I got a few curious emails asking how Chinese Buddy started and how we entered the whole “Chinese for kids” industry in the first place. Well, creating Chinese Buddy really turned out to be a story of necessity rather than an immediate love (though it quickly turned into that!).
After having taught English to kids in Taiwan for 11 years, my wife and I decided to switch gears and teach Mandarin to primary students in New Zealand. While the resources and methodologies for ESL have had a better part of 50 years to mature, I quickly discovered Mandarin resources for kids weren’t quite so developed.
Actually, lots of Mandarin resources for kids turned out to be unsuitable. Many songs teachers use are native-speaker nursery rhymes which generally don’t hold much practical language for non-native speakers. Additionally, the same ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ melody has been rehashed so many times, it’s no wonder kids cringe while learning. Worse yet, a lot of content presupposes a rote-learning style which forces children to sit quietly and “learn.”
After having taught in Taiwan using fun games, songs, stories, etc…I quickly saw there was a massive disconnect between Mandarin learning materials and Western learners.
As a creative jazz musician/classically trained composer, I knew something had to be done. One day spontaneously in class, I composed the below song:
It was a hit! My students came back the next class and they all could do their basic Chinese greetings! Parents even said they sang my song the whole week. While for me it was something simple to do, I turned out to be incredibly helpful to students! So, I began to write more songs and applied the same fun approach I had used in Taiwan.
As a couple months passed, the response from students was overwhelming. Parents commented that their kids loved the classes and I could sense a much higher degree of engagement in learning. To me at least, it seemed native Mandarin speakers and Chinese education companies were dictating to Westerners how they should learn, rather than asking them how they learn.
For anyone who has taught in Taiwan or China will know, there are staggering differences in the methodology used in Mandarin education. While this is a lengthy discussion including Confucius’ influence on Chinese society as well as the ramifications of the 20th Century’s political climate in China and Taiwan, the end result is education in China and Taiwan is much less individualistic than in the West. Teachers focus more on teaching theoretical outcomes rather than allowing students to experiment and come to outcomes themselves.
So, when the above methodology is applied to Westerns, it’s pretty obvious a train wreck is inevitable. Western kids demand something different of their teachers and of the learning process. They want to be involved; they want to be ‘hands on’ in the learning.
So, the cornerstone idea of Chinese Buddy was born!
Over time, Chinese Buddy has expanded from songs, to written stories, to teacher notes with game ideas, hand gesture-based learning and now a new online platform. The idea of Chinese Buddy is to allow children anywhere to learn Mandarin and take away the barrier of uncomfortable and forced teaching methodologies. While good Mandarin resources for kids continues to be limited, my passion is for Chinese Buddy to lead the way and inspire teachers and students to think differently about Mandarin education.
While there is so much that I haven’t had a chance to do yet, I’m genuinely excited about the future of Mandarin education. There’s really been no better time for kids to learn Mandarin than now!