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Ni Hao

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2008 By Ni Hao Books

"Ni Hao!" Hello! That may be the only Mandarin Chinese you know. It is probably one of the most familiar phrases in Chinese. Even the carnival hawkers at our local county fair know to yell it out at me after they recognize I'm Chinese (sometimes after yelling "Konnichiwa" unsuccessfully, though). It was probably almost all the Mandarin Chinese I knew for a long time, despite being Chinese myself. (I grew up "speaking" Cantonese, if you can call the sounds coming out of my mouth that, but that's a different topic). So here I am today with a 3 year old spouting out Mandarin like there's no tomorrow, and I'm thinking I better pick up on it, or he'll be talking to his mom about me, probably making fun of me, and I won't even know it! Maybe that's what my wife intended - her secret plan to keep control when boys outnumber girls 2 to 1 (and soon to be 3 to1). In any case, it's what we decided long ago: I would speak to him in English, and my wife would speak to him in Mandarin Chinese. It was a tip we learned from another parent to help him learn both languages and keep them separate, and for the most part it's worked out great, except that I don't really understand him 50% of the time. Of course, our son will dutifully translate what he just said to me if I ask him to. And when we went to China this past year, he was somewhat useful as my personal translator (although not surprisingly, not as useful as I hoped). So I continue to study his Chinese flash cards, so I can learn more Chinese words and try to keep up with him. Unfortunately, my brain is over 10 times older than his (gulp!) and doesn't absorb at quite the same rate. Luckily, I did take a year of Mandarin Chinese in college, but that was woefully inadequate. A young brain can absorb multiple languages in an amazing fashion, and I'm constantly in awe at how easily my son can pick up both Chinese and English so easily and keep them separate. When meeting new people, he quickly ascertains whether they speak Chinese or English, and switch to the correct language channel seamlessly. If I tell him, in English, to tell his mom something, he'll translate the message instantly and tell her in Chinese.

My wife has taught our son well, but one problem she always faced was that when it came to story time, most of the books and other materials she could find was in English. There were some sources of materials, but not too much impressed her. She wanted to read Chinese stories to him, and share the same poems and songs that she grew up with. So she was inspired to start Ni Hao Books to provide a source of Chinese books, particularly story books, picture books, DVD's, flash cards, and other materials that she found useful in not only teaching our child Chinese, but also some Chinese culture and history as well.

Chinese is used by at least 1 in 4 people on this planet, and with China growing as an economic powerhouse, it's becoming more useful to be able to speak some Chinese, and more than just "Ni Hao!". My wife even taught a Chinese immersion class in a local preschool! And more and more schools at all levels are starting to offer Chinese classes. I better get back to studying those flashcards, so I can get more right than our son the next time his mom quizzes us. In the mean time, take a look around the store, leave a comment, and enjoy! "Xie Xie!" "Thanks" for visiting and taking the time to read my meandering thoughts.

Check back here for tips and other articles about our own experiences teaching a child Chinese, as well as games and other activities you can try to help your child learn Chinese as well.

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