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Learning Chinese to adopt a child


winterpromise31

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Hello!

I am so excited to have found a very active Chinese learning forum. :) I've spent so much time with Japanese over the past three years that I've forgotten what it feels like to be a newbie, starting over with another language. My husband and I are in the process of adopting a school age child who speaks Mandarin. She knows a tiny bit of English but our agency told us that it would really help her out if we learned some Mandarin. That way she doesn't feel like such a fish out of water when she moves to the US.

My question is about learning Mandarin with a focus on speaking it with a child. I may end up continuing my Mandarin studies after my daughter learns English or she may decide that she doesn't want to retain her Mandarin skills (in which case I'll return to my Japanese studies). Should I study Mandarin with the same study plan as someone who plans to learn for other reasons? I found an Anki deck that's equivalent to the Japanese Core decks, but the word selection is based on newspaper frequency. I can almost guarantee that our daughter is not reading a newspaper. :) Or would it be better to concentrate my vocabulary around food, home life, and school? In that case, would it be better to create my own flashcards or download a shared deck? Any deck suggestions for what would be most useful?

As far as grammar is concerned, I'm guessing that normal grammar progression is the best course. I bookmarked http://www.zhongwenred.com/index.htm and http://fsi-language-courses.org/Content.php?page=Chinese. Is there a better resource? All our money is going toward adoption costs so I'm trying to keep my studies free for now.

Our best estimate is that the adoption will be finalized sometime next summer/fall. I'm definitely treating this as a crash course in Mandarin but am willing to devote an hour+ per day to attain as much conversational ability as possible before our daughter comes home.

Thanks for all your help!

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First off, congratulations on the adoption. It sounds like everything is going smoothly. I'm sure you and your husband are excited.

Second, I'm sure you've already done this, but be sure you're asking the right questions and doing the proper background check on the adoption agency you're using. Many children in orphanages throughout China have been abducted and sold into child trafficking rings where their origins are fabricated and personal documents forged. These children are sold to new parents for a profit. You can read more about this here.

Lastly, as a Japanese learner, Mandarin should be a bit easier to learn for you than for others. However, have you thought about investing some time in ESL instead? Helping your daughter adjust to English and life in America may be a bit higher on the priority list, and, long-term, help her more.

If you're set on learning a bit of Mandarin, check out the New Practical Chinese Reader. It is by far the best series available for beginners.

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Or would it be better to concentrate my vocabulary around food, home life, and school? In that case, would it be better to create my own flashcards or download a shared deck?

Yes, I think that's a good approach. And yes, I'd make your own flashcards. The process itself helps in understanding and learning the material.

Would include some other basics that are often part of games one plays with children, such as colors, numbers, and animals. Maybe find two or three Chinese children's books on line and "mine" them for additional vocabulary.

I don't have young children, but have helped a couple with conversational English. I'm sure some other forum members who teach elementary school will soon see your post and help you more.

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However, have you thought about investing some time in ESL instead?

I wouldn't bother with this. She'll be soaking up English 24/7, and as someone who's learned a foreign language already you'll be familiar with the process. I would throw yourself into the Mandarin. It's her mother tongue, and you'll be her mother. Don't even think about giving it up when she learns sufficient English. If you were marrying a Chinese speaker with no English and bringing them to your home country, wouldn't you want to keep learning their native language?

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kdavid - We've definitely done our due diligence on the adoption. :) Thanks for the heads up about ESL; it is definitely something we'll be looking into at some point.

abcdefg - Thanks for the idea about the games! I hadn't thought of that and will definitely include those types of words in my vocab deck. I flipped through some of the children's books at my library and was completely overwhelmed, mostly because I couldn't tell where one word starts and one word ends. When I started learning Japanese, I was able to read children's books in kana; I don't have that option with Mandarin.

li3wei1 – Thanks for the encouragement of throwing myself into the Mandarin! I’m excited about learning a new language, just a bit overwhelmed about the best course of action. I guess I’ll just jump right in!

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Congratulations!

I'm no expert in adoption, but if you're looking to help her adjust I think using Mandarin at home is an amazing idea. I'd consider putting a heavy focus on things related to school and things around the home. As silly as it may seem to focus really heavily on learning furniture and chores, I think that since these are things she'll be dealing with most at home, learning them first could be a good course of action to quickly create a lower-stress space for her around the house.

If it were me at least, I think I'd appreciate being told to clean my room in my mother tongue after a long day of immersion :lol:

I'd suggest memrise for picking these things up. Furniture/home, family/school/free time

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Congratulations on your adoption!

I think if you stick to the HSK vocabulary, which is graded by levels, and if you, as a plus, throw in a few children's books, you will automatically learn useful everyday communication.

Newspaper vocabulary might be a waste of time for the next 10+ years, I'm afraid :wink: I can't read Chinese newspapers at all, while I can understand and talk so-so in daily situations. I have the impression, written Chinese in newspapers is just a whole different league than the spoken - or casual - language.

And personally, I would stay away from the regular text books, no matter how reknowned, because they are centered around student's life and require you to learn a lot of university vocabulary (talking to teachers, names of faculties, tests...) and "adult" stuff long before they even teach you words for colours, animals, etc.

There are a lot of cute teaching materials for children, though, which might be good for Moms too, I'd imagine.

They cost a bit, of course, but I find most Chinese books for (overseas) Chinese aren't that expensive, or at least, not as expensive as text books for foreign university students.

Anyway, I think in one year's time, and with about an hour of time daily, that will be a breeze and you will be very proficient!

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Hi! Someone told me about this thread. I have a daughter adopted from China, but she was only two at the time. I've gone through so many resources looking for stuff to help communicate with kids. Anyway, when I have time I'll come back and share my thoughts. Meanwhile, how old is your daughter?

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Kelby - Thank you!! I have used Anki for so long that I didn't think about finding another SRS to use. I see some awesome decks on that site and can't wait to get started. :)

Ruben - Ok, I'll check out the HSK vocabulary. I know I saw a deck for that on memrise. ;) I like the idea of using children's materials. They are often more fun anyways!

Trisha - How cool that you've adopted from China! How old is your daughter now? I would love to hear your thoughts about communication resources. Our daughter is 10 now, will be 11 before she comes home.

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Thank you!! I have used Anki for so long that I didn't think about finding another SRS to use.

That being the case, for learning Chinese you might also want to check out Pleco, which is combination dictionary, flashcard program (with SRS), and more aimed specifically at Chinese learners. If you do a search of the forums, there are several threads discussing it.

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Thanks for all of the advice so far!

I've gone through all of the pinyin cards in my Anki deck and feel I have a pretty good grasp on them. There are only a couple that really trip me up and I'm sure the SRS will take care of that issue.

So now I'm going to learn the tone change rules and start adding in vocabulary. Since I'm learning Mandarin to communicate with a child, I'm concentrating on mostly spoken language. I visited the library and flipped through a few children's books and they are all in hanzi. Is it a good idea to start learning hanzi as well? I'm a bit overwhelmed by all the aspects of learning vocab - pronunciation, tones, and meaning. Since I have a decent grasp on kanji, I can puzzle out the meaning of some words but that won't help if I try to read her a bedtime story. ;)

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It's not too difficult to go from kanji to hanzi, I think. The forms aren't too foreign, you can usually pick up what the variant characters are (with the exception of radical ones like 卫 and 丰*), and the readings have a pretty good correlation to each other. For instance, "ji" (M) and "ki" (J) go together a lot (機, 幾), "xin" and "shin" are pretty common (心, 信), some are the same for the most part, (弎/三, 散, 傘), etc. The meanings are the same in a lot of places, although there are some false friends that are pretty far apart in meaning, and the ones that you don't know yet usually are common enough that you don't need to study them too much.

*Unless you see them in context, like 卫生局 and 丰富, then they are a bit easier to guess.

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She may be a child now, but at 10, she's moving quickly into teenagerhood. Mine's 11, and she's more of a young lady than a child. Maybe it's different if she's Chinese and adopted, but at some point in the not too distant future, you'll be dealing with an adolescent. This is the point where Western children living with their biological parents generally stop communicating with them, or communication is reduced to grunts and shouting, with an occasional slammed door. Starting from scratch to form a parent-child relationship at this stage is going to be a challenge.

I think anything you can do to enhance communication with this girl is good. Rather than asking 'do I have to learn this?', say 'What a perfect opportunity to learn this!'. Here are some more reasons for you to learn this language:

1) she already knows it, and without any opportunities to use it, she will at least partially lose it

2) you will want to monitor what she's reading, doing on the computer, etc.

3) at some point, she will quite possibly want to travel to China, and you may want to go with her

4) how useful would it be to have a language that a girl and her mother can talk to each other in, in public, without anyone else understanding? it may be a lot of "go away Mom, you're embarrassing me", but still, way cool, eh?

5) All the other reasons other people have to learn Chinese. Like the quarter of the world's population you'll be able to communicate with. You'll have a live-in teacher. Take advantage.

You will undoubtedly be communicating primarily in English, and she will be learning English extremely quickly, no matter how much you try to speak Chinese in the home. Don't worry about her English (well, keep an eye on it, and intervene if necessary, but I suspect there won't be any problems). But at least show her that you're making a serious attempt to accommodate her, to make her more comfortable, and to value her culture.

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I'd strongly recommend finding a teacher, if you don't have one yet. Especially when you're just getting started with a language as completely foreign as Mandarin, it's very easy to learn things wrongly, especially tones and pronunciation, which might have the result that your daughter won't understand a thing you say. A teacher can also explain the nuances and different usage of words that have the same translation in English.

Good luck!

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I like the idea of using children's materials. They are often more fun anyways!

Oops... I just only now noticed your daughter is 10. I don't know about teenagers these days, but when I was 10, I abandoned my pop music and started listening to punk rock, and read "grown up" women's magazines (I'm a woman), and would have been very offended if someone saw me as a child :D

Oh, I wouldn't worry too much about the theory, like tone changes and that. The concept is actually quite "user-friendly" and it's more about getting the hang of it, rather than learning. You will grasp it naturally, when you hear audio material. I think you will find Chinese is a very pleasant language to learn. It does seem overwhelming first, but then things fall into place, and it gets easier (and very adorable, including the Hanzi) the more you know :)

PS - I second what Lu said, it's good to have a teacher. Pronounciation is more difficult than Japanese, and the words are so short. When you pronounce them oddly, people just won't understand. I got a lot of tones wrong when I started, and it was such a hassle to re-learn it right.

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Thanks for the additional input! I think I will make an effort to learn the hanzi in addition to the pinyin for vocabulary.

Adoption throws an interesting twist into it. For anyone who's interested, here's what is "typical" in adopting internationally.

1 - Children are often emotionally younger than their biological age, so we bring home a 10 year old that probably will act younger. Hopefully that means we have a couple years to establish a relationship before we hit those teen years.

2 - Children who are adopted usually lose their first language even if a parent learns it at home.

a. A child comes home fluent in Chinese.

b. They start learning English through immersion and specific teaching.

c. They start losing their Chinese because they don't speak it hours each day.

d. For awhile, they are fluent in NO language because English isn't strong enough yet and they lose their Chinese.

e. They become fluent in conversational English, and years later, academic English.

More than likely, no matter what I do to prevent it, my daughter will lose her ability to speak Chinese and will have to relearn it as an adult. If she's extremely determined to hold on to her language skills, we can enroll her in Mandarin/English immersion schools and that will help. But if she doesn't care or rejects her home country, she will lose the language. It's just a matter of time.

That said, we have the opportunity now to communicate with her. We have already sent her a letter and will hopefully be able to send more until we travel. We're also hoping for the opportunity to Skype with her (isn't modern technology wonderful?). I still haven't decided if I want to pursue Chinese fluency if my daughter decides she wants to be an American and only speak English. I've invested three years in Japanese and don't want to lose what I've already learned. That's my dilemma: study enough over the next year to have basic conversations with my daughter over Skype and to help her when she comes home. Depending on her interest in retaining her culture, continue learning Chinese indefinitely and continue with or drop Japanese. I will be encouraging my daughter to maintain her language and culture but there is no way for me to force her to.

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Are the 'what usually happens' based on much younger adoptions? I can't imagine someone who has spoken nothing but Chinese for 10 years losing it. I studied it for about six years as an adult, then hardly used it at all for about 20, and it wasn't hard to get it all back (most of it, anyway). For a kid adopted before five, certainly, but ten?

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Even for a child adopted at 10. :( I've been reading a TON of materials on older child adoption (ages 8-14) and that's predominantly what happens. There are a few different reasons for it but parents can generally expect their child to lose their first language.

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