Mandarin Morning - Integrating Language into the Daily Routine
I have received a lot of questions about our Mandarin Morning time that I've mentioned on occasion. In short, it is not just a time to study the language, but actually integrate and use it in our daily lives.
Our Mandarin Morning is at breakfast time, during which we speak (as much as we can), listen, and interpret Mandarin. Most of our talk centers around food - what we want, like, or don't like to eat and drink. We also watch Chinese shows (not always Mandarin, periodically other dialects), listen for words we know, and interpret what is happening on the screen.
When we first started Mandarin Morning, our speaking lasted about 30 seconds. The only vocabulary we knew was I like/don't like, eat, drink, and a few foods and drinks. It was learning these words from Lingobus that actually got us started with Mandarin Morning. I'd ask, "What do you like to eat/drink?" (你喜欢吃神马） and she'd answer, "I don't like egg." （我不喜欢鸡蛋）。Either that, or she'd say she wanted a sandwich because that was about the only other thing she remembered. I learned later in a private tutoring class that we should use 想 (want) instead of 喜欢, so corrected how we spoke。But, the important thing to me was that we started and kept it going every morning.
Since we didn't have a vast vocabulary, we sometimes code-switched. If we didn't know a word in Chinese, we said it in English or Spanish. Code-switching is okay, and a sign of intelligence. This gave me important information for later when determining what we needed to know to progress in the language.
I know the importance of listening and getting the ear attuned to the sounds of a language; I also know that just hearing sounds in the ear become...just sounds in one's ears. Oftentimes, it becomes background noise. Now, there is nothing wrong with background noise, but I had specific purpose for watching these shows - listening for understanding. One of the issues I've run into with many language learners is they have the ability to read with understanding, but a reduced ability to hear and understand what they are listening to. Having students focus their listening for words they know, helps the ear distinguish between words and train the ear to the patterns of a language.
I call this "targeted" or "focused" listening. I use this method in my Spanish classes, wherein we learn vocabulary and use them in sentences, then I'll put on a video and have the students listen for the words they recognize. Goal #1 is to just listen for one word, and remember that word by the end of the song.
Ok, so...we're not a screen-free family. The TV is the first thing that comes on in the morning when my husband gets up, and is the last thing off when he goes to bed. Yes, it is off most of the time during the school day, though.
For Mandarin Morning, it is on. As beginners in the language, we rely on a lot of visual cues to understand things. TV provides that. In the beginning, we started with familiar songs on Little Fox Chinese; we had the app on our Roku (I don't think it is available there anymore...). We then started listening to the short stories on there. They are bite-sized-piece episodes (around 4-5 minutes), so we only took in a little at a time. She picked up a lot of language in these short episodes and was able to narrate (in English) who was who and what was happening after watching a few series a couple of times. It was pretty incredible
We then started watching My Little Pony, a series I've watched over 20 times (no exaggeration!) in English and Spanish starting with her older sister. I figured, since we knew the episodes backwards and forwards (I often pulled life lessons from those episodes!), we could watch in Mandarin and pick up language that way. I liked picking up interesting phrases and incorporating it in our daily speaking.
What Mandarin Morning looks like now:
- Conversation - meal time talk (what to eat/drink, etc.)
- Targeted listening - listen for known vocabulary while watching shows in Mandarin with Mandarin subtitles
- Interpret what is happening in the shows based on vocabulary and actions
- Conversation - include what our plans are for the day
- Targeted listening & interpretation - interpret what is happening using known vocabulary and any new phrases we've learned through listening. Use as much Mandarin as possible when answering.
- Be consistent in writing down and using new phrases learned through listening.
To learn more
We started Mandarin Morning two years ago and have been faithful to it 85% of the time. Being accountable to daily usage was helped by keeping a journal of what we were doing and how we wanted to progress. That's why I decided to share with other family language learners in "28 to Family Language Learning - A step-by-step guide and journal. " I hope it is helpful to your family as well. Happy Family Language Learning!