Why should our kids learn how to read Chinese?

Learning how to read Chinese sure may lead to some business deals and economical benefits for our kids in the future.  But do our kids really care about that at the moment? That maybe a bonus benefit, something our kids might, when they are adults, thank us for giving them the opportunity to learn from being a kid (because starting as early as possible is another advantage – that’s for another article though!).

But really, why would all of our kids benefit form learning how to read Chinese?


Chinese characters are pictograms, containing phonetic and semantic components.  They are like a code waiting to be cracked! It is not rocket science that the analytical skills, memory, logical thinking and attention required to learn Chinese characters would improve a child’s cognitive development.

Take Maths for example…through the fun analysis of character strokes and components, children use counting, grouping, ordering, spatial configuration, and identifying similarities, differences and patterns, so by reading Chinese our children are meaningfully consolidating skills which are all fundamental mathematical concepts! Really important skills!

But we are all becoming aware that Creativity is an even more important skill for cognitive development to take place.  Take a look at this video:

A mnemonic through story visualising is being used here. It requires a set of rules for building blocks, engaging children’s logical thinking, then creativity is called upon to use this logical system to create stories and visualisations.  Both logic and creativity used to make meaning of individual characters within the bigger story they are reading!  In the above video, a story has been created to help remember the character for ‘light’ or ‘lamp’ which is 灯 in Chinese.  The ‘fire’ and the ‘nail’ represent the components of the character.  Shrek the Ogre represents the first tone of the character, and the English word ‘dung‘ helps to remember the sound of the character ‘dēng’.  A system of rules (which can be created by the child) is combined with creativity and visualisation leading to a ‘how to learn’ strategy, a strategy that can then be used by the child independently (see Matthews reference below). This way only around 200 basic character components need to be memorised, and logical thinking and creativity are being exercised to master complex characters. These skills can be transferred to any learning area.  We can see here how the ‘skills’ of learning ‘how to learn’ Chinese are actually a more important part of the journey, than just merely learning the language!

You would expect that learning ‘Chinese grammar’ is part of learning Chinese…but what about English grammar?  Chinese has different word order, grammatical particles that don’t exist in English, different ways to convey tense, different ways to use verbs and adjectives, and so on.  When we learn Chinese through story, we experience all of this and naturally learn Chinese grammar, without the need for an isolated ‘grammar’ lesson.  But another amazing thing happens …even the youngest of children then naturally ‘compare and contrast’ these sentences with their first language.  Through learning a second language, children consolidate English grammar from a completely new perspective. This natural reflection, is far more meaningful than isolated English grammar exercises!

Take the verb ‘to be’. Not many children could conjugate this verb in English upon request! Through Chinese reading children soon learn that 是 (shì) means ‘am, is, are, was, were, will be, am being, is being, are being, were being, has been, have been…etc.’ all depending on the context of the sentence, but the word always stays the same in Chinese: 是. Children use their ‘English’ common sense to pick the right translation, because they conjugate the verb ‘to be’ in English everyday naturally without thinking! Connecting all these English words though, to one Chinese word 是, allows them to connect all these words to one verb ‘to be’.  This doesn’t happen thinking in English alone, and there is no need for children to know this in their everyday English life…which is the reason why they shut off when an isolated English grammar lesson on verbs is presented to them! The teacher literally sounds like this ‘blah blah blah…!’  Trying to make meaning in Chinese has allowed this ‘light bulb’ connection to happen without the ‘blah blah blah’ English grammar lesson!  There are endless comparisons of English and Chinese grammar that children make a ‘light bulb’ connection to as they journey through reading in Chinese.

What about deeper meaning though? Stories have long been a  springboard for integrating many learning areas.  When our children enjoy stories in a new language, not only are they experiencing the benefits of learning how to read a second language, not only can they consolidate their understanding of English grammar through the comparing and contrasting of the two languages, the story in Chinese can be a springboard for deeper learning of other learning areas.  When children (and adults) read a story in a second language, their brains are tuned and focused on a much higher, deeper level in order to make meaning. This higher level of attention, together with the natural desire to make contrasts to their existing ‘meaning’ in their first language, means that the child is actually switched on more to the actual purpose of the text.  They make connections to the purpose of the text that they may have missed reading passively in their first language.


Take the very popular song ‘Let it Go’! (Click on link for song and complete lyrics in Chinese). Often kids (and even adults!) will sing along to a song, but the lyrics are just words to be memorised.  It often takes some guidance to take a child through a textual analysis of a song text.  But when a text (in this case a song) is read in another language, there is another layer of processing that has to happen.  ‘Meaning’ or ‘Sense’ has to be made to make sure that you have understood correctly.  So take the line in the song ‘The wind is howling like the swirling storm inside’, in the Chinese version is 风在呼啸想心里的风暴一样 (fēng zài hū xiàoxiǎng xīn li de fēng bào yī yàng). Literally in Chinese the characters 心里 mean  ‘in my heart/mind’.  So to make meaning, we are picturing a ‘storm in her heart/head/mind’.  So by comparing and contrasting the Chinese and English versions, the child then has to ask ‘what does it mean the storm is in inside her?’.  Learning the song in another language has opened up the discussion of what the song actually means, there is something more than just a regular icy storm here, why would somebody feel like they had icy howling stormy wind in their heart/head?  In the bigger picture of the song, it opens the discussion for a conversation about feelings, anger, sadness, mental health, well-being, biology, psychology, family relationships,  similes, metaphors… What before were merely words belted down a hairbrush without the need to think at all (because there is no need to think in a first language when learning a song-just memorise the words), the analysis of a Chinese version has added a layer of thinking to make deeper connections to other learning areas.  This is gold when the essence of these other learning areas are connected to the child…what child has never had feelings of frustration or anger so much that they feel something weird happening in their heart or mind?  Plus the deeper meaning attached to all of this means that they will never forget those Chinese characters/words – it is a win win learning experience situation!


Then there is just that ‘Sense of achievement’. There is nothing more satisfying than reading a book in Chinese, and saying out loud ‘I just read a book in Chinese!’  It’s a pretty cool achievement!  Learning how to read Chinese is much more for our kids’ development than world economics!

For details of my awesome reading programs in Chinese visit the link!

Thanks to the book : ‘Matthews, Alison. 2007. Learning Chinese Characters. Tuttle’, which outlines the story visualising strategy for learning Chinese characters.

一颗定时炸弹 Pass the Bomb!

Firstly, the game we played with the older student group last week is on the How do I learn Chinese website.  Both older kids and little kids will enjoy the vocab building games on this site!

We will read this book this week with the little kids:


For older kids (little kids will also be singing the song linked below too), on the topic of vocab building games…my kids have a lot of fun playing the game ‘Pass the Bomb'(Junior edition) which kind of ‘groups’ vocabulary.


The idea of the game is to set the bomb timer. The timer randomly lasts anywhere between 10 and 60 seconds, so you never know when the bomb will explode.  You pick a card which has a picture and topic of say ‘at the beach’, and you have to pass the bomb around, and when you have hold of the bomb you have to think of and say a word associated with the topic.  If you have hold of the bomb when it goes off, well technically you blow up! It is a fun game that gets you thinking really quick so that you can quickly pass the bomb to the next person!

The cards are in French and German too, so great for LOTE games! But of course we will play in Chinese!

Older students have been learning many songs with very useful sentence patterns, but also with lots of face and body parts in….so this week when we 玩游戏 (wán yóu xì) ‘Play a game’, we will play ‘pass the bomb’ with the topic of body parts! I will leave all the displays up in the classroom for reference for a few games,  then we might test our memories! Don’t ask me for a vocab list – find the songs on my website and make your own body part list!  Here is a video of my kids playing the game:

Pass the Bomb game body parts

In Chinese I have called this game 一颗定时炸弹 (yī kē dìng shí zhà dàn) or ‘Time Bomb’.  To say ‘the bomb exploded!’ you can say 炸弹爆炸了!(zhà dàn bào zhà le!).  Can you see the simple character 火 (huǒ) squashed to the left of 3 of the characters in the previous sentence?  火 means ‘Fire’, and the basic component looks like the picture below:


Taken from https://corneliusg.wordpress.com/tag/chinese-radical-fire/

Taken from https://corneliusg.wordpress.com/tag/chinese-radical-fire/

When you see this simple component in more complex characters, it generally is a clue that the character has something to do with ‘fire’!  炸弹爆炸了 has the word ‘bomb’ and ‘exploded’, so lots of 火 characters!  Here are a few more examples:

from http://mandarinchallenge.blogspot.com.au/2016/02/chinese-radical-fire.html?m=1

from http://mandarinchallenge.blogspot.com.au/2016/02/chinese-radical-fire.html?m=1

In the meantime here is a new song with a few more body parts in to add to our ‘list’.  We will also learn an important verb 给(gěi) to give, and reinforce 上下 (shàng xià) or ‘Up / Down’ a little more! We will sing this with the little kids too!

Happy singing, see you all tomorrow!

谁拉的便便? Who did the poo?

Well the kids seem to love poo so much, so our next story time our book is all about 谁拉的便便?(shéi lā de biàn biàn?) or ‘Who did the poo?’


Kids will get to guess ‘who did it’ and we will also add a few words about what happens before a poo…(eating!) and what we do after our poo (this language is great to hear over and over in the wiping bottom song)!

An interesting note for parents….in Chinese they don’t ‘do’ a poo, they ‘pull’ a poo.  The verb is 拉 (lā) , and can mean to pull, or drag etc.  We might think the verb ‘to push’ might make more sense!  But I think it is used more in the sense ‘to draw’ something out…the verb is also used when playing musical instruments that involve a bow being ‘dragged or drawn’ across a string:  拉小提琴 (lā xiǎo tí qín) or ‘play a violin’.

Here is the transcript to the book:

谁拉的便便? 我拉的。shéi lā de biàn biàn? wǒ lā de.  Who did the poo?  I did!

怎么没有人? zěn me méi yǒu rén.  What, no one is there?

我正在冲便便呢!wǒ zhèng zài chōng biàn biàn ne.  I was just flushing!

拉完了便便还应该做什么呢? lā wán le biàn biàn hái yīng gāi zuò shén me ne ?When you’ve done your poo what should you do?

擦屁股,穿裤子,冲马桶,洗洗手 cā pì gu,chuān kù zi ,chōng mǎ tǒng ,xǐ xǐ shǒu.  Wipe bottom, pull up pants, flush, wash hands.

我们每天都要吃东西。wǒ men měi tiān dōu yāo chī dōng xi 。We eat stuff everyday.

我们每天都要上厕所。wǒ men měi tiān dōu yāo shàng cè suǒ 。We go to the toilet everyday.

I think our story ending might be a good springboard to learn about being hungry and eating things….so we will enjoy Groovi Pauli’s song ‘I’m Hungry!’  Food and poos…kiddy heaven!

Lyrics to song:

What sound is that?  什么声音? shén me shēng yīn?
Are you hungry? 你饿吗? nǐ è ma?

I’m hungry 我饿了wǒ è le
I want to eat something 想吃东西 xiǎng chī dōng xī
So hungry.

Ah-ya. I’m so hungry. 哎呀。我好饿。āi yā  wǒ hǎo è
My stomach is rumbling. 我肚子咕噜咕噜叫。wǒ dù zi gū lū gū lū jiào
I want to eat eat eat eat something. 我要吃吃吃吃东西。wǒ yào chī chī chī chī dōng xī
I want to eat til I’m full. 我要吃到饱。wǒ yào chī dào bǎo

I’m hungry 我饿了wǒ è le
I want to eat something 想吃东西 xiǎng chī dōng xī
So hungry.


两只老虎 Two tigers

While the big kids have fun with Chinese names, little kids will enjoy Henre Tullet’s ’10 times 10′, and look at some strange faces whilst doing some maths!  Tullet’s books are an awesome fun read in any language!


And learn a song with another strange situation, the very popular Chinese song 两只老虎 (liǎng zhǐ lǎo hǔ) ‘Two Tigers’.  Both the book and the song reinforce measure words, the change of èr to liǎng when counting things, body parts, and the song also reinforces the concept of 没有 méi yǒu(none, or doesn’t have any!) and the complement of degree structure 得 (de).  But you don’t need to worry about these grammar rules, just listen and sing and they will come naturally!!!


Lyrics are:

一只没有 尾巴

liǎng zhī lǎo hǔ, liǎng zhī lǎo hǔ
pǎo dé kuài, pǎo dé kuài
yī zhī méi yǒu ěr duǒ
yī zhī méi yǒu wěi bā
zhēn qí guài, zhēn qí guài

Two Tigers, Two Tigers
Running very fast, Running very fast
One has no ears, One has no tail,
How strange! How strange!

中文名字 Chinese names

When things just don’t have a word in Chinese…but we want need to write about them, or talk about them, they are often given a 中文名字 (zhōng wén míng zi) or a ‘Chinese name’.  Sometimes it is given a phonetic name, a name that sounds like the original name, sometimes a name that shares the same meaning, or sometimes a bit of both.

So when a person, or a character from a movie/book, or a product (not from China) becomes famous enough to be talked about in China, they get a Chinese name!  Can you guess who or what the following are in English?


1.Justin Bieber  2. Harry Potter 3. Darth Vader 4. Coca Cola

Here are the names of our Wednesday older students group in Chinese.  Can you guess which one is your name?



huò lì 艾丽西


ài lì xī yà


lài ān 斯稻姆


sī dào mǔ


léi diàn 泰丽亚 tài lì yà


qià lā 斯科特


sī kē tè


dān ní ěr 芦卡思 lú kǎ sī

You can copy and paste your Chinese name into any program, change the font, colour, add the characters to photos etc.  Send me your work of art on our facebook page when you have done!

Here is the Groovi Pauli song we sang last week…you can now substitute your 中文名字 (zhōng wén míng zi) ‘Chinese name’ into your answer!


弹钢琴 Playing the piano, Mandarin and Fractions!

我们一起弹钢琴打鼓 (wǒ men yī qǐ tán gāng qín dǎ gǔ) Playing the piano and drum together!

我们一起弹钢琴打鼓 (wǒ men yī qǐ tán gāng qín dǎ gǔ) Playing the piano and drum together!

Kids have been enjoying learning the piano with Hoffman Academy…absolutely recommend his lessons! Integrating a little maths and Mandarin for a wall display has not only brightened our classroom, but consolidated their music learning too!

They wrote the music to one of the recent songs that they have learned, on a big sheet of paper to display on our wall.


They have been learning the names of the different types of notes, so they used the piece of music to create a chart with the names of the notes in 中式  (zhōngshì) Chinese style, 英式 (yīngshì) English Style and 美式 (měishì) American style.  Music is another beautiful language to learn! But even learning the difference between how the English and Americans refer to the notes, has helped consolidate fractions in Mandarin!  For example a ‘quaver’ in the English language is an ‘eighth note’ in American, and a 八分音符, (bā fēn yīn fú) or literally ‘eight part music note’ in Chinese.


They then made a musical fraction chart, to visualise this ‘musical and foreign language’ in a mathematical way!


Awesome work and beautiful music!

Mandarin Motion Song and Story Time Wednesday 5th October 2016


吧有手放里面 (ba yǒu shǒu fàng lǐ miàn) ‘You put your right hand in….’

Students will get the ‘把 (bǎ) construction’ naturally drummed into them through doing a simple Hokey Pokey, a grammar concept that text book students struggle with no end!!! I love teaching grammar without kids knowing it!

Older students will also 玩游戏 (wán yóuxì) ‘play games’ to get talking to each other in Chinese and learn a well known song that will introduce them to the concept of ‘measure words’ in Chinese…another everyday use of Chinese that we just don’t have (much of anyway) in English. We will learn kinesthetic gestures for all our new words and practice our kinesthetic music reviews!

Little kids will enjoy this story to find that adventurous fish in Mandarin:


and probably Pull the Turnip which we didn’t get a chance to do last week!!! And lots of other songs that the kids are now becoming familiar with!!!!