Teaching Mandarin in Montessori Way

This blog is:

  • An introduction to how our exclusive Mandarin Immersion Program teaches Mandarin in Montessori Way.

  • A teacher's inspiration on how to apply the Montessori teaching method into Mandarin teaching.

  • A parent guide to raising a bilingual child through Montessori Inspired language activities.

The most important factor in teaching Mandarin to your children or students is to make their language development a pleasure, a positive and enjoyable experience. Montessori Method will help you to achieve this goal.

In our Mandarin Immersion Program, we teach the language through '3-period lessons' and using Mandarin as part of the instruction for our Montessori inspired language activities and games. We’ll include one or more key areas of Montessori pedagogy: Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematics, Language, and Culture, in our lessons.

1. Set up the environment

In our classroom, we choose age-appropriate Montessori classroom materials, carefully arrange each complete activity into a tray, and display them on open shelves to attract children. Our teacher will encourage them to choose for themselves.

At home, we encourage you to continue the learning process by using sensory-based materials and everyday objects to set up a Mandarin language learning corner or vocabulary basket. We'll continually update easy print off 'Theme-based Mandarin learning packs' to enrich your Mandarin resource.

2. Presenting an activity

In Montessori teaching, we show children new activities in 'presentations'. We break down into small steps and do a slow presentation, we keep into consideration the size of children's hand and their current fine motor skills (two hands to carry bigger objects), we make sure children can observe clearly through the presentation.

A practical life activity example —— Set up the table. (This is one of the favorite activities)

  • Children will go to this activity, bring the tray from the shelf with both hands, back to the working table.

  • In the early stage, our teacher use language cards and real objects to introducing the items used in this activity: plate 盘 子, spoon 勺 子, fork 叉 子, and cup 杯 子. We'll link the objects with children's experience, 'How do you use a spoon?' 'what do you normally drink from a cup?' We'll choose 3-4 items to start with and add more in later sessions. We sound out Mandarin names for those items through this process.

  • Next, we'll give out a presentation on how to set up the table, we repeat each item in Mandarin after we match with the placemat.

  • “Your turn.” 该你了!We use simple games to reinforce the new words they are learning, and repeat this process in different ways.

  • Children will be shown how to pack up their learning materials for the next student to use. Of course, we'll name the items again while they pack up each object back in the tray.

  • A third period 'what is this?' question won't be asked in the early stages. We continually naming things and observe if the child has mastered or still needs more practice on this activity.

  • In future lessons, we add or modify this activity according to the child's level.

3. Langauge Material

We put together our language materials by theme. Face features, Family members, Colors, Fruits... This makes it easier for children to learn in categorised items.

Real objects around the house like fruits are recommended for language learning. You may notice that lots of images we use in our language card are realistic photos, not only because this might be the first time your child has seen a real-life object in the picture, but also the images are clear, true to life and beauty. The images attract the child and adults alike.  

Bring the cards to life through Montessori Language Objects. Children love to play with little figures, they can touch and feel around the object while hearing the name of the object, which is learning with concrete material. With those little figures, we could build up vocabulary, play matching games, and sound games.

Control Error — Montessori Materials, for example, the three parts language cards are designed to allow self-correction. This allows children to work independently from the beginning until the end of an activity. Our other Language cards are either colour-coded into categories, or colour coordinated for self-correction.

4. Sensitive period

“Sensitive period is coming and going, only present from birth to six years old through infancy development. It is universally recognizable, not because someone else is doing it in the environment ( absorbent mind ).“said Dr. Montessori. Sensitive periods are the best time to learn. But, if you didn’t take advantage of a sensitive period, your child can still keep developing (more efforts/time).

There are four main sensitive periods:

  1. Language ( 0-3 naming, 3-6 specific names for different objects and parts )

  2. Order ( programmed to find an order 2.5--4.5 years old )

  3. Refinement of senses ( use your senses to learn from mouth to fingertip)

  4. Movements ( Children are born to move, tummy time to locomotion... )

1. Language

Learning at this early age depends on the child's sensitive period to languages. If they are suddenly really interested in words, this is an opportunity to share these wonderful materials with them. Create interesting links to the materials, for example, if the child loves animals and you want to teach the names for ‘rabbit’, ‘dog’, ‘ant’ in Mandarin, you can invite the child by saying ‘remember we saw the rabbit at Samantha’s house last week, I want to show you something, this is how we say ‘rabbit’ in Mandarin, tù zi 兔 子 ...'

2. Order

We also taking account the sensitive period of order. Strong sense of order led colour coding, matching language cards, labeling three parts cards, pack up activity, put it back on open-shelf...all self-driven from the little body. If your child enjoys lining things up perfectly, you now understand him better by knowing it's his sensitive period of order.

3. Refinement of senses.

Montessori believed that “Sensorial experiences began at birth. Through his/her senses, the child studies his environment. Through this study, the child then begins to understand his environment. The child, to Montessori, is a “sensorial explorer”.”

In the Olfactory and Gustatory Sense Exercises, the child does work to distinguish one smell from another or one taste from another. He can then take these senses, and apply them to other smells or tastes in his environment.

In our Mandarin Program, we aim to provide language activity that is 'given the knowledge', the sound of a word or a phrase, not only through word of mouth but through his own sensorial experiences. So, he or she can easily associate the name of an object or action in a similar language environment.

*Sensory Chinese Handwriting Material* A Muscular Sense Exercises

It's worth mentioning that Chinese Character Handwriting is distinct from writing any English cursives. Not only the direction and speed of the pencil tip, other techniques include, 'pause for breath in writing 顿笔' ‘raise 提笔‘ and 'press 按笔' ...Stroke motions can vary with the degree of stress or relief of the force used within writing one single stroke.

It may take lots of effort and years of practice for adults to learn the techniques. However, we could use the right materials (showing in the following pictures) to introduce Basic Chinese strokes ( Frequent used Radicals later on) to young Chinese learners. This makes it simple and enjoyable.

4. Movements

During a class, we work on the floor or table, we use TPR (total physical response) to learn verbs and phrases, we play games and sing bilingual nursery rhymes with gestures. We understand children need some movements over a short period. They are more concentrated this way, and even they don't look they are but they still absorbing the language in the environment.

5. Three-period lessons

Always use Three-period lessons to introduce new vocabularies, strokes, sounds, and characters.

Invite the child to choose 3 cards from the same category to learn with you.

First period: Introducing—-‘This is’

If it’s a Stroke Card, you could

introduce the name of the stroke, for example, ‘This is heng 横’, then start tracing the stroke from the red-coloured dot, and then repeat the name of the stroke again when you finish tracing ‘heng’. Now it’s your turn to trace ‘heng’. Repeat for two-three times.

If it’s a Basic Character Cards, we suggest you introduce the order of the strokes by colour coding. 'This is shí this is how we write ten in Mandarin, now watch, ‘ pointing to the red dot first and say hóng sè 红色trace the stroke from the red dot until the finish. Then, pointing to the green dot say 绿色 lǜ sètrace the stroke from the green dot till the end. This is shí . You may repeat 1 more time before starting to say the name of the stokes while tracing.

If it’s a new word in Mandarin that you are teaching, you name the object first and then you connect the pronunciation with the child’s experience or knowledge and repeat the new word through games or activities the child will be engaged with. Please refer to --- A practical life activity example above.

Second Period: ‘Which one is ___?’

When the child is familiar with the new words, we can start the second-period lesson by giving them as many opportunities to hear and associate as possible. ‘Which one is ‘heng’横?Could you please pass me ‘ píngguǒ ’🍎苹果? Could you match the object with the card dà xiàng 🐘大象?” Do lots of second-period lessons, this is the most important period of learning as you are preparing them to succeed in the third period. The more opportunities they have the more likely they will associate strongly.

Please note as more and more lessons carried out, we will ask these questions fully in Mandarin. We only swap languages in instructions when the child could expect what we will do next in the activity.

Third Period: 'What’s this?'

Once the child has had enough second-period lessons, we move on to the third period. In this step, the educator or parent does not give out the name or any clue of the card. “Can you tell me what is this?” If the child made a mistake, you don’t need to say that’s wrong, but simply say the right sound again. If it is clear the child is not getting the lesson, simply change conversation without them noticing or thinking they’ve made a mistake. The materials may come out another time in different combinations.

Please note that we should not always ask children to repeat after us, rhythms, beats, or simply leave a gap for the child to repeat after you are more effective than forcing the repetition.

Sometimes, it is encouraged to carry out the three period lessons in a game setting, the teacher or parent need to have the three period lesson in mind. Never start the third period lesson when the child is not ready for it.

Not to mention, in our small class-size, children are trying to get involved in the same conversation. Having other children in the same age group practicing the 2nd language motivates student's engagement in our activities. At 3 to 6 years old, children have a strong sense of belonging.

So, here it is. Our application on Montessori Mandarin Teaching Method. We love to share and keep updating our program online. We hope we can help other Mandarin Teachers and bilingual parents through this fun language program.


Mandarin Immersion Program

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