chinese language educational software for native chinese speaking kids
November 21, 2009 12:48 AM   Subscribe

my kids (ages 3 and 6) are beginning to learn chinese. i am looking for useful materials and strategies to get them fluent. i don't speak chinese. one thing that helped a lot in learning spanish (their second language) was spanish language education software that targets native spanish speakers ages 3 to 5. does anyone have any recommendations both for the chinese educational software of this type and how to buy it when you don't speak chinese. there is absolutely nothing more daunting than a chinese language web site.
posted by alcahofa to Education (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Not software, but the TV show Ni Hao Kai-Lan on Nickelodeon has a website with games and printouts.
posted by sharkfu at 1:12 AM on November 21, 2009

Out of professional curiosity, why do you want them to learn a third language? Is Chinese spoken at home?

I work with a lot of multilingual kids as an educator and while there is evidence strongly supporting early exposure to a second language for brain function, the jury is still out about beginning a third language. Currently, the theory is that while bilingual children will form stronger linguistic connections in some areas, the addition of a third language can be detrimental to brain development because it creates an overload of material for the brain to process and organize effectively, actually making the kid less effective in any language but also less capable of internalizing linguistic rules.

So if the language isn't spoken it home, it can create an even more difficult burden for the child because it won't be an organic process.
posted by dzaz at 4:00 AM on November 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Currently, the theory is that while bilingual children will form stronger linguistic connections in some areas, the addition of a third language can be detrimental to brain development because it creates an overload of material for the brain to process and organize effectively

Uh, is there any evidence for that theory?
posted by delmoi at 4:15 AM on November 21, 2009

is there any evidence for that theory..sure. The International Journal of Bilingualism has many articles about this.

Maybe I wasn't clear enough: when trilingualism is the norm at home, it has the same incredibly positive effects as bilingualism. But when a child is organically bilingual and a third language is non-organically added into the mix at an early age (esp. one with different linguistic rules), there can be increased difficulty with coding and shifting.

I'm trying to find links to post here. And I was professionally curious to ask why the OP wants to try this.
posted by dzaz at 4:37 AM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Although I've heard anecdotally that when a naturally bi- or tri-lingual (and I mean it's spoken across most settings) kid is exposed to American Sign Language, the benefits are great. Different parts of the brain are used, I guess.
posted by dzaz at 4:43 AM on November 21, 2009 seems to have books, games, cds, and videos, sorted by age group. Some are bilingual, but all have an English description. They also have bilingual Dora the Explorer, which I think would be a good way to encourage learning a third language-- you know, let them watch TV, but only in Chinese.

For what it's worth I think it would be good for them to have regular exposure to someone who speaks Chinese. My mom only spoke Chinese to me until I was 2 or 3, then sporadically according to my interest afterwards, and I became fluent (albeit illiterate and with a middle-school vocabulary) without ever setting foot in a classroom. Perhaps if you need a babysitter, hire a Chinese-speaking teen and pay him/her extra to use Chinese?
posted by acidic at 6:07 AM on November 21, 2009

Addendum: I failed to notice that you were looking for materials intended for native speakers. I would direct you toward forums for Hong Kong parents, many of which are in English. I found one here.
posted by acidic at 6:20 AM on November 21, 2009

acidic: People from Hong Kong speak Cantonese, not Mandarin.
posted by delmoi at 6:43 AM on November 21, 2009

delmoi: hahaha. originally, perhaps, but mandarin is slowly becoming more prevalent in all of china and this is particularly true for expat parents living in hk, who believe that mandarin will be a more useful language in the future. if you had clicked on the link you would have seen that all the references to chinese language on the first page are to mandarin, not cantonese.
posted by acidic at 7:16 AM on November 21, 2009

Chinese websites are daunting. The sheer amount of text, paired with on-screen font sizes make it very easy to just use google translate for a quick skim.
posted by flippant at 9:45 AM on November 21, 2009

China Radio International has a Learn Chinese section.
posted by XMLicious at 10:18 AM on November 21, 2009

Response by poster: there are two different lines of discussion, all of which are of tremendous interest to me.

first, regarding the one I intended to start. thank you for the links and ideas. they are all very helpful. I've bought all the bilingual cd's out there: little pim, strawberry shortcake, mei mei. We also purchased Active Chinese, a systematic course on chinese for kids. We do chinese 1-2 hours per day. We go to a local chinese class for kids every week, run by the local chinese community for their own children. We bought dora and the kids love it. We have no idea what Dora is saying 99% of the time because it is way over our heads now, but kids learn languages somewhat miraculously, so I just roll with it.

With regard to the software for native speaking kids, I am looking ahead to a time when my kids are as fluent in chinese as they are in spanish. With spanish, we use the series for native spanish kids. It is just awesome - each piece of software is a world that they explore in spanish. I am hoping to find something like that in Chinese.

The next question is whether I should be getting into chinese with my kids when 1) I don't speak chinese and 2) they are already handling two languages. I think this is a good question. I am going to discuss it in the context of my older child (6) because the younger child is a different story.

I didn't speak Spanish either when we started Spanish, but I hired a spanish (only) speaking nanny and threw myself into spanish 3 years ago. Now the kids are are fluent and I am hanging in there. There are a couple different motivations to move into Chinese.

First, the older child (6, kindergarten) spends 2-3 hours per day with her Nanny and the Nanny's family speaking purely spanish in a play environment. We maintain a spanish-only environment at home such that she is reading at a 3rd or 4th grade level in spanish and above grade level in spoken spanish. Her English is stronger than her spanish and way above kindergarten level in all respects.

We're currently wringing our hands about whether she should skip a grade or not in school. She is no prodigy, but she is reasonably smart and very intellectually curious. She is moving through the elementary school curriculum way faster than the school will support.

So, learning Chinese is a way to give her the intellectual challenge she wants without having her get too far ahead in the school curriculum.

It is also something we can do together as a family that we all enjoy. My husband and I are nerdy engineering/math types. While we tolerate it, we don't really like watching children's cartoons, playing with legos or setting up playmobil models. But we will happily sit for an hour trying to decipher dora in chinese or practice chinese phrases. Learning languages is an intellectual activity where Robin is as good or better than we are and that is pretty cool.

And then you read about the effects on brain development. One would not want to screw up language development. I've heard of stories of Swiss kids who go non-verbal when laden with 3 languages. So clearly you can over do it. But the decision to go with a third language with the older child is based on the fact that there don't seem to be any language development issues in the first two languages she speaks. I am interested in whether, given the situation, that is a reasonable approach.

For the record, I am not going for 4 languages.
posted by alcahofa at 10:32 AM on November 21, 2009

"While we tolerate it, we don't really like watching children's cartoons, playing with legos or setting up playmobil models.

This struck me as odd - not the not watching children's cartoons, but the legos and playmobil. I would think building stuff with blocks and playmobil (or the equivalent non brand name toys) would be a very useful, mind expanding activity that could be elaborated on for a really bright young girl.

As far as the languages for - I think it's a cool idea, but I wonder why Chinese as it's SO DIFFERENT in language structure. Your kids could easily pick up french and other related languages - or even german or other english related languages. I know Chinese is very useful and a good "investment", I just can see your kid in 20 years telling her friends:

"yeah, my parents were thinking about having me skip a grade or two, but instead i had to learn chinese" And then "learning chinese" becomes their go to phrase to reference nerdy parents. It's like it's not just a challenge, it's gotta be a HUGE challenge!
posted by smartypantz at 11:32 AM on November 21, 2009

My understanding (and I'm sorry I cannot provide any sources now) is that you're right; you won't see any problems with 2 languages. In fact, that's awesome (but I'm biased since me and my kids are bilingual). But the addition of a third language can cause changes in brain development.

So it sounds like you're looking for your oldest to have some more mental stimulation? Have you considered any of these ideas:

Have her tested and placed into a gifted program?
American Sign Language?
Musical instrument?
Dance lessons?

I completely get what you mean about playing with kid things, but you don't have to! Let the kids play.
posted by dzaz at 11:35 AM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh! Seconding learning a musical instrument - that is the perfect age to begin piano or strings.
Although I played violin from age 6 and then ages 8-12 and really wasn't very good and hated it, I ended up playing other instruments and have always felt appreciative for learning how to read music so early. It really is like another language!

And I am sure the challenge of the violin was good for me, although now I wish I played the cello or viola. If you go the instrument route LET YOUR KID CHOOSE. I did not get to choose, and regretted it (ie I don't play the violin now). I also didn't get to choose my band instrument and now can play flute really well, but I'd rather know clarinet or trumpet.
posted by smartypantz at 11:44 AM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


actually, this is the best advice you've gotten.
posted by dzaz at 12:04 PM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: she's interested in guitar, so we're working on setting that up. i'm a little more motivated after this conversation, so thanks.

the problem with learning similar languages is that they are similar. for a period i was working in russia and learning russian and czech. the effect, i am told, was something that roughly approximated ukrainian. i speak french reasonably well, but i don't dare try to speak it in our spanish-speaking household because of the melange that would come out of my mouth.

i am not finding the references on the negative effects of tri-lingualism. can you send me some links? on these hong-kong sites and elsewhere outside of the us, it seems to be the norm to know french, chinese and english.
posted by alcahofa at 12:04 PM on November 22, 2009

Good gracious. Just let her be a kid.
posted by Madamina at 9:00 PM on November 22, 2009

Response by poster: what's so cool is that learning languages is "just being a kid".
posted by alcahofa at 10:14 PM on November 22, 2009

Just to be clear - I wish I knew Chinese and Spanish and had learned lots of languages when my mind was a sponge.

You kid will thank you eventually!
posted by smartypantz at 10:01 AM on November 28, 2009

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