Mandarin Chinese - Learning at Home and Abroad

February 16, 2012

American kid writing in Mandarin

One of the fabulous things about education today, is we can do it almost any where, which allows us lots of freedom as we roam the world. This photo is our daughter doing her Mandarin Chinese in her pajamas in California as she does every morning since we arrived from Germany in October.

She learned Mandarin in Barcelona and all along our world travels from Bangkok, to Bhutan to Jordan etc and she actually started learning it while in my womb ( along with Spanish and English) because that is when babies start learning languages. Even though we parents are monolinguals, my goal was always to raise a fluent-as-a-native trilingual/triliterate and purposely expose her to many languages and cultures.

"Not training our kids to be able to work and live in an international environment is like leaving them illiterate" David Boren

Soon she will be back at her Mandarin school in Asia as we think it is important to raise a global kid who is fluently multilingual and multicultural in today's world. We are eclectic homeschoolers, but find dipping into local schools can be the best way to learn to speak, read and write like a native and absorb the culture easily as a well as building life long international friendships. We find this a MUCH cheaper, effective and enriching method than doing a private Mandarin school in America and allows us to keep on our $23/day per person travel lifestyle budget.

We like to return to the same school and did it for four winters in Spain, and now we are focused on Mandarin and love her school in Penang. This year is easier because we did the ground work last year, so going back to a place with friends that we know well.

I recently wrote about our travel schooling and was asked about how we keep up with all her languages as we travel.

Her Dean of Studies at her Mandarin school in Penang has been a huge help via Skype and we have used tutors ( online and off), various online programs including Johns Hopkins University CTY online classes and she has her books and work from her school as well as an electronic dictionary. She does some work every day in Mandarin, Spanish and English no matter where we are and that includes fun things like talking or writing to friends, reading books or learning songs in those languages.

That said, there is no better way to learn a language than to immerse in an all Mandarin environment like at her school in tropical Asia. And since languages are much easier to learn when you are a kid, we have decided to spend this whole school year in Asia just to increase her Mandarin and Chinese cultural immersion. ( The school goes from Jan to Nov but we got delayed due to my health issues and my mother's, so moved our scheduled Jan 3rd flight to this week ).

Working on Mandarin in RV in Spain with teacher in Asia

She is excited to get back to see her friends there soon and we will also tour many places in Asia this year including China as they get lots of school holidays. We find World Heritage Site Georgetown, Penang to be one of the best places in the world to immerse in Mandarin and Chinese culture as well as being a very cheap but luxurious base.

How have you learned languages at home and abroad? What are your best tips for keeping languages up?

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What an amazing site! I'm in awe of your adventures. I love how your daughter is learning Mandarin-- such a great skill to have. For those who are maybe less globe-trotting-- and live in the Bay Area-- you can find great language classes for kids at ClassMonkeys, a new online resource: Thanks-- I'm looking forward to your next post!

Bret Shroyer

Inspirational. I wish we would have started this a decade ago, instead of becoming aware of this alternative education when our kids are teens. Thanks so much for sharing what you've learned.


Very interesting topic, thanks for the post! Hope you have a great time in Asia.


Thank you so much for this post! We are about to embark on a 2-3 year RV trip to all 50 states in the USA with our three boys (ages 9 1/2, 7, and 3). Do you have any recommendations for trilingual learning within the USA while being on the road? My oldest wants to learn Mandarin, and we all want to learn Spanish. My husband and I had years of French in high school, and living in VT, French is also a great language to learn. Any suggestions on how to do this on the road would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Yiau Hoong Chong

Hi there your blog is inspirational! I am a Malaysian too (though I am from somewhere near Kuala Lumpur).

You have definitely chosen the best place in Penang for its multilingual environment. Keep travelling and enjoy!

Language Stars - Nick

Wow, so great to see you committed to your daughter's language learning. My daughter is only 19 months, but we've already got her learning Spanish, Mandarin, and Turkish. We hope to include world travels in her learning process as well.

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