Teaching children a language is different from teaching adults as when the child starts a language matters. Increasing objective neural evidence does indeed show the earlier the better. With Chinese being a very different language that difference and its benefits might be greater.
Children under 4 have little concept of languages being different. Dual immersion is therefore the best option. Using context to define which languages is spoken where to avoid confusion. So Chinese is the school language and English at home. Chinese can be used at home only when talking about school. Children, when initially immersed in a new language at this age will be confused but will settle down after a few months.
Children above 4 and under 7 are beginning to learn their own language properly through learning to read and write. Teaching Chinese to this age group is often best achieved through stories that promote intercultural understanding and adding some Chinese words through that understanding.
For the age group 7-11, it is a different story. Children now have come through the learning of their own language (assuming it is English) through phonics. Now the best way to introduce Chinese is through comparing the two languages - Chinese as different not difficult is our phrase. This is the basis of our work for the British government for the KS2 (7-11)curriculum for English children learning Mandarin. Generating as deep an understanding of why language is different and how it is different intrigues children, generates intercultural understanding and motivates them. It also serves to bring together native Chinese teachers with English speaking classroom teachers.
For the age group 11-14 we like to drive learning through global issues whether that is using the FCO blog on China or working with a particular issue such as role playing being a diplomat working with Climate Change.
Above 14 we like to introduce current affairs. We believe that understanding the role of China in globalization will lead to children owning these issues and skilling-up to manage them once they start their careers. We need children who can help the West learn to work with China.
If you would like to know more about these different pedagogies for children learning Chinese then do contact us using the contact us for, on this website. We welcome conversations around how to make Mandarin Chinese work better for Western children.