Teaching Mandarin in a small corner of Canada

Hsinhua Wu: The 2nd Post.

         The reasons we call our son « Coco » is not because it is a term of endearment used by francophones for babies, it is because of his mixed race identity; he is white and yellow. He doesn’t need to choose a side. Although some research studies show that racial identity is influenced by a number of factors, I believe language is the central component in the development of self-identity. This is why I have spoken Mandarin at home since my son was born.

         It is undeniably challenging to teach a heritage language alone in a foreign country. Challenge accepted. I switched my role from mother to teacher, and home became a classroom. My children’s environment is set up to promote the learning of Mandarin and Chinese culture. On this journey of formation of their personal and cultural identity, my children focus on learning to communicate with my family and other Taiwanese people, and I now realize that it is also the goal of most foreign language classes, to help students use the target language in any settings appropriately. Therefore, in this post, I am going to share with you some of the methods I use at home, which I could also use in class to develop students’ sociolinguistic competence which refers to the ability to use language linguistically and socially appropriately.

         First of all, I want to talk about the choice of Mandarin. There is no standard Mandarin. The differences between Taiwanese Mandarin and Chinese Mandarin are similar to French French (French in France) and Canadian (Quebec) French; the biggest differences are the spelling and the writing systems, but we can understand each other well. Moreover, I taught Traditional Chinese characters with Bopomofo when I was in Taiwan; in Montreal, I taught both Traditional and Simplified Chinese with Pinyin. When it comes to teaching my children who live in Canada, I am open to both Mandarin(s). Chinese Mandarin is widely used due to its big population and rapid growing economy, so it is beneficial to have a good knowledge of it. However, my family has a strong preference for Taiwanese Mandarin, they are concerned about our children’s Mandarin learning specifically will have a French accent or put English or French in their sentences, I personally think, this is not a big obstacle to communication.

         Moreover, the story books and activity books were purchased from Taiwan online bookstores, my children also participate in activates held by Taiwanese Playgroup in Montreal and the Taiwanese Canadian Association de Grand Montreal so they can have actual interactions with Taiwanese people in order to “talk like them”. Indeed, the textbook mentions that different groups of people that we interact with influence our linguistic choices (Van Herk, 2012). In addition, at home we celebrate all the Chinese holidays, and L2 teachers are encouraged to incorporate more cultural activities in a classroom. One way I suggest for integrating culture and language that prepares the learners to communicate and collaborate effectively is to celebrate these holidays with those who speak the language in question. Therefore, if I teach again in Quebec, I will arrange more opportunities for my students to practice their speaking with Mandarin speakers. These are win-win activities that my students practice speaking while immigrant Mandarin speakers have also the opportunity to integrate into society.

         Lastly, teachers nowadays incorporate various forms of technology to support their teaching and engage students in the learning process. Mandarin movies and TV shows are accessible online and are useful and effective supplements to foreign language learning, in which students interact with authentic data and build their own understanding of a foreign culture’s products, practices, and perspectives. However, media is flooded with information about the negative effects on children who use technology, due to the restriction on the use of technology at home, « Face time » and « Facebook live » are the most recommended software. They allow my children to video talk with my family and travel with them as if they are with them. The e-social tool is definitely a good teaching tool for teachers to use in their foreign language classrooms as it can give students a chance to build up cross-cultural friendships, while partly experiencing being in a target language speaking country.

         Students learn in different ways, and cultures do have distinctive learning style patterns. I would like to learn from you about any teaching strategies you use to improve your students’ sociolinguist competence.



Van Herk, Gerard (2012). What is sociolinguistics? Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell



4 thoughts on “Teaching Mandarin in a small corner of Canada”

  1. Ethan: Hi Hsinhua. First of all, I really admire your role as both a teacher and mother. Honestly, I think my wife and I will experience what you mentioned in the near future. People always tell us that we should speak Chinese to our son at home, or he will not be able to communicate freely in his heritage language. But we aren’t so sure about it. We both want him to speak English fast in order to quickly adapt to the new environment and society. I would like to hear about your thought on that.


    1. Hi Ethan,
      You will have to do what you feel is right, but you should not worry too much about your son’s English. He will quickly learn that it is a language that is commonly used outside the home and will learn without you having to work too much at it. Many families in your situation put a lot of their language maintenance efforts into supporting the minority language (in your case, Chinese). You may be interested in reading some of the literature on Family Language Policy (FLP), which can give you some insights on how other parents’ have supported heritage languages in the home, while not jeopardizing the language(s) used outside the home, as well as some children/ youth perspectives on how being able to speak (or not) their heritage language has shaped their identities. Happy to talk about this more with you if you want.


      1. Ethan: Wow, thank you Allison. I was expecting someone would reply that fast. I’m working on my second blog post on this matter. Would definitely love to talk to you about it.


  2. By Coco:

    Hi Ethan,

    It was interesting to see that you have brought up the topic in relations to family language policy (FLP). I did some research last semester concerning FLP and Chinese heritage language maintenance. FLP refers to the language policy parents implemented at home, which requires only using heritage language (in your case, Chinese) at home. As such, their children would pick up heritage language in family settings. They would also send their children to go to Saturday Chinese language schools to improve and maintain their Chinese proficiency. After reading these, I found that many parents were worried about the heritage language loss of their children once they went to school. They did not want to rush their children in learning English/French (or both). When heritage language learners go to school, they will be surrounded by a rather pure language environment, which is English or French. In that case, by the time your son goes to school, he will be more comfortable using English/French instead of Chinese. I believe that is when you start to worry about how to maintain his Chinese!

    My cousin was born in Vancouver, and she is five years old now. She did not speak any English until she went to kindergarten. We did not know if she could understand the instructions of the teachers or if she could communicate with her peers, since most of her peers spoke English. However, it was amazing to see how fast she adjusted with the language and environment. It did not take long for her to come back home with some of the conversations in English. She sometimes reflected fun stories happened in kindergarten in English. At first, it seemed that she did not realize that she was using English. However, to our surprise, she would stop at some point and change back into Chinese and said, oh, I should speak Chinese at home. As you could see, kids learn language really fast, especially if they are exposed to the language environment. So I think you might want to speak more Chinese with your son at home.

    I was passionate about the experience of heritage language speakers, and I would love to see more of your examples of your son.

    Thank you!


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