Posted by: angiefm | January 31, 2009

How We Teach Chinese


I’ll admit it.  I really did NOT want to write this post.  I have some SERIOUS phobia when it comes to the Chinese Language.  Put it down to the TERRIBLE Chinese teachers I had in school (I would name them and publicly shame them if only I could remember their names!  Ha ha.  I seem to have amnesia about anything Chinese).

But since a number of people have asked the question, and since the whole point of this blog is to SHARE what we do and not to PREACH about what the best methods are for teaching, here goes!

First up (as always), some philosophical “stuff”.


Tee Chiou (Principal of The Domus Academy, aka Daddy), LOVES the Chinese language/culture/literature etc.  He grew up in a Chinese speaking home and STILL reads Chinese books and communicates with his own siblings in Mandarin, which I think is totally cool.  I used to tell him that when I went to his parents’ home, it was like entering Channel 8!  😀

For that reason, he never wanted his children to be put off when it came to learning Mandarin.  He wanted them to love it like he does and to continue reading and speaking it long after they stopped learning it in a formal school setting, which is something you don’t see these days. 

In fact, this was one of our motivations for homeschooling, because Alethea had a real phobia for the language after attending 2 years of preschool, and we didn’t want to have to push her to learn it just to be prepared in time for entry into Primary School.

Our focus in the early years is speaking and reading.  In fact, Alethea only started doing Chinese copywork in some serious way THIS YEAR and she is already in Primary 3!  But our Chinese teacher says she reads at a Primary 4+ standard.  Timothy, now in Primary 1 doesn’t do any writing at all, but his reading is coming up very well.


As with everything else, Charlotte Mason’s philosophy guides us.  For learning languages, this in a nutshell means reading, copywork and narrations.

Chinese Books

As with English books, we have invested heavily in buying good Chinese books as well.  Our all-time favourite bookshop is Maha Yuyi on the 3rd floor of Bras Basah Complex.  In addition to “Chinese Chinese” books, they carry a wide variety of translated work from originally Japanese, English, German, etc picture books. 


We go every 6 months (in June we visit them at the World Book Fair and in December at their shop in BBC) to stock up on new titles, which Tee Chiou will arrange in the rough order of difficulty/complexity of plot on our shelves so that when Liu Lao Shi (more about her below) comes in, she knows which book to work on with the child next.

If you scroll to the bottom, you will find a list of the books our children have read over the last 9 months to a year.


This year, Alethea is doing her copywork out of the local textbooks.  We pick sentences which contain the words she is supposed to learn to both recognise and write (you know that list at the end of each lesson in the textbook).

I know families with greater proficiency with the language who use things like Bible verses in Chinese, Chinese poetry, sayings from famous people, Chinese proverbs and their meanings, and extracts from Chinese literature for copywork.  One day we’ll get there. 🙂

The end product of our copywork efforts is for Alethea to be able to do ting xie (听写)with Teacher Daddy on Saturdays.  For these, I prepare something like the following for her to fill in.  The words in red are the words she is supposed to learn to recognise and the blanks are to be filled with words she has learned to write during the week.  We are enjoying this “writing in context” type of ting xie.


Liu Lao Shi

A Chinese lady, the aforementioned Liu Lao Shi, comes in once a week on Mondays and spends an hour each with Alethea and Timothy.  We do not call her a tutor because tutoring is not in her job description.  She converses with them, helps them master the reading of one picture book at a time, discusses it, gets them to narrate from it, and draws lessons on vocabulary, sentence structuring, etc from it.  She is the only Chinese teacher I spoke to when looking for assistance, who actually understood what we wanted to achieve and how to do it Charlotte Mason style.

She does not do any of the following with them: writing, textbook, workbook, test papers, assessment books … you get the general idea.

She is the only teacher I have ever met who says PSLE Chinese really isn’t difficult. “其实不难” were her exact words, but says that if a child stays positive about the language, he/she will do well.  She tutors many children who have not just lost interest in the language but downright loathe learning it.  She believes it is their attitude that will hinder them, and we couldn’t agree more!  WOW!  If only all Chinese teachers thought that way!

Daily Work

Every day we spend an hour in the morning on Chinese. 

For Alethea – this includes half an hour for copywork which Teacher Daddy prepares in advance for her and which she does largely on her own.  She looks up the stroke order (笔画) using iFlashbook, then writes the words/sentences until she knows them well.  She has the latitude to decide how many times to write each because she knows she is responsible for getting it all correct when she works with Daddy on it on Saturdays.  The other half an hour she spends on alternate days either reading/learning from iFlashbook, or reading/perfecting the Chinese book assigned by Liu Lao Shi.


For Timothy – since we are not focusing on writing yet, he reads his assigned Chinese book for half an hour and works on iFlashbook for the other half.  When he is on the computer Nathalie sits with him and he is supposed to teach her.  🙂  They LOVE this half hour of the day!

For Nathalie – she sits with Tim and takes in whatever she can from the Primary 1 textbooks using iFlashbook In addition, she plays with some Montessori 3-part cards I made when I had more time/energy.  🙂 


In the past, we used the My First Chinese Words books published by Better Chinese with Alethea and Timothy, and also subscribed to their online lessons.  To check it out, go to  We will be reviving this again for Nathalie in a month or so, when “school” has settled into a nice rhythm.  Nathalie is the only child who has no issues with learning the language and we attribute it to our more “enlightened” approach to teaching it.


Other Stuff – In between, when attention is waning, we review new words using the Character Cards which you can get from Popular Bookshop.  These are sadly only available for the Primary 1 and 2 syllabus, but great to play games with!

Saturdays with Daddy

Every Saturday, the children spend the whole morning (2 to 3 hours) with Daddy in a Chinese Immersion Programme *grin*.  While one works with him on textbooks, writing, reading of Lao Shi’s assigned book, the other 2 will watch various Chinese videos (which we have acquired over time), the WinktoLearn DVDs, and the Sing to Learn DVD.


These are the books our children have mastered reading on their own over the last 9 months to a year.  If my memory serves me well, they were all bought from Maha Yuyi.  Don’t try buying online though.  Their website isn’t updated and they have loads more in-store.

Alethea’s List:

















Timothy’s List:











  1. I went to a Malay school in Malaysia and being the only Chinese, the school did not want to waste resources bringing in a teacher. My parents thought it would be important for me to learn Mandarin when I was in P6 so they enrolled me with a tutor. She was an old school style teacher, really strict and her lessons were so boring. After 6 months we (my brother and I) quit because we kept complaining to our parents about her.

    As I read your blog, which I absolutely enjoy by the way, you mentioned that your teachers were responsible for your dislike of Mandarin and I realised that I don’t care very much for the language because of my negative perceptions from the past too. At least you have a phobia. I am so indifferent towards the language that I see no reason to encourage my children to learn it. However, in the back of my mind, there is a nagging feeling that I should take advantage of where we are living in order for my children to pick up a second language. I will definitely have a look at the links you mentioned – thanks for your generous sharing once again.

  2. […] See our earlier post HERE. […]

  3. Angie… how much does iFlashbook differ from the Chinese textbook available here?

    Owen is using this site at the moment.

    • Hi Daphne,

      The link you posted has some limitations unless you have a password. Also iFlashbook allows you to look up the pronunciation and bi hua of each and every word and not just the ones in focus for that lesson, which is what the edumall site does. There is also some fancy animation which my kids enjoy. It is also supposed to be able to check your reading against the text, but we haven’t found this accurate at all, so don’t buy because of it. It looks EXACTLY like the textbook, so reads every page of it, including all the instructions of the activity pages which follow the lesson proper. We feel it’s been worth every cent of the 21 bucks we paid for it! 🙂


  4. ta! was just wondering, since it’s not evident from the iflashbook site. 21 dollars is very little, all things considered!

  5. I’m new here landed up searching blogs on resources on Learning Guitar. cool blog you have here, keep it up. and its nice to be here. i’ll be back some time later for more updates.Thanks for sharing with us….

  6. […] Other sharing from Angie  Ng , Diana, Pauline and Angie Magnim  […]

  7. Hi! Do you need internet explorer to do iflashbook?

  8. Can I use iflashbook on a Mac or does it have to be PC computer?

    • Erm … I honestly do not know. We have only used it on a PC. Have you emailed them to ask?

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