When my American children speak Chinese, they surprisingly sound like natives from China. Since my Mandarin is limited and my kids spend a few hours per week with fluent teachers, I credit their Chinese fluency to large amounts of audio input. Luckily, free Chinese audiobooks are widely available, and robots like Luka Reading Companion have made audiobooks extra kid-friendly. I’ll share 6 ways audiobooks have been transformative in our family’s Chinese learning environment. I hope the tips can help your family, too!
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6 Tips for maximizing learning with Chinese audiobooks
Regularly listening to Chinese audiobooks can improve both speaking and reading skills.
People of any age can learn Chinese from audiobooks, whether you are fluent or have limited proficiency!
1. Make Chinese audiobooks part of the daily routine
If you’re like us and often struggle to find downtime, listening to audiobooks while driving is an efficient way to maximize exposure to the minority language. If your family spends more time walking rather than driving, you can consider playing audiobooks during this time.
As a busy parent learning Chinese with my kids, I feel more productive when I listen to audiobooks during mundane chores, like folding laundry or doing the dishes.
Occasionally, our family listens to Chinese stories during lunch, but breakfast is usually a mad rush, and dinners are sacred family chatting time.
If our kids seem distracted, we turn off the audiobook or Luka Reading Robot. We don’t leave audiobooks on as “background noise” so they can focus on another activity.
Keep in mind that the best time to listen will be different for every person, and it may change as kids grow. We’ve gone through periods where my kids devour audiobooks in the car followed by phases where they want the peace of looking out the window!
2. Listen to Chinese audiobooks without the physical books
For the bulk of the Chinese audiobooks that we have listened to, we never see the physical books. Remember old-fashioned storytelling? In this modern day, there are still so many benefits:
- We can focus on receptive language skills because there is no visual input.
- The images are up to our imagination – kind of like how we adults often read novels before a movie so the video images don’t “spoil” our notions about a narrative! It could be fun for kids to draw or create artwork based on what they hear.
- We save money and reduce our carbon footprint by filtering out stories that don’t seem worth getting the physical book. This is especially true if the illustrations appear unattractive or if we already have similar books on the topic or reading level.
3. Listen to audiobooks while reading the words
For the physical books that we have, audio narration allows us to read books that would be too hard for me! Taking a break to check words in the Chinese dictionary can kill the joy of reading; this is where the Luka Reading Robot saves so much time and energy for non-fluent families!
In order for a child to follow a narration, they need to:
- Understand 1:1 correspondence (each spoken Chinese syllable corresponds with a Chinese character)
- Keep up with the pace of a narrator
- Not be distracted by the illustrations
Because illustrations will naturally attract children, kids need plenty of time to take “picture walks” through each book that they want to learn to read.
The ability to “read” illustrations is an important skill itself; it also provides context to the audio narrative. When kids are satisfied with the visual exploration, they have a better chance of noticing Chinese characters.
If we encounter unfamiliar Chinese characters, we copy them onto Post-It notes and stick them to the page. Usually, I’ll write Hanyu Pinyin and English on the back of the Post-It for reference for myself.
4. Listen to favorite Chinese audiobooks on repeat
You know how kids will beg you to read the same book 100 times? Well, now we can rest our voices and just hit replay!
Repetition is so important for mastering new vocabulary, picking up grammar patterns, and giving us a chance to discover new details that we may have missed before.
For kids who are able to follow along the text, replaying favorite audiobooks also helps with memorizing new Chinese characters.
5. Discuss favorite and not-so-favorite Chinese audiobooks
During and after my children listen to favorite stories, they are often excited to share what certain characters said and did. Even if they didn’t like the story, talking about what was bothersome is also important.
By discussing the plot, we get a chance to use new vocabulary. A passive activity becomes an interactive way to practice Mandarin.
6. Mimic the narrator
Another crucial way to improve Chinese speaking skills is by reading out loud after listening to the narration. My children will try to mimic the narrator’s reading style, which also means that she is imitating native Mandarin tones and pronunciation. If the story is silly, this makes speaking and reading practice all the more fun!
Have you or your kids tried to learn Chinese from audiobooks?
If so, what are your favorites? If not, what challenges have gotten in the way or listening to Chinese audiobooks?
Please feel free to share in the comments or questions below as many other parents share the same concerns!