The first Chinese for kids learning program I built was a literacy-focused curriculum called Little Chinese Readers. It was built with my kids in mind, who spoke and understood Mandarin on a fairly competent level. My goal was to give them a leveled, systematic Mandarin reading curriculum built on the recognition of Chinese characters rather than sentence length or theme. Fast forward four years and Readers now has six levels, each of which teaches 50 Chinese characters, and 100+ leveled books. Over a thousand students have improved their Chinese literacy skills with Readers and over the years, we have received many fan letters that had propelled me to keep going. If there is any regret with Readers, it was that we (a team of three part-time co-founders/full-time parents), simply couldn’t write the books fast enough to cater to the learning speed of our learners. Nonetheless, we tread on.
Over time, the same requests started coming in – “hey, Readers is great, but do you guys have anything that cover speaking and learning?” “My kids could really use more help learning conversational phrases.” “I wish my kids can speak more Chinese.” “Do you have a comprehensive Chinese for kids curriculum?”
Instead of saying no (which I really should learn to do one of these days), I asked these parents the question, “If you could build your own Mandarin learning program for your kids, what would it look like?“ Soon after, I started to see the same five principles emerge from their answers. I took these five principles to a team of expert Chinese teachers and over a year of planning, we designed a one-of-a-kind Mandarin program for kids driven mostly by these principles. This is how Little Chinese Learners came to be. Check out these five requests we received to see if they align with what what you are looking for in a Chinese learning program for your family!
#1 Request – A “Chinese for Kids” Program Built for… Well, Kids (but Not Just With Cartoons)!
Parents told me there’s already a good selection of Chinese learning programs out there, including Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, FluentU, and yoyo Chinese. But these programs are not built specifically for kids. They are still great resources for many young learners but they are often structured to engage an adult learner rather than a child. After reviewing these adult-targeted programs, we notice most of them spend a considerable amount of time on grammar rules, introduce vocabulary not quite as relevant to a child’s life (such as asking someone on a date), and repetitive exercises that are more likely to tire out a young learner.
On the other hands, there are Chinese learning programs designed with the child in mind, including the DinoLingo, the Rock ‘n Learn channel, the Babybus nursery rhymes, and Little Chinese Fox. But all of them come with only one type of learning resource – cartoons. Most parents wanted to see a native teacher speak Chinese so the child can imitate the shape of the mouth, the sound, and the expression. These principles drove us to build our lessons with videos of a native teacher who introduces the Chinese words/sentence and inviting the student to repeat. Check out Lesson 1 to learn basic greetings and introduction.
#2 Request – A “Chinese for Kids” Program with a Comprehensive Curriculum (that Parents Can Understand and Follow)
The second most common request I heard from parents was the need for an established curriculum rather than a collection of random lessons. As much as the parents enjoy theme-based lessons like numbers, family, and colors, they wanted a leveled Chinese curriculum to understand what their children are learning and their competency in the Mandarin language. When I dived into their answers, it became clear that parents wanted the Chinese lessons for kids to
- have clear learning objectives so everyone knows the key takeaway
- cover all four tenets of the Mandarin language – listening, speaking, reading, and writing
Since there are an infinite number of way to create a curriculum, many parents also expressed the need for the lessons to be based on internationally recognized standards like the ACTFL 5Cs (the leading US roadmap to develop secondary language competency), the HSK tests (the leading exam for Mandarin competency), or the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages/CEFR (the leading European guideline for measuring foreign language achievement)
#3 Request – A “Chinese for Kids” Program with Progress Tracker
This request piggybacks off Request #2 because the major reason behind a comprehensive leveled curriculum is to track the learner’s Mandarin progress. Martin Luther King once said, “Whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
In this day and age, our kids lead BUSY lives. Between soccer meets and coding clubs and piano lessons, it seems that every child I know are squeezed for time. The last thing I want is to sign my kids up for another class that is, for lack of better words, a waste of time. Don’t get me wrong. Most parents I talk to (me included) are far from being Tiger Moms/Dads, but they do prefer to fill their kids’ schedules with purposeful events – whether it’s playing tags in the park with neighborhood kids or visiting a museum to gain an appreciation for art. Hence, one of the key features of Little Chinese Learners is the ability to track a child’s Mandarin learning progress. Under the standard plan, each Chinese lesson comes with five days worth of activities and assessments in the forms of quizzes and games are interspersed throughout the level. The completion of every activity and assessment is tracked to motivate learners to progress.
#4 Request – A “Chinese for Kids” Program that is Affordable
In our survey of 60 parents, nearly 90% of the parents are willing to invest in a program to help their children learn Mandarin but the budget most families prefer to allocate to each child’s Mandarin education is between $10-20/month (which quickly adds up when you have multiple kids in the household). That budget may work for a subscription box, but it’s nowhere near enough for weekend Chinese schools or private tutoring. This is a big challenge for us. How can we design a strong-quality Mandarin program for kids with all the features requested and still keep it affordable? Answer: technology!
We leverage every technological tool proven to improve learning in order to achieve this. By utilizing videos, HTML5 games, audio recorders, Chinese songs, Mandarin e-books, Chinese stories, and more, Little Chinese Learners delivers a comprehensive learning experience without breaking anyone’s bank. Check out our membership plans (which starts from ~$6/month/learner under the yearly plan).
#5 Request – A “Chinese for Kids” Program that is Fun and Engaging (with Limited Screen Time!)
Last but not least… in fact, this is probably MY #1 request, is that the Chinese for kids program must be fun! The last thing I wanted (and I heard a resounding yes from all the parents I spoke to) was for my kids to become proficient in the Chinese language only to loathe it. Growing up the US, I have seen and met too many people (friends and family) that stopped speaking Mandarin as soon as busy schedules pushed out weekend Chinese school or they moved out of their parents’ house. Meanwhile, my Chinese language (and the perspectives gained from it) have taken me around the world and opened so many doors, both professionally and personally. Hence, while others may QC their curriculum for correct grammar, we QC our lesson plans to make sure there’s enough of a fun factor. Our lessons are sprinkled with easter eggs, from Culture Gems to Mandarin Secrets to our original songs and animations, our hope with Little Chinese Learners is that it will encourage more children and families around the globe to step into this wonderful world of learning the Chinese language and exploring a culture with five millennium of history.
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