It’s not easy to get these girls interested in reading Chinese storybooks, or even in watching cartoons in Mandarin, but they do love learning Chinese songs!
One of the best resources we have found on YouTube is Groovi Pauli. Groovi Pauli (Paul Haakenson) is a Mandarin teacher at the American School in Singapore and he has enlisted the help of his remarkably amenable kids to produce a growing body of entertaining slapstick sketches and music videos with character / pinyin subtitles. They aren’t particularly slick productions, but each one introduces basic useful conversational vocabulary through memorable jingles and ditties with a lot of repetition. As Mandarin in a tonal language, the one drawback is that the intonation is lost amidst the melody, but its the melody nonetheless that makes it easy to learn the phrases. Some of the songs are a mix of Chinese and English, and most importantly for the girls, they target Chinese for native English speakers, so the pace is manageable for them.
Inspired by their funny videos, Miss Chu and I have put together our own, original Mandarin-learning music video called Nǐ xǐ huān shén me / What Do You Like (to do) ? Composed and cowritten by Mama Chu and Miss Chu. Hope you like it!
The link between music and the learning of language is well documented. Apparently kids who learn musical instruments find it easier to learn languages. But that aside, music is a superb memory trigger, and kids (and adults!) can remember and string together a lot of words when set to music. Constant repetition really helps, so we have been reasonably motivated to find music we can face listening to over and over… and over again. Because when you’re trying to get kids to learn something, parental enthusiasm definitely helps.
Now, maybe it’s just us, but we’ve really struggled to find children’s songs in Mandarin which are not too tinny and grating. A lot of Chinese nursery rhymes seem to have a particular chanting style which is not exactly easy on the musically-westernized ear. And so, the kids are now very familiar with Daddy Chu’s collection of 90’s Mandopop CDs.
What I find slightly astounding is that children really grasp the nuances of language by listening to music. They are not held back by the desire to make sense of the words or phrases; they just seem to listen, and mimic. So, say after a few plays of a particular song, I am still totally unable to sing along, whereas the girls are more or less able to do so, obviously with mistakes, but overall grasping a significant percentage of the words, even if they have no idea what they mean…which (considering this is 90s Mandopop)… is probably a good thing. When it comes to learning Chinese, I say: every little helps.