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Developing Literacy in Chinese, Part 2:

May 30, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 3.57.48 PMDeveloping Literacy in Chinese, Part 2:

Supporting Chinese Literacy in the Home Environment

By Lelan Miller 孟乐岚, founder of Mandarin Matters in Our Schools in Texas (MMOST) and master’s candidate in Chinese Language Pedagogy

This article is the second in a three part series about developing literacy in the Chinese language. While written primarily for non-Chinese parents with children in primary through high school who are in various stages of developing Chinese literacy, this article may benefit administrators, teachers, and other professionals engaged in Chinese language learning in immersion settings.


Literacy begins in the home. This is true of any language. The target language of the immersion school may take root in the school environment but needs further nurturing in the home. This can and should be done even if the parents are not fluent in the target language. Immersion school teachers and staff have an important role in introducing and reinforcing literacy in Chinese. The role of the home is to provide an environment conductive to literacy in both the home and target language. The home (and immersion school as well) should have a reading area that is both accessible, attractive, and arranged in a way that invites emergent and advanced learners of the immersion program’s target language.

The reading area should take into consideration the various reading styles of each individual. Some like to read lying on a couch, nestling in a bean bag chair, or sitting at a table. The materials can and should reinforce reading and writing. Those materials can include but are not limited to books, magazines, newspapers, magic doodle slates, paper, blackboards, erasable boards,  writing supplies,  envelopes, crayons, journals, and even post it notes. The materials should be attractively arranged to encourage readers and writers to frequently visit. Pushing everything into a jumbled pile will frustrate and discourage visitors from using materials.

Even if the parents have little or no literacy in Chinese, children of all ages needs to see parents and family members engage in literacy in any language because the home environment should emphasize that reading and writing are important activities in any language. It is very important to children and teens to see others use reading for a variety of purposes outside of schoolwork, from entertainment to maintaining a job or career.

Oral language and music can form strong foundations for reading and writing. Parents, grandparents, and family members can and should orally share stories, read aloud printed stories and letters, and share family histories as well as expose children to oral and auditory experiences such as rhymes and familiar children’s songs. Audio and visual recordings related to beginning reading and writing also have their place in the home. Audio recordings of rhymes and children’s stories in Chinese are available as DVDs and more recently, on the Internet. Two examples are given below to show how to effectively select and use audio recordings to reinforce literacy in Chinese.

Example One. This is a recording of “Go to Bed Soon” 《快点睡觉吧》 from the Chinese with Meggie program in Austin, Texas. The oral and auditory features of this story are well-chosen to enhance literacy in Chinese. Repetition of measure words, numbers, and key verbs and phrases assist in the internalization of the oral language and eventually the written language as well. Note how the narrator slows down and quickens the oral presentation at key points in order to effectively heighten emotions and expectations.

Example Two. This is a recording of Our Family’s Long Bench 《我們家的長板凳》   which was mentioned in the blog of the Doss Elementary Chinese Immersion Program of Austin, Texas. This story and recording demonstrates outstanding use of onomatopoeia and abundant auditory cues that connect the listener to the content of the printed story. For example, when the bench is being used as a study desk, the cat’s meowing matches the characters representing a cat’s meow, and at the same time the boy is reciting and studying a famous Tang poem which is embedded in the text.


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