How My Children Started Reading Chinese and English Before 3 Years Old


Education isn’t hard and it’s not boring. Most moms think you gotta sit them down and torture their kids in order for them to read. I taught my kids how to read way before 3 years old in English and did Chinese at the same time. Part of my type A personality is to experiment with different types of learning with kids. Here’s a few key points:

  1. Don’t dumb down the lesson – Please don’t dumb down the lesson or the word thinking kids need it to be associated with cartoons to learn. Babies actually don’t understand cartoons at all. They don’t get animation and if you’re having them watch that before 2, they’re really not getting anything but flashing images. What babies can do is absorb everything you give them without all the fancy colors. 





    My cards up above is nothing but white cardstock with black Chinese alphabet. I hold it up, read the sound to the baby. Done. She associates that word with that sound. That’s how easy it is. If you put little flowers, pictures, or hide the words in something, they won’t know whether you’re talking about the word or the picture or even worse, they can’t even tell there’s a word with the picture! I do the same thing with the English alphabet.

  2. Be clear in what you want to teach – Don’t blabber about how to memorize the word. Say the word, show the word, and it’s done. Don’t say things like, “This is the word read and the letter A in there is not read out loud, etc. ” Babies don’t need that. They see “read”, you say “read” and they got it! Easy right?
  3. Repeat and repeat – So how come my baby doesn’t get it after I did it with her for a full day? Babies work differently! They have shorter attention spans! Consider anything longer than a minute equivalent to your hour class at a college lecture hall. So how do you do this? Whatever letter you’re teaching of the day, just do a 5 second lesson. Hold the card up, say “Ah” for the letter A, repeat it like 3 times (takes 3 seconds) and that’s it. Do this a few times throughout the day. Second day do another letter. When can you start? 6 months of age!
  4. Make some manipulatives – When your kids get to toddler-hood, make some tools. Here are some tiles I made for the Chinese alphabet (see photos above). I only made these because they don’t sell them here in the states. For English, plenty of options. I like Melissa and Doug because it’s clear to see the letters of each alphabet. For Chinese, there’s nothing in the states and nothing durable enough. I got these tiles off Amazon Learning Resources Tiles. . Then I stuck magnets (click here to buy from Amazon). behind each tile so they can stick it on a board or play it on the ground. We would try to spell out words together. I did this both in English and Chinese.
  5. Buy books – buy lots and lots of books. The more exposure to different books, the way the words are put together, the more phrases they hear, the more wonder you’ll see from your child. Try to read with your child at least five minutes a day before they are one and then slowly increase that to about thirty minutes a day as they get older. This could be broken down into five minute sessions again.
  6. Participate – yes, children don’t exactly learn only on their own. Parents have to participate. Unfortunately we can’t just plop them out and then expect them to learn everything on their own. Most things yes, but if you want them loving to read early on, you’ll have to participate. The world’s best materials won’t mean a thing unless if it’s shared with the person you love. You’re the person they love most in this world and time shared with you is when they focus the most.

My method is simple but it works. There’s no magic trick, just consistency and some time spent with your child here and there. Here are a few videos of my kids! Both when they were 3!

This is my current 3 year old reading Chinese with zhuyin:

This is when my older one (now 5) when she was 3:







8 responses to “How My Children Started Reading Chinese and English Before 3 Years Old”

  1. […] I’m always thinking of more ways to make learning more dynamic because it helps with memorization and internalization of the material. Luckily, I found my kids to love “teaching” me stuff because it makes them feel empowered with their knowledge. It nicely feeds into their confidence and they have fun being teacher. I bought a big white board and we use this MORE THAN ANYTHING!!! We nicely stuck the phonetic tiles we made on the board and do all sorts of activities with it. To see how to make these tiles that are stuck on the board, refer to my old post: How To Make Your Own 注音 Tiles […]


  2. Hi first of all, thank you for sharing your experience in teaching Chinese to kids! I have been teaching Chinese (well mainly in Cantonese because I am Cantonese but I can speak Mandarin too) to my older son (3.5 yrs old) and read with him whenever I can. I have been concerned about teaching him to read in English because ever since he started going to kindy at around 2.5 years old (back then he knew no English at all) I can certainly feel the overwhelming effect of immersion in an English environment for him that he seems to like English more. He can speak pretty fluently in English now. He is still very fluent in his Cantonese though. At home he tries to speak to us in English but we will of course try to get him to speak to us in Chinese. I feel like I should start teaching him to read in English as I can see that he’s keen to learn more English words but I am really afraid this will hinder his Chinese learning. Before going to kindy, he likes learning Chinese characters but not so much now. Any suggestions from you will be highly appreciated.


    • Kids are able to absorb as many languages as you feed them. Don’t be afraid to teach English as well as Chinese. My children read English before three years old too and now my five year old reads at above a third grade level. They’re also doing French. I would say the younger they are, the more they absorb and there’s no hindering at all whatever you choose. Just go for it! 🙂 Also, you can join our Facebook Group if you haven’t already and there are many moms in there with the same questions.


  3. Dear Julie,

    Could you please let me know (maybe with link) where you get the storage box for the Learning Resources Tiles? It looks very neat.


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