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A parent journey: From “English only” to creating Mandarin Chinese language products for families

Many parents want to give their children the gift of a second language, even if they themselves speak "English only". Parents usually partner with schools or tutors to help their children but take different approaches for themselves ranging from an in-depth in-person class to learning just a word or two. We talked with Ryan, creator of the successful product MandarinMagnetsTM, and fellow parent language learner. Ryan grew-up speaking “English only” but was determined to raise his children bilingually and determined to learn the language himself. His journey took him from "English only" to the creation of Leap66 a company to provide helpful language products for families just like his.

Ryan started to learn Mandarin Chinese as an adult and credits his current advanced Mandarin Chinese language skills to the methodology his instructors used.  Ryan shared “The first couple weeks of Chinese class our teachers drilled us on the 400 foundational syllables. We learned how to write out their pronunciation using a system of romanization called Pinyin. The idea is that you can’t really speak something until you are able to hear it which is harder for adults than it is for young children.” 

Ryan explained “Mandarin Chinese is comprised of a very limited number of sounds. They can be broken down into 21 initials (the consonant at the beginning of a word) and 37 finals (the vowel and consonant coming after the initial).  When combined, these sounds make up about 400 syllables.  For example, m + a is ‘ma’. When these building blocks are coupled with one of four tones they create words. Mǎ is a horse 马. All this rote memorization was not as fun as jumping right in and learning some useful Chinese phrases, but the students who stuck with it were able to spring forward much more quickly in the coming months. “

Ryan went on to become fluent in Mandarin and create products for his family to continue their love of Mandarin Chinese learning. For example, he and his team created MandarinMagnetsTM. “There were magnetic words in other languages but not one in Mandarin Chinese with simplified characters so we designed our own working with college level language professors and experts.” Today, MandarinMagnetsTM is used in homes across America. Although they are available on Amazon, a partnership with gray tortuga has allowed MandarinMagnetsTM to be offered at a discount to families.

At gray tortuga, we look forward to bringing more language immersion perspectives to you in future blogs. We are on a mission to enrich multilingual education in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. Join us. Sign-up, share the site with friends and family, buy our products like MandarinMagnetsTM, and share your stories at

Jennifer Gold

founder of gray tortuga, 9/21/2018

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