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After reading parental forums and blogs, I’ve realized that helping a child learn Chinese is one of the greatest headaches, especially for English speaking families. While some parents succeed in imparting their Mandarin skills, others find themselves feeling frustrated with the lack of improvement.
In this post, we would like to share a little about how the Chinese language is developed.
Firstly, much of the Chinese characters are represented with radicals. Radicals relate and affect the fundamental nature of the character.
The four characters above look similar, but they differ in radicals. The first has the radical (foot), when place with the other part of the word means jump. Second has the radical (hand), which means take. The third has the radical (eye), which means to look and the last character has the radical (person), which means skittish.
A study done by Shu and Anderson (1995) showed that children must first know the meaning of the radical in the new character to acquire new vocabulary. When the radical is unfamiliar, “children’s attempts to derive characters are seriously hindered”.
The second discussion is that words taught with new characters must be conceptually easy for the child to be able to learn. When the child is able to grasp simple characters, he/she would develop the skill to understand more complex characters.
The third discussion is that “children must possess the strategy of integrating radicals and word meanings”. When children have that ability to assimilate the information, they would be better able to link new words with the existing radicals that they have learnt.
To sum it all, children learn new Chinese words by recognizing radicals that they have already learnt! So to start your Chinese learning journey with your child, you might want to consider first teaching the different radicals!
Here are some resources that you might consider referring to!
Shu, H. & Anderson, R. C. (1995). Role of radical awareness in the character and word acquisition of Chinese children. Center for the Study of Reading. Retrieved from https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/17882/ctrstreadtechrepv01995i00615_opt.pdf?sequence=1