fun fun elmo, sesame street chinese, learn chinese, kids learn chinese

Teach Kids Mandarin Chinese in a Fun Way

Teach Kids Chinese Through Songs

When my kids were younger, I found that Spanish Sesame Street, Plaza Sesamo, entertained my kids while also teaching them Spanish. Songs were also an effective and pleasant way to expose my kids to foreign languages. As my kids got older — 2nd or 3rd grade — they rebelled and no longer would allow Plaza Sesamo DVDs in the car. They preferred silence. Ditto to foreign language CDs.

My point is that there is a window when kids are open to learning foreign languages. Both their brains and attitudes are receptive. As they grow older, not only do they not want to learn, but also making the sounds are more challenging.

I was excited to discover that Sesame Street is now in Chinese with a series geared for teaching kids Mandarin. For a CD of fun songs to accompany your Chinese language experience, try A Little Mandarin by NYC mom Toni Wang.

I’m not saying that this combination will have your kids conversing in Mandarin, but you are laying a foundation both for training their ear and for exposing them to the concept of non-word for word translation. Who knows? This might be the introduction that makes them actually want to learn Chinese when they are older. I’m still shocked that both of my girls are choosing to learn Mandarin as their mandatory foreign language in middle school!

How about you? Are your kids getting exposure to foreign languages? How do you manage this? Please share your tips!!!

fun fun elmo, sesame street chinese, learn chinese, kids learn chinese

Sesame Street in Chinese

Sesame Street: “Fun Fun Elmo,” A Mandarin Language Learning Program.

Brought to you by the number 1 in Chinese and the phrase Ni Hao (hello!). It also includes a field trip to a school in Lijiang in China!

A Little Mandarin: Chinese Songs for Kids

This lovely CD features Toni Wang, a Shanghai-born NYC mom, whose lovely voice both entertains and teaches kids using familiar songs like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Tiger, Tiger. You can buy the songs individually at Reverberation or the entire CD at Amazon by clicking the image below.


Lyrics to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in Mandarin. The Chinese translation is not exactly the same as in English.

yī shǎn yī shǎn liàng jīng jīng

One twinkle, one twinkle, shine so bright


mǎn tiān dū shì xiǎo xīng xīng

All the night is full of little stars


guà zài tiān biān fàng guāng míng

Hanging in the sky, shine the brightness


hǎo xiàng xǔ duō xiǎo yǎn jīng

Look like many little eyes


yī shǎn yī shǎn liàng jīng jīng

One twinkle, one twinkle, shine so bright


mǎn tiān dū shì xiǎo xīng xīng

All the night is full of little stars

English lyrics:
Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high,
like a diamond in the sky
Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are

Follow PragmaticMom’s board Teaching Kids Chinese on Pinterest.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Jeanette Nyberg

    Our preschool is throwing in Spanish songs and words here and there. Beckett came home the other week and cracked me up because I asked him to count some of his toys we were playing with, and he did so in Spanish. I think it was just natural, too. Love those little brains. I’m DYING to have my kids learn Mandarin. This is a good little push for me to start early with B.
    Jeanette Nyberg recently posted…Waxy Spiral Rainbow ArtMy Profile

    • Hi Jeanette,
      How wonderful that Beckett is learning Spanish words without even realizing it! Try the Chinese version of Sesame Street. It’s free too! My two younger kids asked to watch even though they are 8 and 10. The 10-year-old has been taking Chinese for a few years but took this year off from it. She thought it was amusing and could recognize some of the words. I played her the tiger song too (it’s also free if you go to the linked site), and she groaned as she recognized the song that she was forced to learn. It’s a very popular Chinese children’s song. I do think songs really do work!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Teach Kids Mandarin Chinese in a Fun WayMy Profile

  2. This is a topic that we are talking about a lot in our house right now. Both of my girls took Spanish in pre-school and enjoyed the playful way that they were taught. As part of budget cuts a few years ago, our public school system cut elementary school spanish teachers. My girls are now learning spanish through video and computer. Interestingly, neither of them like learning this way. My oldest daughter’s fourth grade teacher has become frustrated with the whole arrangement too and has been teaching the kids spanish herself. I hope some of the structure is sticking with them so that middle and high school language learning will be manageable for them.
    Stacey recently posted…Serenity NowMy Profile

    • Hi Stacey,
      I am now starting to think that unless young kids have immersion, it’s tough to learn a new language. They can easily learn foreign words but they slip out of their head just as easily. This is based on own experience. My kids took a structured Chinese class for 3 years. I sat in the class for a year and it was very good with lots of new vocabulary taught and reinforced week after week. Week 1 was 10 words. Week 2 was 10 new words plus 10 old words. etc.

      Here’s the kicker. On year 4, we switched to a private tutor. She evaluated the kids. After 3 years, they only knew the numbers 1-10. I was shocked. True, they had exposure to hundreds of other Chinese words, but they didn’t “know” them.

      We had a similar experience with Spanish; feeling like the same 500 words slip in and out of my kids’ memory. But … my two younger kids can roll their R’s and my oldest pronounces Mandarin like a native.

      I think if younger kids are taught that learning a foreign language is fun and how to say the words as closely as possible to a native speaker, the rest of the grammar, vocabulary and fluency can come at a later age.

      I like the idea of kids learning a language the same way they learned English. A few words at first. Sentences that are grammatically incorrect like “Me, up!” An expanding vocabulary but simple sentences with mixed up pronounces and verb tenses. It worked for English and kids are exposed every day. It should work for a foreign language too, especially kids.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Teach Kids Mandarin Chinese in a Fun WayMy Profile

  3. Alexandra

    In our house it comes naturally – I am from Poland and my better half is English; we change the countries so often that I can’t even say in which of them we live more.
    The little ones had some issues with switching languages when they were smaller – they would use mix grammar, had some problems with conjugation and declination in Polish (we have 17 different forms of the word/numeral “two”!) but eventually it got better, just, well, natural. I could not be more proud – it is not only about me wanting them to speak my native language but my professional life is all about languages, too (I also speak German and Russian) and I know that their being bilingual is the most fun thing that could happen to me 🙂
    I have written several posts on this, but what we do when they are having problems: board games, fun games (pictionary, taboo, “guess who I am”), gaps in lyrics of their favourite songs; reading books at loud (Polish has got a few sounds that they would not be able to learn if they did not hear it for the first 2 years of their lives – the same with Russian, so I believe Chinese as well!).
    Alexandra recently posted…Wreck-it Ralph reviewMy Profile

    • Hi Alexandra,
      I could not agree with you more!!! Absolutely, early exposure is necessary to learn those foreign sounds kids don’t hear in their first language. In the case of Chinese, it’s the nuances of 4 tones. The word looks the same (ma as in mama) but way you say it makes it a totally different word.

      Four tones of Mandarin Chinese: mā, má, mǎ, mà, ma (neutral)

      Pinyin Chinese Character
      mā 媽 mother mā – with tone flat
      má 麻 hemp má – with tone low to high
      mǎ 馬 horse mǎ – with tone dipping in the middle
      mà 罵 scold mà – one sharp tone from high to low
      ma – very short is marker for making the sentence a question

      Here’s a video with a native speaker saying them. Can you hear the differences? It’s difficult!

      This is what kids can learn to hear by singing songs.

      How wonderful that languages have enriched your life and that of your kids! It really does open doors to new experiences!

  4. When we went to the sesame street planetarium show at the Boston Museum of Science they had a character who was from China, and he sang “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in Chinese. My kids hear me speak French occasionally, but for the most part they don’t get a lot of exposure to other languages at home (we do have friends who speak a variety of foreign languages in their homes). I want to do better at exposing them to languages, though. Thanks for sharing these resources!
    maryanne recently posted…Pick and Draw Drawing Game GiveawayMy Profile

  5. Thanks for sharing! I have to go check it out. We actually bought quite a few Sesame Street DVDs in Chinese when we visited China years ago. Here is a website I use for Asian related materials Follow Jade is a good series.
    iGameMom recently posted…Learning Activities for Kids – An App and Ideas from Mom’s LibraryMy Profile

  6. Alexandra

    Seems I can’t reply to your latest comment to my comments! 🙂 Well, there is zillion different things we do…You can check the post “And the games people play” on our blog; I have talked about few of my fav games there… Apart from the listed games we just go with the flow to be honest…When you have the opportunity to live in 2 different countries and travel this much the language comes in naturally. My better half and I had discussions over this subject almost every day few years back – do we come up with some sort of strategy for this whole bilingual thingy or just check how it will be. I know there are people who divide the day and the languages: in the morning they would speak English and in the afternoon German.It did not work for us. The little ones use English more often than Polish – so I read to them my favourite books before bedtime; I sing lullabies; tell them about our festivals, celebrations…And answering your other question – they rarely resist to speaking Polish, sometimes they just don’t know the proper vocabulary. Or they forget which grammar rules belong to which language – this is funny!Last night my niece said “Aunt, whatcha doin, suffering on the internet again?” :)))
    Alexandra recently posted…StorySmith: Medieval Kingdom reviewMy Profile

  7. Chinese Seseme Street! What a great way for kids (even some adults) to learn Chinese.
    Am just thinking about Four tones of Mandarin Chinese- It must be damn hard for a foreigner to pick the tones when learning chinese.
    Viren recently posted…Email Marketing To High End Clients, Some Key ConceptsMy Profile

  8. Asianmommy

    We have a Chinese tutor come to the house once a week to help the kids learn Mandarin. It’s been fun for them. Ever since we traveled to Taiwan last summer, the kids have been more interested in learning Chinese.
    Asianmommy recently posted…Tsung Tsung on the PianoMy Profile

  9. Ann

    My kids learned a little from Ni Hao Kai Lan but I noticed the shows that are starting to appeal to them now are much less educational. The are also interested in French lately since their cousin and grandmother recently took a trip to France. Love the idea of music to introduce kids to foreign languages!
    Ann recently posted…Inspiration for the BunnyMy Profile

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