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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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

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The Time I told him not to study his 听写


The day that I found out that K had 听写 was the night before, just when I was about to turn the lights off in the room to retire for the night.

“Mummy, I have a test tomorrow”

“Huh…test? What test?”

“Chinese 听写 test.”

“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?!?”

“I forgot.”

“Did you get the list of words over the weekend?”


“How could you forget all about it…”

“I don’t know…”

I glanced at the clocked on the table, “9.15”, and decided that we are not going to revise his 听写.

“Ok, we have to sleep now…it’s too bad that you did not remember that you are going to get a 听写 test tomorrow, and make an effort to study for it this afternoon or over the weekend. It’s your responsibility not mine.”

“But how…”

“Just too bad, we sleep now…”

I slept soundly through the night, without tossing or turning in bed, or worrying about what he might experience the next day. It was just a 听写 test after all, and no 听写 test is going to rob me of a good night’s sleep.

I took the risk. The risk of failure from his very first 听写 test in primary school, as I wanted him to face the music himself. Face the consequence himself, a chance to experience some failure and possible disapproval from his Chinese teacher.

The day after, he came back with the result of his test.

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He didn’t fail it at 70/100. As it was a test on 汉语拼音, he didn’t managed to do too badly despite not revising, so ‘failure’ was manageable.

“I didn’t do so bad..”

“So you are happy with what you got?”

“Not really…”

“Do you think you would have been able to get better results if you have learnt your 听写?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“What are you going to do the next time?”

“I am going to make sure I show you the list next time on Friday, I will learn it and you have to test me to make sure I know it.”

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Learning from Failure

What am I able to teach my child from this?

What seemed like a little opportunity to allow him to experience failure, turned out to be a valuable lesson for him to learn the natural consequence of his actions, and then be motivated to solve the problem responsibly himself.

Somehow, the ability to shelter your child from failure or any form of uncomfortable situations; failure, disappointment, worry, fear has become associated with effective parenting in our culture. It is normal parenting instinct to worry about our kids (alot) and most of us parents are afraid of our child failing. In our education-obessed environment, it always has to do with failure in a certain subject or with tests and exams. We think that once our child start to fail in school, it will be hard to catch up.

I have heard this before from a fellow mom, that it is crucial that the child maintain 90% for all their subjects in Primary 1-2, so that they are able to manage Primary 3 demands. There is some truth in that, taking into account the jump in academic standards from Primary 3 onwards.

However, I see these lower Primary school years are times when I can help my child develop some coping skills later in his life. By preventing failure from happening, I believe I am depriving my child opportunities to experience natural consequence. As it will be from failure, that he will learn about self-motivation, use failure as a lesson to learn from his mistakes and to improve himself.

If I don’t allow failure now, when then?

Learning can happen not just through formal teaching sessions, but also through incidental opportunities. Children can learn effectively through observation, social interaction or through experiences of problem solving.

Do link up and share your experiences teaching your child!

Here are 2 options of ‘I Can Teach My Child’ badges for you to choose from :

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