Teaching Chinese at home

Quite often I am asked how do we teach Chinese at home, what materials do we use.

At first I would like to mention that we are a trilingual family using OPOL (One Parent One Language) approach when it comes to speaking to kids (me - Polish, my husband - Mandarin Chinese, English is spoken between me and my husband), but I am the main teacher of all 3 languages. In this post I will present how the teaching of Chinese written language is done at our homeschool.

To tell you the truth ... it's not easy, although we've been living in a (Mandarin) Chinese speaking country for the past 12 years and although the kids are surrounded by this language, they don't really like learning to read and write Chinese characters. English and Polish seem much easier to them. All three kids speak fluent Chinese, but both older ones, Zosia and Jaś prefer reading and writing in Polish and in English.

Over the years we've tried many different ways of teaching Chinese. With all the kids we started to expose them to characters quite early, about 3-4 years old. The first materials we used were a set of books with picture and character cards.

The kids first lay out the picture cards and then match the corresponding character cards.

When Zosia was about to start primary school we started wondering whether it makes sense to teach her bo-po-mo-fo 注音符號 .

(These are phonetic symbols used in Taiwan as transcription of Chinese characters. They are used in children's books and magazines next to the characters to make reading easier for kids. They may also be used as one of the characters' computer input methods as Taiwanese keyboards have them printed on the keys.)

We decided not to. During the first few weeks of 1st grade she learned them at school (she went to school once a week just to get the feeling of what school is). Jaś, on the other hand, has never learned it and until now he can not use bo-po-mo-fo to input Chinese into computer or GPS :-) 
Why didn't we teach Jaś these phonetic symbols? When he was younger Jaś had problems learning the alphabet and learning how to read in English and Polish, it seemed too much to make him memorize 37 additional symbols plus thousands of Chinese characters.

In the early days we also used textbooks published in Hong Kong by Greenfield Education Foundation.

Each lesson has a short rhyme/text and a few exercises. The text concentrates on characters that look or sound alike. Apparently it's supposed to be easier for kids to memorise the groups of characters like that instead of single, unrelated ones. I don't know if it helps or not ... 

Zosia didn't have problems memorising characters and Jaś did (still does). No matter what we tried Jaś was not happy learning Chinese. Now it's Ania's turn and I must say - so far so good. It's enough to tell her once what the character is and she remembers it. She has a really good memory :-)

The only interesting books with comprehension and language exercises in Chinese that we found in Taiwan are from the publisher Firefly Books 螢火蟲出版社. The stories and exercises are much more interesting than the ones in school textbooks. The variety of the exercises in also greater.

There are also some other interesting books about Chinese characters that are worth reading with kids.

This set of The progress and changing of Chinese characters 文字的奧秘 published by Ta Chien Publishing 企鵝圖書 has short stories about origins of many of the Chinese characters. It also has beautiful illustrations.

Another book by the same publisher in The root part of traditional Chinese characters 字的家族

Unfortunately Internet search of the publisher and these two sets of books shows that they are no longer available in Taiwan.

I must confess I am not the only Chinese teacher to our children. Jaś had a few different teachers along the way. Unfortunately none of them had sparked his interest in Chinese language. He still does not like reading and writing in Chinese. 
He used to write a diary in Chinese and now writes from time to time a few sentences on his Facebook or blog, but that's all. Zosia has already realised that the ability to write in Chinese is a very important one when living in Taiwan, quite often she needs to write proposals and other papers in Chinese so I can say that she is learning on the job :-) .

I am wondering how you teach your children Chinese.
Do you have any interesting materials? 
Please share in the comments.


  1. Thank you for making a new post to answer my question.
    I have a similar book called 1000個文字的故事 published by 新雅兒童教育研究中心. It shows the pictures and word transformation from 甲骨文 to 金文 to 篆、隸、楷書. Also the extensions for the words, i.e. 從「小」字衍生出「少」「肖」「尖」「尚」等相關的字。It was a library book and so I copied the pages and put them in a sheet protector for the kids to write with dry erase pens. I also create my own worksheet from Illustrator, so my son can practice writing them, just to know the order of the strokes. Besides this, I make a fill in the blank 唐詩(五言或七言絕句)so he can either write with dry erase or cut and paste the characters in. He already memories the poems and this exercise is to enhance his recognition of the Chinese characters. Now I just start to teach them 注音 because for me it is like the phonics to English. And I want him to be able to read Chinese by himself like he reading English and typing using 注音or pinyin is somewhat faster than writing characters in computer. After done all these, I have to say it was really hard for getting kids to do things in Chinese especially when we live in US. My house probably has the most Chinese picture books in town I guess because the town we live in now has none Chinese books in the library at all.

  2. Dzień dobry!
    Jesteśmy organizatorem kursów językowych za granicą.
    Mamy dla Pani propozycję współpracy w ciekawym projekcie językowym, niestety nie możemy znaleźć żadnego kontaktu na stronie – jeśli chciałaby Pani otrzymać od nas szczegółowe informacje, będziemy wdzięczni za podanie swojego maila kontaktowego w komentarzu lub przesłanie go na adres -> kursy.jezykowe@sprachcaffe.com .
    Zespól Sprachcaffe

    1. Witam, dziękuję za kontakt. Postaram odezwać się jutro.
      Dorota Chen-Wernik

  3. I want him to be able to read aqui Chinese by himself like he reading English and typing using 注音or pinyin is somewhat faster than writing characters in computer.

  4. We started learning to read kind of late (kindergarten) and I always wondered if it is really important to start with showing them where the characters come from. Because the harder characters are always the ones whose pictures don't make sense. We are also using Greenfield and Sagebooks. Now I've gotta check out your other book recommendations!


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