Often times, songs can be a fun, effective, and engaging way for children to learn a new language. This blog by Katrina Tang of Fluentu.com dives into some of the best kids songs that can help teach Mandarin for both children and adults.
Why Learn Mandarin Chinese through Kids’ Songs?
Chinese students who take their language skills beyond the classroom are, sooner or later, going to interact with a Chinese-speaking child.
And I have yet to encounter a Chinese textbook that takes this into account.
Some people, of course, learn Chinese because their own children are learning it in school or because they want to adopt a Chinese child. And China is filled with English teachers instructing young children.
But even if you don’t take on a role in life that requires interaction with kids, if you ever decide to move or travel to China, chances are good that your neighborhood will be filled with young children whose caretakers regularly take them into the common areas to play.
I guarantee that, if you look like a foreigner, you’ll have no lack of kids whose parents would be delighted if you interact with them.
Even if you’re a curmudgeonly type who avoids children at all costs, remember that your Chinese coworkers or clients may feel differently. If you have the opportunity, positive interactions with their kids will go a long way towards building up some guanxi (relationship) with them.
And if you can figure out how to talk to them, kids can make great conversation partners. After all, they think it’s funny to repeat the same conversation over and over again—and they have few qualms about saying what they think.
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The Unexpected Benefits of Learning Chinese Kids’ Songs
But even if you’re still convinced you’ll never encounter a Chinese-speaking child, you still might not want to pass these songs by completely.
Kids’ songs will stick in your brain. After all, kids’ songs are fun. They’re catchy. This makes for a memorable learning experience that’ll keep Chinese words glued to your brain with colors, rhymes and melodies, long after the song has finished playing.
You’ll have fun! The sunshine, smiles and animated dancing animals can brighten up a long study session. The words typically get highlighted at the bottom of the screen, KTV style.
They help you achieve a diverse learning experience. If your language learning experiences so far are limited to the classroom, you’re almost guaranteed to pick up some new vocabulary. Do you know what a preschool is called in Chinese? Or how to describe a well-behaved child? For that matter, do you know which verb to use to talk about pulling up a radish? If not, you’re in the right place.
Kids’ songs are made for kids. Okay, that sounds obvious. But you should really think about this point. These songs are made for newcomers to the Chinese language. The language level won’t ever be too challenging, and they’re written in a way that kids’ brains will happily absorb and digest more complex concepts and linguistic elements. That means you’ll learn tons without even realizing it!
They’ll introduce you to Chinese culture. You know that English kids’ songs are always talking about life lessons, respecting people, family ideas, morality, sharing, caring and so on. By listening to what children are singing, you’ll learn which values Chinese culture deems most important to instill in their people from a young age.
Ready to get started?
One more quick note: You can also find tons of Chinese children’s songs, cartoons and other elementary materials within the Chinese video collection at FluentU.
Plus, FluentU provides active learning features like interactive subtitles, custom flashcard decks and vocab lists to help you study and reinforce newly-learned language. While studying children’s songs, use these tools to boost your Chinese learning even farther!
So, without further ado, let’s get into those great songs.
7 Chinese Songs for Kids That Your Inner Child Will Love to Learn
1. 两只老虎 (Liǎng zhī Lǎohǔ, “Two Tigers”)
You know the tune to this one. But the lyrics aren’t what you think.
If you hear this tune blaring from the kids’ play area at the mall in China, you’re probably the only person within earshot who’s thinking about morning bells ringing.
All the Chinese listeners are thinking instead about two tigers.
One is missing its ears (耳朵, Ěrduo), or eyes (眼睛, yǎnjīng), depending on the version.
The other is missing its tail (尾巴, wěibā) and they’re both running fast (跑得快, pǎo de kuài). Very, very strange (真奇怪, zhēn qíguài).
I apologize for the number of repetitions in the link—but on the other hand, even if the words are new to you, you’ll probably have them memorized before the YouTube video is finished. Just remember, you thought catchy was a good thing. Right?
2. 小星星 (Xiǎo xīngxing, “Little Star”)
If you grew up speaking English, you know this one already. This is how they sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in Chinese.
The lyrics to this one are perhaps the most complex of the 7. But they also contain lots of words that are useful even if you’re not singing nursery rhymes, especially if you like to talk about bright shiny things. (And who doesn’t like to talk about bright shiny things?)
A few to listen for:
亮 (liàng), 光明 (guāngmíng)—bright, light
Plus, if you ever need to sing a baby to sleep in Chinese, now you know how.
In case this version of the song moves a little too fast for you, the lyrics are given below the video.
3. 拔萝卜 (Bá Luóbo “Pulling Up a Radish”)
It takes a village to pull up a radish.
Apparently this song (inspired by a Russian folktale) is taught to kids so that they’ll learn the value of working together to accomplish a task that no one can do on his or her own. But the kids just think it’s a lot of fun.
As the song goes on, more and more characters join in the radish pulling.
The exact cast seems to vary, but the one linked here includes an old man (老公公, lǎo gōnggong), an old woman (老婆婆, lǎopópo), a spotted puppy (花狗, xiǎo huā gǒu), a spotted kitten (小花猫, xiǎo huā māo) and a little mouse (小老鼠 (xiǎo lǎoshǔ).
Finally, with everyone pulling together, the radish pops out of the ground.
4. 小兔子乖乖 (Xiǎo Tùzi Guāiguai, “Good Little Bunnies”)
There’s a whole story behind this song, and young kids love acting it out. If you’re game, you can join them.
A mother rabbit leaves her children home alone. While she’s gone, the big bad wolf comes knocking at the door.
He pretends to be the mother and asks the bunnies to hurry and open the door (把门儿开开, bǎ mén’er kāikai), but the smart little bunnies recognize him for the wolf he is. They refuse to open the door since their mother hasn’t returned (妈妈没回来, Māma méi huílái).
When their mother comes back (妈妈回来了, Māma huílái liǎo) with the same request, they obediently let her in. Note that the了 is given its full pronunciation, liǎo (not le), as is typical in music.
The word 乖 (guāi) in the title is very commonly used for describing young children who are generally cooperative.
As with all of these songs, the lyrics vary a bit depending which version you listen to.
5. 新年好 (Xīn Nián Hǎo, “Happy New Year”)
Chinese New Year is just around the corner. Forget poor “lost and gone forever” Clementine—in Chinese this tune gets the cheerful treatment it deserves.
This one is also simple enough to be well-suited to beginners. In fact, with the exception of the more or less untranslatable particle 呀 (ya), I think I learned all of the characters in the song in Chinese 101. (I guess the class was more useful than I thought?)
As an added bonus, see how many Chinese New Year traditions you can spot in the video. I counted at least 12, but I’m sure I missed a few.
6. 我上幼儿园 (Wǒ Shàng Yòu’éryuán, “I Go to Kindergarten”)
If you ever send your kids to a Chinese preschool, they’ll come home singing this song before long.
This catchy, cheerful little tune is supposed to convince them that going to kindergarten cheerfully while Mommy and Daddy go to work (去上班儿, qù shàngbān’er) is part of their duty in life. Perhaps if they only sing it enough times, they won’t cry (哭, kū) or make a fuss (闹, nào) in the morning when they arrive at school.
Let me just clear up a potential point of cross-cultural confusion here. Where I live (the U.S.), kids go to preschool when they’re 3 or 4 and start kindergarten when they turn 5. Kindergarten is the first year of elementary school.
But in China, 幼儿园 (yòu’éryuán) is universally translated to English with the more literal “kindergarten.” (English gets that word from the German for child garden.) Chinese kids go to 幼儿园 from the time they’re about 2.5 through age 6.
Also, unlike U.S. preschools, Chinese 幼儿园 are usually in swing 5 full days a week, with 3 meals served at school.
7. 上学歌 (Shàng Xué Gē, “Going to School Song”)
Here’s another one to keep the little ones cheerful about their lot in life as they head off to school with the sun shining in the sky (太阳当空照, tàiyáng dāng kōng zhào) and the flowers smiling at them (花儿对我笑, huā ér duì wǒ xiào).
For better or worse, this one harks back to the Cultural Revolution with its references to 爱劳动 (ài láodòng) “loving hard work” and 为人民立功劳 (wèi rén mín lì gōng láo) “accomplish things for the people.”
Every child’s dream for the future, right? Or at least that’s what the writer of this song was hoping.
So every time you think your language skills would be just a little better if only you had a Chinese song stuck in your head, come back to these. You’re welcome.