We have tried many methods, believe me.
As a native Cantonese speaker, enabling my children to speak fluently in Cantonese is not an issue for me. However, due to lack of practice, my kids keep forgetting the Chinese characters. They couldn’t read Chinese books at a similar intellectual level as in English. Demotivated, they become reluctant to pick up any Chinese books which further limits their exposure to Chinese. The vicious cycle keeps looping.
Recently, I have adopted an intuitive way of teaching Chinese. So far, the progress looks encouraging.
First, I shorten the lesson to 30 minutes or less to capture the small window with their total concentration.
Right at the beginning, I assured my kids that all they need to do is have fun and go with the flow. There are no textbooks, no exercise books, no dictations and they can always review the words when they write until they nail it. So, we started strong and happy with no perceived reluctance.
To make the short session as fruitful as possible, I normally would think of a topic that I know they will find interesting.
Since these sessions are about literacy, they would have to read and write. I try to make this as casual as possible. I let them grab a scrap paper or just a random notebook and let them write without fussing on the handwriting. This is crucial as it will spoil the learning if we force them to write Chinese characters perfectly. “How to Write Chinese Characters” itself could be spinned off into a series of lesson and we can always arrange some writing games later on to make it enjoyable.
Today, we received a present from their grandfather – a box of chocolate. As my kids are huge fans of chocolate, I used it as a hook. Telling them that they can freely choose one chocolate from the box before bedtime, I challenged them to learn to say and write the same in Chinese.
And hey presto! They learnt all the relevant vocabularies and phrases, even the more difficult ones like 「選擇 」(choose) in the blink of an eye. At the end of the short session, they were able to write a whole sentence clearly comprising the new vocabularies.
I even had time to teach them the different use of words in Mandarin and Cantonese for chocolate! In the next lesson, hopefully tomorrow, we will start by refreshing our memory, quickly reviewing the previous topic.
It is my hope that by focusing on ensuring they can apply what they have learnt in daily life, my kids will recognise more Chinese words and become more confident to keep learning Chinese effectively.
Also published on Medium.