is unsure or does not recognize, it can take up about 30 mins to finish writing them down in the book.  However, by doing so he is learning the words and doing his work at the same time which in turn enable him to complete his work with lesser errors.

#4 Story Books
I have been reading Chinese story books to DinoBoy not on a regular basis for years with hopes of igniting his interest or love of the language.  Two years ago I started a few blog posts sharing the books that I read to him - DinoBoy Chinese story books recommendation, but I have stopped writing about the books because I can't find time to do it and later on we don't even have the luxury of reading books together.

I was determined to keep exposing him to Chinese story books and since he has displayed that he is disciplined enough to finish the assessment assignments I laid down for him, I decided to include reading of Chinese story books as one of the tasks too.

Given the fact that his grasp of the language is not as strong as his peers, we are reading books that are for younger kids.  These are illustration books with words that ranges from minimum 2 or 3 sentences to a huge chunk of paragraph in a page.  Below are some example of books we are reading now, you can see that they have different level of "difficulty".

This is not a simple story book reading task, which I know he will probably skip many words he can't identify and/or flip through the pages.  I told him that at his 1st attempt to read the book, he will encounter words that is unfamiliar to him, so he has to enter them into his Word Bank Book.  Later that night we will read the book again together during our #30minrevision, we will discuss about the story and at the same time I will identify some useful phrases or point out Chinese Idioms he has missed out earlier for him to add on to his Word Bank.  And because we are only using 30 minutes to do this, sometimes a book will take 2 blocks of #30minrevision to finish.

#5 Speak more Mandarin

Image Credit

Remember this slogan back in 2011?  A campaign by our government to encourage our citizen to speak more Mandarin?  Well, they are not wrong because there isn't any better way to learn or improve a language than to use it every day!

I know how you will cringe and frown when your kid tries to converse in Mandarin initially but do that internally (hahaha!) so that you will not hurt their feeling.  Do teach them the correct way of phrasing a sentence or correct their pronunciation in a positive way, don't forget to give them loads of encouragement and praise them for trying.

So start speaking Mandarin to your kids and learn this beautiful language together!

*** *** *** *** ***

This is the 2nd year we are using the above methods on our Chinese learning journey, we weren't disciplined enough last year but after seeing some improvement in his Chinese, we are determined to keep on doing this with hopes of pulling up his Chinese grades a little bit higher this year.  Let's all GANBATTE and conquer Chinese one day!

*** *** *** *** ***

We will be sharing a series of studying tips in our blog periodically, look out for our tag Primary 5 Journey.  Here are what some of my capable and resourceful mummies are doing to support their kids;

  • For PSLE kid, hop by to Kids 'R' Simple and catch Mama Christy's PSLE Series posts. 
  • If you are looking for extra resources to engage your child in learning or tips on handling school work, head over to Mama Sue's Primary School posts. 
  • To get great tip on studying guides for all primary levels, hop by to Universal Scribbles and read Mama Meiling's useful Study Skills posts.

Remember to follow us on instagram din0mama and kidsrsimple to catch snippets of our daily #30minrevision with our kids.


  1. Thanks for sharing your recommended Chinese e-dictionary. Do they start using it only at Primary 3? The word bank idea sounds like what I should start my girl on as well so ensure she has a rich vocabulary to draw on when she does her writing.

    1. Hey Susan, thanks for dropping by. Students start to use E-dict in P4.

  2. The main reason for the sudden interest in the Chinese language is its applicability. When China opened its doors to foreign trade, investors and entrepreneurs began to flow. But English is not widely used in the country, so the most practical solution is suited to the local people. how? By learning their language. Students can learn Chinese through online applications and websites. The tips you shared are very beneficial for all Chinese learners. Thanks for this beneficial article.