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Learning to speak, but not read and write Chinese characters? Our Chinese language expert answers your questions

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My child’s school is focusing on learning to speak Mandarin, which is great, but should I be worried if they’re not learning to read and write characters?


In China, children start learning to recognize characters in kindergarten at age of 3-4 and start writing them at 6 in primary school.  For children learning Chinese as a second language I think it is reasonable to push it one to two years later; I started to teach my daughter to read characters at 5, and write them at 7.

The definition of illiteracy is the inability to read and write. So in my opinion it is essential for children to learn characters if you want them to be fully literate in Mandarin. But ultimately, assess your language goals for your kids, and base your decision on that, be that to delay the reading and writing element or to supplement with a tutor. Whatever you do, it needs to work for your family.

Got questions for our expert? We welcome your comments and will pass these on to Kate for her response.

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