posted by on November 13, 2012 | 6 comments
I'm trying to teach my baby Mandarin, but I'm still a bit unsure about the pronunciation. Parents speak to babys in a special way, that current Popup chinese lessons don't teach.

I've made an example in Swedish:

I can't find a clip of baby talk on youtube. Can someone help me find a recording of this?

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Echo on November 13, 2012 | reply,

I'm not sure about recordings, but I can recommend an author of children's book in Chinese: 郑渊洁 Zheng4 Yuan1jie2. If you can find his books, you can read those stories for your children. When I was a kid, I really liked one of his books called 舒克和贝塔. They made a cartoon with that book too. Maybe you can find it and show it to your children too.

We can probably do a podcast about the way Chinese people talk to their babies too. Could be interesting :)

--Echo on November 14, 2012 | reply
I found the cartoons. They are lovely. But the speech is still in the manner which kids and adults speak, and not how you speak to babies when you're trying to entice a smile from them. In Sweden, we tend to repeat phrases and speak with much longer vowels. I can only speculate that chinese speakers would emphasize tones more. Right?
Echo on November 17, 2012 | reply,

It's pretty much the same in Chinese. For instance, if you want to say 吃饭 to your baby, you say 吃饭饭 or just 饭饭 instead. You want to repeat the nouns usually.

zombie_chris on November 14, 2012 | reply
How old is your baby? Speaking to your baby in "Motherese" ( infant-directed speech [IDS] or child-directed speech [CDS]) is probably what you're talking about, mothers talk to their babies in a specific pitch that seems to help them learn languages in a way that adults can't - adult brains arrange information in certain ways that are very different to the way that babies acquire L1 and L2 - so there's no such thing as "learning a second language the same way you learned your first" as a lot of courses (esp. Rosetta Stone and Wall Street Institute's courses) sell themselves on.

Also, babies brains appear to have the ability to isolate the phonemes of a language - babies and toddlers are able to produce all the sounds that every language uses, but somehow keeps the ones that are in the native language (and L2 if need be) and discards the ones that it doesn't need.

The general consensus seems to be that after the age of 13, the ability to learn and speak a language without a noticeable foreign accent rapidly decreases - Henry Kissinger came to the US after he was thirteen and has a characteristic accent, whereas his brother who is 2 or three years younger, speaks flawlessly with an American accent.

From Wikipedia: "research suggests that in a tonal language, such as Mandarin, the use of child directed speech is beneficial to development. Specifically, Mandarin features lexical tones that must be used with every syllable which in turn convey meaning. It has been seen that in tonal languages such as in this example mothers use child directed speech by heightening the pitch of speaking making the product easier for infants to understand."

I don't think that there's any good way to teach a baby a second language apart from actually directly addressing the infant in Mandarin and using Motherese if you can. The language centre of their brains behaves in a much different way than it does in adults. Steven Pinker's "The Language Instinct" has excellent coverage of how youngsters play around with grammatical patterns and vocabulary (in English) if you're interested in reading more on the subject, and Malcolm Gladwell covers "crib talk" in his book "Tipping Point".

Apologies for the dense, overlong reply, I've spent four or five years teaching English and am really quite geekily into language acquisition techniques and methodologies :P on November 15, 2012 | reply
Thanks zombie-chris.

My baby is five months old now. I have a routine where I try to speak mandarin to her when we're changing diapers. And I want to get the tones and the sounds right, which is too hard for me to figure out using a dictionary. I would need a few short phrases that I can play back from my phone and then I speak them directly to my baby. The phrases should ideally contain all the common sounds.

Here are a few I've started using.



zombie_chris on November 15, 2012 | reply
There's a good example of an American woman using IDS with her baby here at

If you live in China, I think that if your baby goes to a regular kindergarten and plays with native Mandarin speakers then "teaching" at a such a young age as 5 months isn't going to be particularly productive. My friend's son is three months old and speaks almost exclusively in Chinese (Chinese mother and ayi, father from New Zealand) with little in the way of formal lessons. If you don't live in China, then a private children's tutor and kindergarten would be the way to go.

Interestingly, a friend of mine was born in Suzhou and was adopted by American parents when he was 4 years old. He only resumed his Chinese studies when he was 16 and now at the age of 24, manages to speak flawless Mandarin.

Language learning really depends on the student and the amount of work that they are willing to put into their studies and getting enough speaking practice - an "early start" will make the work seem less like hard work, but isn't necessary to mastering a language in the long run.