My child’s school is focusing on learning to speak Mandarin, which is great, but should I be worried if they’re not learning to read and write characters?
In China, children start learning to recognize characters in kindergarten at age of 3-4 and start writing them at 6 in primary school. For children learning Chinese as a second language I think it is reasonable to push it one to two years later; I started to teach my daughter to read characters at 5, and write them at 7.
The definition of illiteracy is the inability to read and write. So in my opinion it is essential for children to learn characters if you want them to be fully literate in Mandarin. But ultimately, assess your language goals for your kids, and base your decision on that, be that to delay the reading and writing element or to supplement with a tutor. Whatever you do, it needs to work for your family.
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Kate Zhou is the founder and director of Yifan Mandarin Ltd, a company offering Mandarin and Cantonese training and Chinese culture consultation services. Yifan’s programmes include the popular ‘Mandarin for Munchkins’, ‘Mandarin for Teens’ and ‘Living Chinese’ classes. Born and educated in Mainland China, Kate is a qualified Mandarin teacher who has worked in China and France, moving to Hong Kong in 1998. She and her French husband have two young children and for their family, Hong Kong is home.