Interviews With Parents Who Have Successfully Taught Their Children Chinese

We frequently get asked the questions of how to teach our children Chinese in the states and there’s a lot of resistance from children here in the states. All sorts of problems come up and every family has a different situation. In all differing situations, how do parents set up their children for success in Chinese? I’ve interviewed parents of different backgrounds from our group and have shared their answers below.  Some teach simplified, some teach traditional. Some of the parents below are completely native (did college in Taiwan or China) and some came when they were little. There are also some who had really little Chinese background!

As always, you’re welcome to join our Facebook Group to gain more information from other parents:

Parent reference:

  1. Meijie G (Author of Hands On Chinese Fun)
  2. R Y
  3. Alex P
  4. Melissa C
  5. Jennifer H
  6. AW
What is your background in Chinese? Native? No background? Know a little?
1.      Grew up in Singapore, primary language English, 2nd language Chinese (studied for 12 years)
2.      Native-ish (this mom did college in Asia)
3.      Myself: completed 1st grade in Hong Kong, immigrated to US and attended weekend Cantonese-language Chinese school from grades 4-12, spent six weeks at Loveboat in college (lol), learned to sing karaoke in Mandarin but did not effectively speak Mandarin until birth of first child

wife: completed 4th grade in Taiwan, immigrated to US and became an avid Chinese celebrity gossip reader

4.      Conversational, a few characters
5.      Native in Cantonese, education in HK until 5th grade. Never really use Chinese since.
6.      Semi Native – left Taiwan 8th grade


How old are/is your children/child and what are he/she/they how far along are they right now in Chinese? (<100 words, 100-500, 500-1000, 1000+)
1.      5 years old, about 500 characters
2.      6/500-1000. 4/<100
3.      老大: 7.5 years old, 1000+ characters, reads at Taiwan native 2nd-3rd grade level
老二: 5.5 years old, 500-1000 characters, reads at Taiwan native 1st grade level
4.      4.5 years. around 400 words and very very slow zhu yin reading. 2 years, only speaking
5.      5 yo (400-500 characters), 8 and 9 yo (maybe a little over 500 characters)
6.      5.5 approximately 400+


When did they start learning and how long have they been learning Chinese? How long did it take to acquire the amount of characters above?
1.      8 months Chinese language. Learned reading for about 6 months. He learns about 100 characters a month
2.      4.5 y/o. 4y/o
3.      老大: started @ age 4 with Sagebooks 500
老二: started @ age 3.5 with Sagebooks 500
4.      Started speaking exclusively around 2 months. We started teaching zhu yin very loosely around age 3, and started characters at age 4. It took about 7 mos to remember 400 characters.
5.      The 8-9 years old started when they are 4 or 5 yo through Chinese school. Didn’t make Chinese a priority as we don’t live in an area with Chinese people and I have no formal education in Mandarin. I also didn’t make an investment in acquiring any Chinese books as I didn’t know where to purchase them and I thought it was too costly. My 5 yo just started learning her first chinese character 5 mo ago. This year, I finally made Chinese a priority for the kids. We follow the sage curriculum for my 5 yo. One sage book per week. We are currently on the last set.
6.      3.5 years old using Sagebooks Basic Chinese 500 books. Took about a year to get through but only retained about 80%. No noticeable improvement in the last year. Just started Zhuyin about 6 month ago.


What’s their general comprehension level in Chinese? Preschool? Kindergarten? Lower Elementary? Upper Elementary?
1.      About 4 year old
2.      Lower elementary/Preschool
3.      老大: lower elementary
老二: kindergarten
4.      Preschool
5.      Maybe kindergarten level for my 8-9 yo and pre-K for my 5 yo.
6.      Kindergarten?


What general steps did you take to start teaching them Chinese? Self taught? Tutor? Immersion School? What is the main method/book you used and why you found it helpful?
1.      Teach at home through speaking and reading books, reading instruction using 四五快读
2.      self taught, chinese school
3.      We self-taught the children in this order: 1) Sagebooks 500; 2) Greenfield I Can Read/Greenfield Magic Box; 3) 注音符號; 4) tons of picture books; and 4) tons of bridge books. We purchased but did not use Taiwanese public school textbooks.
4.      Speak Chinese every day, exclusively. No English unless I am speaking directly to my husband who doesn’t understand Chinese. Chinese babysitter once every other week for 4-5 hours. Sometimes babysitter visits her at daycare and they read and play together for 2 hours while the other kids nap. Sagebooks is a good curriculum because it focuses only on characters they already know. Buy the entire set and treasure boxes 1, 2, 3. The later treasure boxes aren’t as good and introduce too many new characters at once. Greenfield’s “i can read” is a good set after that.
5.      We started with Chinese school. Later we added a tutor to help with pronounciation and reading. I supplement occasionally but learning was slow and not very fruitful. The main problem back then was because I didn’t make Chinese learning a priority and I did not invest in quality Chinese books ( essentially we have nothing to read except Chinese school materials). We also didn’t speak any Chinese at home. Now we use the sage books for my 5 yo because it is systematic, high yield, I already own the set and we know exactly what to expect. It’s one single new character each lesson and it introduce the common useage of that character in subsequent chapters. It also includes loose English translation so my daughter can follow along if needed (so essentially she is practicing reading Chinese and English at the same time). It is supported by an audio file which we download on iTunes to follow along.
6.      Read lots of books since birth, Listen to children’s magazines, watch cartoons, talk to them only in Chinese.

Once listening comprehension level is decent, then started to teach character recognition at about 3.5 y.o using sagebooks


After the initial start, what are you doing to maintain their progress?
1.      Keep reading harder books to him to increase comprehension. Keep teaching him about 100 characters a month.
2.      summers in taiwan
3.      daily reading time, Chinese pop songs, Chinese-dubbed movies/cartoons
4.      A few new characters a day, reading together. Every day. Even when we travel. Currently going through greenfield.
5.      Currently all 3 kids attend Chinese school (3 hours per week), hired a tutor (once a week) to just teach them how to converse in Chinese. Solidify their zhuyin learning. Found a bunch of Chinese books specially tailored to my kids’ interest and read them more regularly. Listen to audiobooks and Chinese songs.
6.      Read read and read. I read to him and have him read simple books to me


Which method above do you think helped the most? What’s your #1 suggestion for new families?
1.      Speak more, listen to more music, read as much as possible
2.      taiwan immersion, tiger momming
3.      1) daily reading practice and extensive reading
2) immersive Chinese environment with nanny or grandparents/music/TV
4.      Do anything. Something is better than nothing. Find a way to hook your kids’ interest. The earlier you start with comprehension the better. My Chinese was terrible but I never spoke English to my kids. When I first started reading zhu yin it was painful for both me and my daughter because it was so slow. Now I can read fluidly at almost a regular pace. Keep going. The biggest learning period is before age 6. If you can give them a very good foundation before then, they can continue self learning.
5.      Be persistence. Make it a priority. Have your kids read aloud, supply them with good, interesting books tailored to their interest. Set them up for success. Learning the first 500 words is essential. I don’t think it matters how the child learns it. Whether it’s through years of story books read aloung (best method hands down, after all, that’s how I taught my kids how to read English) or intensive boot camp (going through sage books rapidly). The point is to know enough Chinese “sight word” to read longer and more interesting books.
6.      Spending as much time immersing in Chinese speaking environments.


What are you next goals for your child in the whole Chinese learning journey?
1.      Increase comprehension to age level, read simple books by himself, speak more in sentences (currently speaking some short broken sentences)
2.      not sure yet
3.      1) native-level 4th grade Chinese reading ability by the time the child is enrolled in 5th grade (must achieve)
2) learn writing and calligraphy (bonus if achieved)
3) learn Cantonese (bonus if achieved)
4.      Increase vocabulary and listening comprehension. Hopefully be on grade level with Taiwan until 2nd grade.
5.      My next primary goal is for them to be able to converse in Chinese and to read age appropriate quality Chinese books!
6.      Reading bridging books up to 3000 word count within the next year or so.


Your children’s three favorite books or sets in Chinese?
1.      屁屁侦探, 奇先生妙小姐, 霸王龙
2.      屁屁超人,屁屁偵探,包姆和凱羅
4.      Little chickens, traveling penguins, charlie and Lola.
5.      Piggie and Gerald (simple language, kids already familiar with the English version), Chinese songs and short poems such as 元氣兒歌. (catchy tunes, simple words). 公主怎麼挖鼻屎 with free audio app from 凯叔講故事 (funny stories, read by a great story teller, kids love it). I’m gonna add a 4th, all the 小書包. (Supported by audio, great kid friendly stories).
6.      Too many to list here….


Anything else to add?
3.      It’s a long, long journey–the parent(s) must be completely committed to the cause and prepare to spend inordinate amounts of time and money.
5.      Seek recommendations from other more experienced parents for ideas. Have a set of good books readily available for the kids to read. Keep showing them why you want them to learn Chinese. Taking them to predominately Chinese speaking countries for vacation is also very helpful. Have fun!
6.      Just do it! Don’t be lazy! Kids’ chinese level is mostly dependent on parents’ efforts!!


2 responses to “Interviews With Parents Who Have Successfully Taught Their Children Chinese”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: