BBC Teaching Toddlers Mandarin

The BBC is teaching toddlers how to speak Chinese in a new ‘flagship’ show on its toddler channel CBeebies.

The idea of introducing two-year-olds to languages other than English has drawn both applause and bemusement. The Lingo Show (‘lingo’ is British slang for language) says that it:

[o]ffers your child the opportunity to learn words in new languages – and practise saying them out loud – whilst joining in fun, interactive activities with Lingo and his bug friends. As well as exploring the different languages on offer, your child is also extending their cultural knowledge and understanding of the world around them.

The show’s website offers activities for parents to engage in with their kids.

The TV show has host bug Lingo send Mandarin bug Wei, Spanish bug Queso and French bug Jargonaise off into the real world to choose everyday objects and props to include in their grand finale, The Big Bug Show.

Each episode focuses on one language, introducing children to six key words, plus examples of everyday vocabulary like “hello. “thank you” and “well done.” There are opportunities for children to develop both speaking and listening skills as they are encouraged to repeat words with the bugs, voiced by native speakers of the target language.

Producers describe Mandarin as one of three “priority” languages, alongside French and Spanish.

Dr Frances Weightman, a senior lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Leeds, told the Daily Telegraph that pre-school children would not find Mandarin difficult to learn.

“There are certain qualities to Mandarin which make it a very good language to teach young children,” she said. “It’s tonal, so it lends itself very well to imitation and nursery rhymes, singing, that kind of thing.

“Also, Mandarin has short sounds — the numbers up to 10 have single syllables, for example — so the words are much shorter than French words.

“People talk a lot about the Chinese education system and rote memorisation, but for younger children repetition works quite well. And teaching it so young takes the exoticism out of a language that is so very different from English.”

Not everyone is happy, though. On parentdish, Heidi Scrimgeour writes:

To me, teaching four year olds to count in Mandarin smacks of Tiger Parenting, the phrase coined by Chinese mother and author Amy Chau whose book about the merits of strict Chinese parenting methods, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, caused a furore last year.

What’s more, we’re told that more and more children are starting primary school lacking basic life skills such as the ability to get dressed or use the toilet, and leave school unable to spell or perform simple maths without the aid of a calculator.

If that’s all true, shouldn’t we be investing time and money in educational programmes which address the more pressing matter of the very real gaps in children’s learning?

What do you think?

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Photo credit: Website screengrab


Lucy C.
Lucy C.5 years ago

I saw one mention of Esperanto here, and I really think the BBC should be teaching it.

I'm not against Mandarin, but it's of no use in France, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Jaspan, India ...

Jens L.
Jens L.5 years ago

Excellent idea to make the British less frightened at language learning in the future. A bit disappointing, though, that Frances Weightman has to sneer at French, just to make Chinese look more attractive.

Brian B.
Brian B.5 years ago

As far as learning another language, is concerned, can I put in a word for the international language, Esperanto?

Although Esperanto is a living language, it helps language learning as well.

Five British schools have introduced Esperanto in order to test its propaedeutic values. The pilot project is being monitored by the University of Manchester and the initial results are encouraging.

Your readers may be interested in Professor Piron was a former translator with the United Nations

A glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at

Coreen Kerr
Coreen Kerr5 years ago

I live in B.C. Canada & it seems English is being spoken less & less here most of our immigrants are elderly & come here for their FREE old age pension. Those that do speak English & immigrated here spoke no English & learned it here at ouor expense!
Do I sound bitter well I am I have lived here all my life & contributed to the OAP & am saddened 2 see immigrants coming here & having NEVER contributed taking away $$ for those that have sigh.

iii q.
g d c5 years ago

The world is getting smaller...
Everyone should have multiple language skills
It is easier to start when one is younger

Kathy M.
Kathleen M5 years ago

We're already doing that here. My 3 1/2 year old grandson watches Nick Jr. and there are shows that feature Spanish and Mandarin characters who introduce their young viewers to beginning words in both languages. It's a global village now!

sy f.
sy f5 years ago

Never learn chinese by anyone, especially non-chinese speakers. It is aggression to western culture. Learning chinese is seriously damaging local culture in own country. Isn't there a speaking to protect local culture from invasion of other cultures so that next generation understand their own countries' culture? Learning chinese is saying 'yes' to let others to attack your own country, without any real weapons, but more threatening then using weapons!
Furthermore, chinese is opposite to english, not only grammar but also the pronounciation! It means it will influence the ability to speak english! To protect from our own cultures, say "NO" to chinese (mandarin) NOW!

Magdalen B.
Magdalen B5 years ago


SeattleAnn S.
Ann S5 years ago

I think it's a brilliant idea. I wish we had something like that in the USA, then maybe I would consider having some children. LOL.

@Heather, maybe all Brits know what lingo is, but probably most people in the USA under the age of 50 do not. It sounds like some slang that may have been used in the 70s, but certainly noone in the USA uses it today (except for maybe the dorks).

Heather O.
Heather O5 years ago

Really? Lingo is slang for language? OMG NO ONE KNOWS THAT.

Sorry...that just jumped out at me.