How do I find appropriate materials to help my child learn Mandarin?
There are thousands of materials available with new products reaching the market every month. Only 10-15 years ago, the opposite was true. Now you have the benefit and the burden of sifting through more options than you may be able to evaluate. So, where do you begin? I will suggest general guidelines to help you decide which textbooks, readers, music, and videos are worth your time. Like many language learners, I have a variety of products which fall into one of the following categories:
· Use for now
· Save for later
· Sell or give away
As a beginning point, look at your personal goals and those for your child. If you have not set short, medium and long term goals, read the first article in this series, Setting Realistic Goals. Goal setting will determine whether a language learning resource is appropriate at this time, suitable for later study or irrelevant to your learning journey. I recommend a different set of categories to divide your current library and evaluate future purchases:
· Suitable for short term goals
· Suitable for medium term goals
· Suitable for long term goals
Not suitable for my current goals because the product is too easy, I have already used it and would not need it for review, or this product has no relation to my goals.
Evaluating for age and developmental level
Are the textbooks, handouts, CDs, computer programs and homework materials suitable to your goals, your child’s age and developmental level? Is there a mismatch such as a college textbook featuring situations and vocabulary a young child cannot relate to? The opposite is situation is not necessarily a negative – older students can successfully use materials designed for younger children or students, but content designed for preschool children may not be well received by teen students.
For children of any age, look at the product from their perspective.
· Does it feature situations and vocabulary they can relate to?
· Is it relevant to their experience?
· Does it hold their attention and interest?
Evaluating for language level
Often language classes or products are divided into:
· Are the sentence patterns and vocabulary useful and accessible?
· Are the sentence patterns too complex for the student’s learning level or at the appropriate language level?
Is the product accessible outside the classroom?
Evaluate materials in terms of how you will use them outside the classroom. If you want to work with a teacher online or pursue self-study, look for content you can access without the help of a teacher. Does the book, CD, computer program or DVD include pinyin, characters, a glossary or vocabulary list? Is there an introduction, explanation or guide to using the material for students or is it directed toward the teacher? Is the material suitable to your level? If you can figure out the meaning from the pictures or the video, this is a good product. You don’t need a full translation to use a resource, you just need a product that facilitates your use. Select audio/visual material where you comprehend 65-75% or more of the content. If the material is a textbook, does it include audio or video files you can use to hear as well as read? Avoid purchasing materials that are too difficult, instead collect resources that are at your level and just above. Before buying a DVD, watch some of the content and see how much you or your child can understand. If you have a teacher using multi-media, ask if they will provide vocabulary lists and resources you can use at home to help you when watching/listening/using outside of class.