How a ‘Potato/Banana’ Mum Can Teach a Child Chinese

I am known as a ‘potato/banana’ amongst some of my friends.

ChineseHL 11

Chinese language is a tough language for me to master, especially when it comes to written Chinese. Conversationally, I fumble and mumble through the language. I used to score O for my 听写 in Secondary School, as I hated the language and gave up trying.

But I am determine to not let history repeat itself.

So I will share with you how a potato/banana can teach a child Chinese using painless and straight-forward ways, minus the frills. You really don’t need to be fantastic in the language in order to coach your child with the language, especially for preschool levels or lower Primary levels.

Here are the ways :

1. Chinese Dictionary 

When reading a Chinese Picture Book with K, I will often stop in between pages when I encounter words that I cannot read. So that’s when the Chinese Dictionary comes to the rescue! It will be ideal if I had the time to do some preparatory work before I read a picture book with K, but often I don’t have that luxury of time.

This might seem like a ‘duh’ sort of idea to be added here, but I did say straight-forward ways. So any Chinese picture book can be read, regardless of your standard of the Chinese language. Just as long as you have the Chinese dictionary and you know how to look for the words. Besides, this method works really well to enrich your chinese vocabulary, so you will be killing two birds with one stone.

For a more convenient solution, only choose picture books with HYPY.


2. Sticker Books (Giveaway Alert! Read to the end.)

I used to have K sit through a sticker book with me and I read out loud the vocabulary words that are found in the book, while he happily pasted the stickers. He has since outgrown this kind of books, nonetheless, this is a useful resource to have, to guide your pre-schooler in learning vocabulary.

ChineseHL 3


3. High Frequency Words

I use the SAGE series of books to guide him to learn high frequency Chinese words. We are halfway through the 1st series (we are quite slow, since we have just started with it). This series has repetitive words introduced through short, despite rather inane stories with funny graphics. Thus this method of learning high frequency words is useful for him to remember the word and its context.

We will likely finish these in the next 1 month or so and move on to the next stage of Sage books, so drop me a comment if you are interested to buy over this pre-loved set from me.

ChineseHL 1


4. Magazines with Han Yu Pin Yin (HYPY)

Hao Peng You (好朋友) is a cheap and good resource that can be used for regular re-alouds. We subscribe to the magazine through his Primary School and K collects the weekly issues from school. The magazine focuses on daily life and moral stories, it may not have the most exciting of stories, but it’s relevant. It will work well as long as your child is keen to sit through with you to do the read-alouds and try out the worksheets in the magazines.

The best part of the magazine for a ‘potato’ teacher is that it has HYPY.

ChineseHL 7


5. Chinese programmes

TCS Chinese dramas are not my favorite choice, as I am not too keen on the story lines of lost-love, triangular love affairs of girl-like-boy but boy-likes-another-girl, of revenge and the likes of these. Well, the only Chinese TV programmes that we do get to see nightly during dinner time, which are even more melodramatic, are the TVB Cantonese dramas that my mum watches.

Recently StarHub launched a channel, Redifussion Channel 325. As quoted from their marketing materials on the website;

‘…aims to boost Primary School students’ Chinese language proficiency through a week-by-week assessment that closely follows the Primary School syllabus. The syllabus on Rediffusion TV is curated and updated regularly by its educational arm, XX centre, which runs an established chain of language schools. Its syllabus will mirror lessons taught in school on a weekly basis, allowing students to continue their Chinese education at home. Showcasing a curriculum specially designed for curious minds, each episode on Rediffusion TV offers rich graphics, clear voiceovers, and step-by-step guidance—all to make learning Chinese more memorable and enjoyable for children from the ages of seven to 12. The programme even features tips on examinations and stress management.’ Screen Shot 2014 03 06 at 2 20 07 PM

Sounds good if the child sees the appeal of the panda, and for parents who do not have enough of the step-by-step syllabus at school. Cable TV with Redifussion channel now helps your child ace their chinese exams in school! I think it will be a challenge for this programme to help your child love the Chinese language, as it is really quite dull.

To share my constructive criticisms, I sent them an email recently to share my thoughts that they need to do better with this channel. Have more options of fun cartoons or General Knowledge chinese programmes for children, as I am not going to spend an additional $8.56 a month on poor programming like this.

I think we are better off reading 好朋友.

In the meantime, our best alternative for another cheap and almost free way, is through Youtube. Specifically with Xi Yang Yang (喜羊羊). I like that there is plenty of slapstick drama in the cartoon, which appeals to the humour of an almost 7 year old. The other plus point is that there are Simplified Chinese subtitles, and endless episodes of this series is available on Youtube.

ChineseHL 8

I used to like Doraemon as a child, but I think the themes of ‘hero and wimp’ are over-emphasized in the cartoon.

So, I am on the constant look-out for Chinese cartoon series on Youtube, as I don’t want to have to purchase DVDs from Dang Dang 当当网 which eventually will clutter our space.


6. Consistency Counts

Home-learning for Chinese is scheduled 3 times a week for Kyle. We are getting into the regular routine of spending at least 45 mins a day reading, speaking the language or watching Xi Yang Yang for at least an hour weekly. I spontaneously (try to) lapse into speaking Chinese language to him at random times, so that the language does not get too ‘foreign’ for him.

School adds on additional challenge for us by adding Ting Xie 听写 and the occasional ‘surprise-test’ to assess Kyle’s ability in the language. The feedback that we have gotten so far from his teacher is that he ‘can understand and do well in assessments, but limited in his expression of the language’.

K does get additional help for 1 hr 30 mins weekly as he attend Chinese enrichment classes. But I add on enrichment classes for him, just to make myself feel better that I am trying ways to help him with the language. Enrichment will still be pointless if I don’t make that effort to coach him at home.


So it is really not impossible for a ‘potato’ to coach her child in the Chinese language!

All it takes is that additional effort (especially when you are not great in the language), as well as the help of additional  resources and discipline to follow through. It will still be manageable for me for the next 3 years, I suppose.

We are using these ways to work on K’s proficiency in the Chinese language and have seen improvement. This constantly serves as a good reminder for me to be thankful that I did not go ahead with putting K in hb’s alumni; a Chinese SAP primary school.

I am certain that if I have made that choice, it will be more stories to share with plenty of tears and pain!


Now, Catch Forty-Winks is giving away a set of 11 Chinese Sticker Books, suitable for children 3 – 5 years old.

All you need to do is add your experience with Chinese language with your child in a short comment and I will do a random pick of the winner from your comments below. The winner will be contacted through email. Giveaway CLOSED. 

Congratulations Cheryl, you have won the set of 11 Chinese Sticker books, I will be getting in touch with you through email to deliver the books to your home address. 

Screen Shot 2014 03 26 at 8 03 09 PM


ChineseHL 10

How do you manage Chinese language learning with your child? Do share here!

new button


Share it:

Related posts:


  1. I converse in Mandarin with my kids since young, so they have no problems communicating effectively in Mandarin. I’ve realized that this gave them an edge when they enter preschool and eventually Primary school for my elder kid. Being able to speak and understand Mandarin definitely helped them to learn how to write and read.

  2. I use flash cards with my girl but these sticker books would certainly come in useful for her.
    Dominique Goh´s last blog post ..Writer’s Workshop: Patience is Golden

  3. I’m pretty sure I am more “banana” than you! As no one else at home speaks Chinese well (we are Malaysian peranakan), B is more exposed to English and Malay. So I’ve relied on accompanied Chinese immersion class (we tried Chengzhu and Bibinogs), playing Chinese songs and music videos (he’s more comfortable singing vs talking in Chinese), flash cards and interactive books (must have hanyupinyin), and lately, I try to only speak in Chinese when we do art and craft, eat or drive in the car. As B is only 27 months, I’ve not started stressing about p1 … yet but am now looking for a good drop off program, maybe speech & drama (activity based) and also introducing toddler friendly Chinese videos like 巧虎 (qiǎo hǔ).

    BTW, if the SAGE series is in OK condition and can use for tots, I’d be interested to buy yours. 谢谢!

  4. We speak a lot of English at home, and my eldest converses in Mandarin with my mom and her paternal grandparents. My hubby has reminded me many times that we should really be speaking more Mandarin at home. I try to and have to remind her to reply in Mandarin.

    Here comes the surprise, she fares better at 听写 than English spelling. Go figure.

  5. Thank you for sharing, as a potato/banana mum myself, it’s useful to hear from another! I’m currently struggling with K2 Chinese, aiyoh! But it’s a great opportunity to improve on my Chinese again. Bet I will score higher for *my* PSLE this time round when the time comes, don’t you think? 😉
    Edlyn @MummyEd´s last blog post ..First Steps

  6. Thanks for this very informative post on teaching Mandarin to children. At home, we sing Mandarin songs with Dana and I would read a short bedtime story for her in Chinese occasionally. I’ve not embarked on any systematic way of teaching her word recognition but with your suggestions, I think I might be confident enough to get started soon. :) Thanks for hosting the giveaway, I think these sticker books are great motivational tools!
    Angie.S´s last blog post ..J is for Jesus – CD for Kids!

  7. I aced my Chinese as a kid cos my parents were chinese -ed folks. But with language, it’s tough to maintain efficient proficiency if one doesn’t use it frequently. For the Kao kids, we have a “chinese day” once a week where we would speak chinese the whole day (ok we try to!), revise their work and flashcards from Berries (which they attend) and play “fly swatter” flashcard games for word recognition. I’m still looking for good chinese programmes. You are right about doraemon, and I personally don’t like the Taiwanese Xi yang yang cos there’s too many Taiwanese slang used!
    Motherkao´s last blog post ..Parenting at 5, 3-half and 2 (Part I)

  8. We speak Mandarin at home. My boy likes to ask ‘what is this?’, ‘what is that?’ We will tell him the name in English and then in chinese. I recently bought some sticker books in chinese and am planning to start doing it soon.
    Jolin´s last blog post ..My ABCs: C is for… Cheeks

  9. Always on a lookout for chinese materials to boost her interest in chinese other than English. Plus she loves stickers. Thanks for giveaway

  10. I try to use flash cards with my son, and once in a while, I try to speak to him in Chinese. He doesn’t seem to understand what I’m saying though, so I have to try much harder!
    Adeline´s last blog post ..Review and Discount Code: iHerb

  11. Wow thanks for sharing this, as I am also wrecking my head trying to think of how to teach Aiden Chinese. We did not start him off early enough and now at 3 year old, we have tried introducing more songs in Chinese to him, and conversing with him in Chinese when we are out so he can identify things he like in Chinese such as cars, lorries, traffic lights and so on.
    Hope to win this sticker book as he loves stickers and would definitely help in engaging him!

  12. I created my own diy flashcards for my boy but it’s tedious -_-”

    Theses sticker books would come in really handy!
    Cen-Lin Ting´s last blog post ..Easy Recipe : Home Made Wasabi Cucumbers

  13. We do lucky draw contests 😛 see my post here
    Mamabliss´s last blog post ..Home Learning – Chinese Language

  14. I try to let them speak to my parents in Chinese.

  15. From one potato to another, thanks for the tips! We tried the TV method from young (babytv has dual language options) and nowadays get Bielet to sing her favourite songs in both English and Mandarin. She might be a mini potato but the song and dances seem to be working quite well for nursery ;))

    Fingers crossed on the giveaway. Bielet really loves her stickers. The sticker book series is such a great idea!

  16. Eunice Wee says:

    My kid has only recently started to enjoy the chinese language. I am trying hard to cultivate his interest but talking to him in simple mandarin and reading chinese books. These stickers would come in handy to engage him.

  17. Both hubs and I are awful at Chinese despite the distinctions on my transcripts! And I suspect we had a mental block about it because we were constantly pressured and pushed to pass it. So, what we try to do for the kids is to make sure that the interest is still there and there is minimal pressure for them. I used to get ex-students to come round and play with them, read to them and converse with them in Chinese. I also got them tons of Chinese story books that they would look at even if they couldn’t read. And using just the pictures, tell me their version of the story in whatever Chinese they had. That helped because they would then ask “what’s this in Chinese?” before trying to string sentences together. Formally, we do Berries so for now, we’re managing. It’s when the Chinese compositions come in that we will start worrying, massively!

  18. Shirley Yong says:

    I let the kids watch CH 8 shows and cartoons in Mandarin. No fixed curriculum with them but try to read and re-read and re-read the same old chinese story book until they can read it to me with confidence.

  19. thanks for making it sound so simple! We don’t speak mandarin at home, no one speaks… :(
    So the only thing we do, is really nothing. (Mash potato in the making!)
    I think these stickers would be a great start.
    Jiahui´s last blog post ..Why I breastfed for Six Months and Stopped

  20. Chai Ooy Mei says:

    I am a true breed potato/banana mamma. I can’t teach nor guide my sons Chinese at all. Other then the mahjong character I do not know how to read any word in Chinese. My boys are not so lucky as your kid. They will have to depend on themselves and with the kindy school.
    I find your post very good. I am inspired by you. I hope to give it a try to learn with my kids.
    Please if no one has bought from you, may I buy the SAGE series of books?

  21. We spend time revising Chinese words/phrases that are taught in school/berries. I find that my boys have difficulty expressing themselves in Chinese cos we hardly use it to converse. Trying to speak to them more so it comes more naturally.
    Ling Siew Ng´s last blog post ..Terrific Three!

  22. Hi!
    Although our main home language is English, I had my mom come over to our place twice a week to make sure she gets he Chinese language input from her interaction with her. It makes learning the language functional and practical as she uses the language to converse with her Favourite grandparents. Also, we have a Chinese Friday every week where we intentionally communicate to her in mandarin, as well as let her watch some Chinese educational programmes. She has picked up quite a few new words from there. Word recognition is also reinforced through her enrichment classes and we coach her and revise the words with her at home. The key to picking up a language is inculcating a love for the language and making it fun!!

  23. Thank you for sharing your tips, from one potato mama to another :) I’m the only one in my family to take up Chinese as a second language, and really struggled since my mom has no idea what’s written in the textbooks. Now with my daughter, I try to get her speaking the language early through songs. I teach her how to say her favourite items in Chinese. E.g she likes excavators and cranes so I’ll share with her what those are called in Chinese. I’ve got to agree stickers really work wonders too! Bought a sticker book and she was excited to speak Mandarin while completing the excercises. We celebrate and read books about upcoming Chinese festivals e.g 端午节,中秋节 etc to help my daughter appreciate the culture and hopefully the language too.
    Dawn´s last blog post ..My First Book of Teochew Words

  24. We used the creative shen bi software and constantly revise his chinese on flash vards so that he remembers.
    irene soh´s last blog post ..I NOT Naughty!

  25. FlasHcards worked very well for sonshine. But for doll, I read to her 我会读 books and it works like a charm on her. The sticker book idea is fabulous! Why didn’t I think of it! Er, if I dont win, can you tell me where can I get them? 😀
    Homeschool@sg´s last blog post ..A bit of craft

  26. I made the mistake of communicating with my children in English in the beginning, fortunately my mum speaks Mandarin with them exclusively (even though she understands and can speak simple English) so they are conversant in the language even though we don’t speak much at home. I find singing Chinese children’s songs help them pick up the language too since the tunes are usually pretty catchy.
    Felicia´s last blog post ..Cardboard Rocking Horse (Template Included)

  27. Man – Chinese is a STRUGGLE for us over here too! Sigh… we tried to institute a ‘Speak Mandarin’ day but it hasnt really gone on very well. I will try the Xi Yang Yang youtube though! Chinese videos are ok for my kids – cos they enjoy Elmo in Chinese. (And by enjoy I mean they dont switch off or change videos when they click on that. Haha!)
    San´s last blog post ..The Thing About ‘Mummy Guilt’

  28. We started off with speaking lots of English with my boy and subsequently we found that he doesn’t even understand Chinese cartoon! Thus, we started speaking to him in Mandarin everyday and try to read more Chinese stories to him too.

    I hope to win the sticker books for him. I’m sure the books would be really useful to him and he loves stickers :)

  29. I try to speak to her in Chinese but she does not quite like it. Think the stickers book will really be an interesting y for her to get interested in Chinese.

  30. I struggle with this area too. I try to speak with my son in Chinese and so it’s not too consistent because we switch back and forth. We have some Chinese books for ages 2-5 so we’re still ploughing through those (gifts from friends).
    Recently I’ve started to get him more comfortable with writing Chinese starting with his name which he is greatly interested to learn. At least that gets him to be familiar with the strokes.. My son is 4yo turnig 5 this year. We are considering if there is a need for enrichment class outside, but having problems find a suitable one that is convenient enough for us.
    Jessica Zhuo´s last blog post ..A new hobby…

  31. We tried flashcards, speak Chinese only hour/day & watch dvds….my 2 potato girls showed zero interest.
    Dad suggested karaoke and now all 3 (including lil brother, 2.5 yrs) are hooked!
    Still a long way to speak good Chinese but we are happy for now ☺.

    The sticker books will be fun for our boy if we win.


  32. The most fundamental was speaking more in Mandarin. We also introduced flash cards, story book as well as chinese shows to add more fun to learning.
    Susan´s last blog post ..Friday Fun – Funny things that Sophie say

  33. I bought 四五快读 before signing her back to the Chinese enrichment as she requested. We don’t speak Mandarin at home as gal always response in English…so I tried to read at least 1 Chinese book with HYPY when reading time.

  34. Monika C says:

    I’m very poor in chinese, only can speak a little bit hence no confidence in teaching my son. At first not so worried as my hubby and his family speak and read chinese. The red alert only when I realize that my son only speak english even to his grandparents whom speak little english. So I started to find a way to teach him. Started off by assigning hubby to read chinese books to him every night. But it didn’t go very well and not consistent. So I decided to get talking pen. It works wonder! I can read chinese books to him every night consistently (the reading part done by the pen of course).
    The sticker book seems like good idea to entice him more. Hope to win that for my son. Thanks! ^^

  35. Ling ling says:

    I have been speaking to my two children in mandarin eversince they are babies but dunno why they prefer to speak in English =( I read at least one chinese book everyday with them during bedtime, send them to Sunday chinese classes and did supplementary materials that compliment the Chinese enrichment lessons. They are finally loving the language and picking up quite a number of Chinese words. Will keep trying to make them confident in speaking in mandarin . Thanks so much for organising the giveaway!

  36. Thanks so much for this helpful post Rachel! We are trying very hard to introduce the language, through daily conversations and by reading very simple Chinese books. I admit its a struggle as my Chinese isn’t good, but your post encourages me to keep trying! Thanks for the giveaway!
    Jus´s last blog post ..Thankful Tuesday: To the taxi driver who fetched us from the zoo

  37. My husband and I struggle to expose my soon-to-be 3 yr old daughter to the Chinese language as both of us are ‘potatoes’ too. Sometimes when my hubby tries to speak to her in mandarin, I cringe coz he gets the tone wrong and all. But at least he’s trying. As for me, I try to introduce basic chinese words to her off and on. I also let her watch Taiwanese chinese videos on Youtube called ‘Qiao hu’. Only issue with these videos is that they use traditional chinese characters. I hope to be able to use proper material to expose her more to the language. Really worried she’ll become a ‘potato’ like us and grow up struggling or hating the language.

  38. Carol lim says:

    we have dedicated time in the evening when we will converse in Mandarin only.

  39. jaslyn tan says:

    Hi I am interested in getting this 11 set of chinese sticker books for my 3 yr old boy n 5 yr old girl. I have problem teaching my children chinese it will be great if u could let me know where to purchase it thank you. Btw I enjoy reading your post will definitely try it on my children thanks..

  40. I try to get my 4yr old to enjoy the language by enrolling him into fun Mandarin programmes like Speech & Drama Camp and also fun Mandarin Enrichment classes. It also helps that he was in full mandarin nursery classes in school. He has grown to not only accept the language but to enjoy it as well.

  41. I tried to get my child to practise writing Chinese strokes and words after class, hope this helps in understanding and remembering the words learned.

  42. I speak to my boy in Chinese at home. He’s two now, and knows that Mummy speaks Mandarin. I believe in creating the language environment for him so that it’s “all around” him. We read Chinese picture books almost everyday! :) Would love the sticker books as it can also aid in his motor skills!

  43. Frannie Teh says:

    I have two boys, 9 and 2.5 years old. errr, we are just not natural to speak Chinese at home, at least hubby can read Mandarin and help in son’s school HW. When No 1 was 6 years old, we had a short period of “exchange home”, where my PRC neighbor’s boy came to my house, and my boy will go their home like a playdate, But actually we are trying to provide the language environment to them. Unfortunately we did not continue the playdate. Thankfully my another PRC neighbor willing to give 1-1 tutor to my son since P1 and we are please with his improvement, phew! But we are still not speaking Mandarin at home :p. My Malaysian neighbor who is pretty free(SAHM) will come over to play and speak 100% to no 2 twice a week. We are trying very best to speak Mandarin, so occasionally I will speak and ha ha ha will be corrected by no 1 when I pronounce it wrongly. Big brother are task to read aloud Chinese story book to little brother everyday, ahem.. Kill two birds with one stone, yea? Play Chinese nursery CD daily. Thank you for your sharing and the giveaway!

  44. Robert S says:

    we watch the boys’ favourite Chinese animation series, Taoshu.

  45. It has been a mistake for not introducing chinese when they are young. We always speak English n watched English show. I have 3 gals aged 7+,5+ & 3 years old. My eldest been to a good childcare provide her all the foundation she need for P1. She breeze through smoothly but now big headache as her recognition of Chinese words bad n words formation too. English translate to chinese. My #2 even worse. Angmoh style chinese..Now I am trying to use simple flash ccards n hypy for my #2. What she learn in pcf is totally little! Cannot totally rely on school. I also done more chinese reading with her. Daily try to spend 30mins writing chinese basic words too. After 3 weeks now slightly better. But lately she kinda reject so I stopped a while n only let her watch chinese cartoon.
    Once bitten twice shy, slowly letting my 3yo chinese recognition words. Hypy will b later stage as I worry she may confuse with the phonics sound too.

    Keep finger crossing for a blur mummy like me.

    Ps: your lucky draw date is my birthday heheh. Will I be lucky to share the above gift for my gals? :))))

  46. i am a true blue convent girl and did not speak chinese at home at all. worse, my husband’s second language isn’t mandarin. so like you, i’m determined to break the cycle and to expore my kids to mandarin often. my kindergartener goes to a chinese kindy and has been blessed with the most wonderful of teachers. with my 2 year old, i mostly converse with her in mandarin and i have to say that i’ve learnt so much in the process myself. i’m much more confident in mandarin too! that’s a mighty big jump from someone who used to shun it.

    ps you’re doing an amazing job with K :)
    ppss 好朋友 is still around?! P gets 小拇指 from school and i enjoy it too!
    Adora´s last blog post ..The Break-Up

  47. I let him watch Chinese children’s shows like Little Pim, Xi Yang Yang, Ni Hao Kai Lan etc. Not all the time, but once in a while. Other times, I try to buy Chinese books which are more interactive, so that it’s not just plain reading which he might lose interest in after a while.

  48. 好朋友 so nostalgic i read during my primary school days!
    i converse with my girl in mandarin in the morning then after that i switch to English from afternoon onwards and whenever i feel that she should learn a new chinese vocab word i just speak in both English and Mandarin in this way i find she picks up pretty fast. And of course not forgetting reading to her chinese books on topics that interest her the most.

    so she is not adverse to speaking in mandarin

  49. Do you mind sharing where you got these Chinese sticker books from? I take them to the library to borrow Chinese books to read at home.

  50. Hi Rachel, stumbled on your blog from one of the link-ups that was actually dated last year! :) Anyway, I am glad I found your blog, particularly the topic of Mother Tongue.

    My son used to reject Mother Tongue in K1, with that, I decided to start him on enrichment class just to build the interest and foundation. After he completed K2, I found that he didn’t reject the language anymore and I decided to stop his enrichment.

    He is coping alright though I do know he is just doing what needs to be done for the subject, eg. Learn 听写, do his school writing and homework. I find that I need to spend more time with him by reading more Chinese story books and I think you have given me some great ideas to let him continue enjoy the language, like watching the 喜羊羊. I shall do that and set a routine.

    Thanks for writing this post.
    Rachee-O´s last blog post ..Lessen your food wastes

  51. Good way of engaging your child