Although the above quote was in reference to alphabetic language, I believe it applies equally well to Chinese. My children started attending a heritage Chinese school once a week over two years ago when they were 2 and 4 years old. I've watched them develop their English literacy skills right next to their awareness of Chinese. Many of the stages are exactly the same (pointing to Chinese characters they see in their environment, listening and then play-reading books in Chinese, and then actually sounding out characters in Chinese!). Even the "scribbling" step was similar. At first my kids were just trying to work on their fine-motor coordination, then they began writing random letters (letters, in this case, refer to the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ pronunciation system our school used) in random places on their papers. Next, came the awareness of how the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ aligned next to characters and then attempts to sound out characters. What was interesting to see was how they began to attempt to write characters. As they had been learning the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ they had also been learning a few radicals (you can consider them roots of characters and every character has one of the 214 radicals). Now they began remember parts of a character and writing the components that were familiar to them along with the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ. Houston, we had lift off! My emergent Chinese readers were well on their way to becoming literate!
But these steps didn't happen overnight. As I said above, it was over the course of two years that I saw these steps evolve. There were steps that I took to encourage this development such as:
- Talking to my kids in Chinese and naming objects, people, and events in the everyday environment.
- Drawing my kids' attention to Chinese characters in everyday settings such as traffic signs, store logos, and food containers.
- Engaging my children in singing, rhyming games, and nursery rhymes and then giving them written copies of the songs and rhymes so that they could "read" them.
- Reading picture and story books in Chinese (I wasn't able to do this well personally, but I did give it an attempt now and then. Many times, I just tried to insert a few words or phrases in Chinese while reading books in English. I also made sure to always have Chinese children's books available for the kids to look at whenever they wanted.)
- Provide a variety of materials to encourage drawing and scribbling (e.g., crayons, paper, markers, finger paints).