Teach Chinese S2: Me first! (2/4)

Hi, it’s Carol here…

In the last email (1/4), we discussed about setting up a simply learning routine that you can stick to.

In case you missed it, you can read it here.

The key idea of the last session was:

Let the learning routine set like jelly first.

In writing this series, I’ve been reflecting on my past journey where I spent more than 12 years figuring out how to let children enjoy learning something that seems challenging.

Spend a minute thinking about this by completing the sentences below:

One challenging thing that I have enjoyed learning is _______.

I enjoyed learning it even though it was challenging because _______.

I enjoy solving challenging math and puzzles because of the sense of satisfaction after solving each one.

Vee enjoys learning the piano because he can play beautiful music with it.

Jae enjoys table tennis training because he’s fascinated by the game.

​El enjoys reading English novels for hours because he’s transported into another world.

Sure, I understand that Chinese is not puzzles, music, sports nor English novels. Many of us (and our children) are not naturally drawn to learning Chinese.

The obstacles to liking Chinese are plenty:

  • We may hardly use it outside school or work.
  • It’s non-phonetic. So many characters to remember.
  • Many words sound the same yet mean different things.

When we go back to the fundamental of liking something, even a teeny little bit, it’s this:

We enjoy doing things that are associated with positive feelings.

I’m one mum teaching two kids to read Chinese at different levels here. Jae and El usually want to be the first to have a session with me. Why???

I don’t offer rewards such as stickers or points for our learning sessions.

I don’t make Instagrammable activities.

It’s usually just me, word cards and books.

Thankfully, you can guide your child effectively without having to make it fun (as in entertaining fun).

1. It takes much time, energy and maybe money to prepare fun activities. In the time taken to make such activities, I’d have finished teaching both kids and they’re off to work on something else.

Am I going to create 1200 activities for 1200 words?

2. The child may not be interested in the “fun” activity and the parent may feel obliged to coax her into trying it.

3. The child may expect fun elements when learning and lose interest when learning is not presented in a fun way.

Consistently associating fun with learning may seem to work well on a young child. But this may not serve her well in the long run.

Across various fields, high achievers are willing to go through years of practice because they seek mastery and inner satisfacation, not fun.

If it’s not about fun learning, then what? I’ve reverse-engineered it for you…

We enjoy doing things associated with positive feelings, remember?

Positive feelings can mean other things besides fun, like






You can associate positive feelings before, during and after a learning session.

The Veggie Burger

(Photo by Daria Shevtsova, Pexels)

Here we take inspiration from the Veggie Burger.

Before the session, some ideas for the top bun are:

  • breathe slowly, smile and be in a pleasant mood
  • the child is satisfied with free play. Use a timer / bell / chime to help her transit.
  • chat with child for a few minutes
  • play a simple hand game

During the session, some ideas for the veggie are:

  • keep it short at first before building up gradually. 1 card, less than 1 minute first. This is the equivalent of a tiny piece of lettuce in the burger.
  • frame the session positively. “BB, I’ve something to help you become a reader. It’s called 字卡 (zì kǎ, Chinese word card). Look at this …”
  • play simple memory games: shuffle cards, find the right word, pass card to child, arrange cards

Immediately after the session, some ideas for the bottom bun are:

  • positive action (depending on child’s age & preference) such as:
    • high five + big smile
    • hug + big smile
    • hug + kiss
    • put a tick on a chart
  • positive words. Say something like, “I enjoyed working on Chinese cards with you.”
  • let the child choose her preferred next activity. “What would you like to do next — XX or YY?” For example,
    • read a short story to her
    • play a short hand game like scissors, paper, stone
    • sing a favourite song
    • go to the playground

The above are just ideas. You don’t need to do any or all of them. Do what works for your family.

If your child is not interested in Chinese word cards yet, that’s fine. In the Veggie section, simply offer to read a simple Chinese book or sing a simple Chinese nursery rhyme.

If you’re a new learner too, you may play a Chinese audiobook or song.

After enough exposure, her interest and readiness for reading Chinese will come. Just try reading words again after a few weeks or months.

When I homeschooled El during kindergarten, he was not keen on reading Chinese words — yet.

Eventually, he was ready and started learning Chinese words systematically at 6+ years old.

Think about how you can associate positive feelings with learning Chinese. Feel free to share your ideas or questions with me. Just hit “Reply”.

See you in the next email.

~ Carol @ Owlissimo.com


One reason that Jae and El say “Me first!” is to complete their afternoon revision and leave on time for their free play!

There’s another invisible force that pulls them into learning more words, up to 1200 and then beyond 3000+.

The secret lies in a popular fairy tale story…

>> Next part (3/4)

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