Discover more from Cantonese + Mandarin
A carefully curated list of all the learning materials we have used to assist our children - and ourselves - in Mandarin language learning.
We are constantly adding to the list and welcome recommendations from near and far, but we don't take compensation for any resources listed. If it sticks, it gets listed along with a brief review. Any and all opinions stated on this site are ours alone.
BIRTH - 4 YEARS OLD
CHALK ACADEMY: Betty, M.D. - a non-fluent pediatrician - and her Chinese-Korean-American children provide loads of Mandarin resources and activities for learning Mandarin together. Though Mandarin pronunciation is expectedly not always on point, the Montessori-based learning methods are well-researched, organized, and thought-provoking. I must warn: I easily spent hours on her site just browsing all her language and parenting tips. So if you set out to look for just Chinese language resources, be prepared to get sucked in by other learning/parenting tips and tricks, as well as their story.
MO WILLEMS'S ELEPHANT & PIGGIE BOOKS IN MANDARIN: A hilarious, yet simple, way to read Mandarin. The short phrases and silly animation make these books easy page-turners, which keeps our toddler's attention while giggling/laughing about both illustration and text. The only downside to the Chinese translated version is that it does not come with English or Pinyin to accompany the text, so for those wanting a comparison, you might want to get the English version as well and immerse fully in Mo's universe.
ROCK N LEARN CHINESE: This YouTube channel is like CoCoMelon with Mandarin translations (and offers other languages as well). As long as screen time can be controlled, this is a nice way to get toddlers engaged through music and play. We put this on for our 2-year-old (usually joined by baby) and - if the video captivates- we may document and share on our YuTube channel. We also appreciate the diverse ethnicities of the children featured. Too bad there aren't many of them.
5 - 12 YEARS OLD
MEIKEY MUSIC: Perhaps it’s because they can easily follow the dance moves from a real-life person, perhaps it’s the music working in conjunction w/ muscle memory…we’re honestly not sure why, but the song and the lyrics stick! Both our 5 and 3-year-olds requested many of the songs listed “听我说谢谢你,” “加油鸭!” “小花朵,” “爸爸妈妈谢谢你,” “孩子的天空” (over some of the English ones on YouTube), and it’s also been used by our kindergarten teachers in Taipei during the 6-months we were there.
LEARN CHINESE THROUGH STORIES: This podcast is a wonderful reading and listening comprehension tool for Mandarin learners from age 5 to adulthood. The audio is often paired with simplified Chinese characters and Pinyin, and spoken in both female and male voices. The proficiency levels are divided between Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced learners. I'd suggest starting at the Novice-Mid, rather than Novice-Low, because content quality dramatically improves from there.
悟空中文: This comprehensive learning platform is designed to mimic a classroom setting. It boasts a 2% admissions rate for Chinese language teachers, promising well-trained and highly experienced Chinese language teachers from around the world. This portal was referred to me by a former Princeton University Chinese lecturer, who also had a biracial child in elementary school. Most of its services are accessible via WeChat, so its "classrooms" and 1-on-1 tutoring sessions are also mobile-friendly. However, if the parents are not native speakers, or don't regularly read Chinese to begin with, this platform might be rather difficult to navigate.
十万个为什么（幼儿美绘版）ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND QUESTIONS WHY: This 8-volume set of books is written in Chinese w/ pinyin, and has topics that suit all kinds of curious minds. It became a common bedtime storybook because it’s easy to jump around to our 5-year-old’s whimsey and bookmark for future reading opportunities. Furthermore, the questions asked/topics chosen bode for quality follow-up conversations. The reading-aloud aspect also provides parents with the opportunity to learn more Chinese characters along the way.
TEENAGE YEARS (13 - 19)
BRAINSCAPE MANDARIN FLASH CARDS: These FREE digital flashcards are accessible via mobile app for easy quizzing & listening on the go. If you don't want to download anything, simply scroll down to the lessons directly. It's very user-friendly and able to keep a teenager's attention span for a fair amount of time, based upon their interest in learning the language. True to its claim, this is a very time-efficient way to learn Chinese, due to their "Confidence-Based Repetition" system. Their Cantonese deck, by comparison, is not as developed and organized (no mobile app), but gets the job done.
COLLEGE YEARS (19-25+)
CHINESE LANGUAGE TEXTBOOKS FROM PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS: These will cover most of your Chinese language learning needs throughout college and beyond. I know because I've helped produce them, and know the intricate levels of thought and consideration put into textbook development. Even though these books are meant for college students, high schools have also adopted some of the entry level textbooks for classroom use as well. Princeton in Beijing (PiB) also uses these textbooks every summer for its full-immersion program as a way to collect edits and updates in order to keep theses books relevant and effective.
CHINA'S DEVELOPMENT & DILEMMAS: I've also contributed to the editing of this book and can confirm the level of detail and eloquence put into the content. Contents do not shy away from topics that are deemed "sensitive" in China, and passages are selected based on their ability to provoke discussion and further reflection. Definitely catered to more advanced level readers.
MISC. TOOLS & ALL AGE GROUPS
SAPORE DI CINA: This compilation, created by predominantly Italian expats living in China, is a very comprehensive listing of FREE resources posted in January of 2020. They have sifted through all the digital tools out there to find what they believe to be the best ones available so far. There's a lot to sift through and we will refer to this site from time to time as our children grow. Most resources are geared towards the older crowds, ranging from zero beginners to advanced. Their site also provides a variety of other services for travelers to China.
WORLD OF CHINESE: This Chinese publication is geared towards more sophisticated Chinese language learners. They mainly compile Mandarin language learning materials for expats living in China, so they can speak with a more local flair. The articles are very informative and current, and a great way to gauge the evolution of Mandarin Chinese in the Mainland from the ground. Full disclosure: I've met the staff while working in Beijing, and they have sponsored some of PiB's Chinese language competitions by handing out their magazines for free at the event.