How do you encourage your child to learn Chinese? The learning of Chinese has myriad benefits. First of all, in Singapore, it is an academic requirement for children to study and do well in a mother tongue for PSLE. And since Chinese has long been, and is increasingly a language for business expansion, trade, engineering, tourism and cultural understanding, the learning of the language transcends academic achievement to wide usage in many aspects. In fact, it is a known fact that Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in the world.
Some children may not enjoy learning Chinese, especially when some perceive it to be the more difficult of the two languages (the less difficult being English) and because Mandarin is an entirely different language altogether, with different intonation and writing system.
Let’s find some ways to encourage your child to learn Mandarin, so that he/she becomes inherently interested in the language and culture, not just because you told him/her so.
1. Lay the Foundation by Being Positive about the Language
Show your child how Chinese can inspire, especially in that it is a modern language of tremendous relevance.
Bring your child to Kinokuniya and show her the comic books that she can read. If you are taking Singapore Airlines on your next holiday, flip open the KrisShop catalogue that is choc-a-bloc with latest gift items for children, drawing her attention to the descriptions for the products that are written in English as well as Chinese. Read them together, possibly replacing some difficult words for her and to encourage her, buy her the right gift.
2. Teach Your Child About the Culture as well as the Language
The Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan Dance Theatre Limited, SHHKD, for example, seeks to cultivate an understanding and appreciation for Chinese dance by developing Chinese dance as an accessible art form for the larger community of all age groups and abilities, from toddlers to adults.
Learning about dance is a fine way to introduce your child to the language as well, as the instructions will point her in the right direction, literally.
While we could devote hundreds of pages to Chinese cuisine, we will leave that to you and your child’s culinary pleasure. Instead, we suggest that you bring your child to authentic Chinese restaurants pertaining to different dialect groups, to enjoy delicious steamed fish with shallots, fried noodles, Hakka abacus dish and more.
To teach him the art of Chinese cuisine, you can also indulge in dim sum, from learning to use chopsticks to pick up dainty morsels to the unique way of tapping two fingers as a way of saying ‘thank you’ when the waiter pours the tea.
And since Lunar New Year is round the corner, why not let him be a vital part of lao yusheng (raw fish tossing)? Prep your kid to recite auspicious words as the family tosses away, teaching him to say kwaigao zhangda (to grow up quickly) and dajia yiqilao (let’s do it together!).
3. Help Your Child Develop Natural Literacy Skills
Research from Professor AE Cunningham, University of California, Berkeley shows that children who come from homes where parents have dedicated time to giving them regular, enriching reading and writing experiences have significant academic advantage over children who have not had these experiences.
It’s important to point out here that some parents believe that making their children memorise characters and isolated words (or ‘phonics’) is the way to introduce reading to their children. This is monotonous to the child. In addition, this kind of learning simply makes children ‘decoders’ of what they learn, not a ‘reader’ who understands what he is reading or one who is excited about reading.
Consider this: “Research does in fact show that preschoolers who have better letter naming and recognition skills tend to become better readers later on [and] these skills are best developed through ‘natural literacy activities’, not drill and memorisation. There is no evidence that memorising alphabet letters out of context predicts later reading skills.” (Raver & Zigler, 2004)
Here are the top natural literacy activities that create the best readers and writers:
I. Read to your children every day – this exposes him to multiple language structures, a wide vocabulary and the sheer joy of language.
II. Engage in conversation with your child frequently – this expands her spoken vocabulary. Research shows that strong verbal skills are linked to strong reading skills.
III. Point out written language in your environment – For example, point out writing on things such Chinese shop signs, packaging and posters. This connects the written word with useful and important information.
IV. Arrange play dates with friends – This encourages social interaction and will expand your child’s Chinese vocabulary through negotiation, discussion and role play.
V. Ensure your child observes you reading – When you read in front of your children you are being a strong role model, communicating that you value reading.
VI. Make your home a ‘literacy rich environment’ – Ensure you have plenty of reading materials available at home such as a bookshelf of age appropriate books, in addition to other forms of reading materials such as magazines, newspapers , brochures and on computers, as e-books.
VII. Have a set of magnetic characters on your fridge – This encourages your child to spontaneously manipulate letters and begin forming words.
If you are not a fluent speaker of Chinese, why not take this opportunity to learn the language together?
According to Brian Caswell, MindChamps Dean of Research and Programme Development: “At MindChamps Chinese PreSchool, we cultivate the necessary skills within our pre-schoolers so that they can become enthusiastic life-long speakers, listeners, readers and writers. We also develop their confidence in both written and spoken Mandarin and English. Our approach is based on the latest scientific research into language acquisition and the importance of a child’s engagement with language, rather than the discredited “drill and kill” approach. As such, we have incorporated age and developmentally appropriate fun and engaging activities and programmes such as MindChamps Reading & Writing, The Love for Chinese Language and Chinese Cultural Appreciation.”