Using the power of story to teach Chinese

Stories are one of the most powerful methods to teach our children ideas and language. There is a reason why all religions have stories at the center of them. Whether they are ancient creation myths to explain how the world happened or fables to teach morality lessons, stories are engaging, easy to remember, and an effective way to convey a message.

We can harness this same power in our efforts to teach our children Chinese.

 Use story to teach vocabulary  

Instead of endlessly drilling vocabulary or making our kids do worksheets, there are many ways we can use stories to do the same job. After all, which do you think your children will absorb with less resistance? Homework and flashcards, or listening to a book or watching a movie? 

Through fairy tales, picture books, and even movies - our children learn the names of colors, numbers, shapes, body parts, and anything else! There are even stories of how characters are formed and written to help our kids remember the shape of Chinese characters. 

The reason why Sagebooks curriculum is so effective at teaching new characters is because not only do the lessons build on one another, but there are several connecting narrative arcs. There are different families, pets, and side stories to teach specific vocabulary. 

The Treasure Box stories are longer and help supplement each set with additional practice and specialized vocabulary. The text and the illustrations work together to make a compelling narrative arc for our children to passively learn words as their brains are actively listening, engaging, and absorbing.

 Use stories to teach observation skills 

In addition to just basic vocabulary, we can help our children with their observational skills and comprehension by pointing out the words used in the descriptions of the environment, setting, characterization, and mood. If we want to link it our children’s daily lives, we can also reinforce the words they’re learning as we encounter them in life.

The more we can show our children that these terms and words are related and integral to their lives, the more our children can form links and connections in their brains. All these “sticky” moments will improve the chances of our kids remembering these new words and increase their Chinese comprehension.

 Use both translated and native author works 

There are so many excellent books for children nowadays. We can choose from both translated books and books written by native Chinese authors. The reason we should do both types - and perhaps emphasize native authors - is because the books serve different purposes.

Translated works are a great way to help your child be culturally relevant to their peers in Anglophone societies. Our kids will be able to keep up with the characters and stories their friends love (eg: Harry Potter, Magic Treehouse, Roald Dahl) but still be in Chinese. It’s a nice blend of the culturally familiar and Chinese. However, we run into the potential problem of poor translations or at the very least, translations that are accurate but perhaps don’t capture the spirit and beauty of the Chinese language.

Books by native authors are important because they use Chinese with a native syntax that translated works can’t exactly capture. The vocabulary is often harder, different, and sometimes foreign.

Both kinds are important to build up our children’s Chinese comprehension and make their available vocabulary more robust.

 Go beyond books 

Movies, TV shows, music, comic books, audio books, etc. can also tell stories.

When we think of stories, we often only consider the written medium. However, there are so many ways to tell stories. We can take advantage of technology and the ever-shrinking world to access all different kinds of media in Chinese. 

Movies, shows, and even music also tell stories and can capture the kids who don’t necessarily have the literacy to appreciate Chinese books. These are great for building up Chinese comprehension while being visually and auditorily engaging. 

Through all these different mediums, we can use the art and power of storytelling to help ease our kids into Chinese material and expose them to Chinese in ways that are not as intimidating as talking to people in Chinese or doing Chinese homework.