Chinese was not the first language for Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, but he overcame the difficulties to master it.
In the book, Keeping My Mandarin Alive, Lee recalled his experience and gave a first-hand account of how he learnt Mandarin over 50 years and kept it alive.
Here are 5 ways to learn Chinese advised by Singapore’s founding father to master the language.
1. Start Young
“If I were age 6 or 7 learning Chinese, it’s so much easier.”
“Learn young, never mind the standard, capture the fluency, capture the grammar, never mind if your vocabulary is limited, you can expand it later on.”
– Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore first Prime Minister and the nation’s founding father.
Lee said that he missed the chance of learning the Chinese language well when he was young.
Research shows that the foundation of how a child learns is laid during their preschool years. In fact, during these years, a child’s brain forms more than 1 million new neural connections every second.
This is the optimal time for developing confidence, creativity, and the love for learning in children, and in this instance, nurturing the love for the Chinese Language.
2. Listen To Chinese Recordings
“When I am shaving and I am brushing my teeth, I have the tape on to listen to what I’ve been discussing with my teachers.”
Outside of lessons, Lee played Mandarin recordings to constantly freshen up the language in his head.
Listening to Chinese materials can help with the memorisation of words and phrases, as well as becoming familiar with the different tones.
3. Use Technology
“Whenever I don’t know the Chinese words, I just type them in English words with my PowerWord dictionary.”
Lee saw the advantage and usefulness of technology when it came to learning Chinese. He utilised technological tools to find the English meaning of Chinese words, get the right pronunciations as well as look for different Chinese words and phrases that would fit the meaning.
These days, online tools like Google give you accurate pronunciation in Chinese at the click of a button.
4. Spend Time & Effort – Make It A Live Language
“You need to spend the time and effort, you must have the interest. At the end of the day, it must be a live language.”
To constantly practise, Lee believed one must make it their interest and use the energy to practice the Chinese language. While reading books or watching TV are good ways to passively maintain the language, to actively learn is another factor.
While useful, English-Chinese dictionaries cannot provide the connotations or emotive meanings behind the words, it is always better to have someone point out any mistakes you made during a conversation.
Therefore, surrounding yourself with people who speak the language and actively use the language in an environment where Chinese comes alive is one of the best ways to actively learn Chinese.
5. Make a Speech
“The quickest way I learnt was when I had to make a speech.”
Writing a full speech is another way to effectively learn Mandarin. Compared to reading the news or listening to a Chinese drama, a speech utilises many aspects of the brain. From writing the words to memorising them, and finally using the script in front of an audience.
With the pressures of presenting, the language shifts to active vocabulary. In Lee Kuan Yew’s experience, writing a speech was one of the best methods to actively retaining the knowledge deep inside.
In the book, Keeping My Mandarin Alive, while Lee Kuan Yew shared how he overcame his difficulties in the language, he also spoke about the agony of being a mature Chinese language student.
This is why many parents find it beneficial to enrol their child in a Chinese preschool and start them young in mastering the language.
“Kids learn faster than adults and being 50% Chinese, I believe it is essential that Isaac be exposed to the Chinese culture and language early on. This will enable him to tap into the advantages of being proficient in one of the most widely spoken languages in the world today,” says Irene Lau, mother of Isaac Crawshaw from MindChamps Chinese PreSchool @ Thomson.
You can always give your child a head start at a preschool like MindChamps Chinese PreSchool, where the Chinese language is infused into the unique MindChamps PreSchool curriculum backed by over two decades of research in the 4 domains of Education, Psychology, Neuroscience and Theatre. With the right foundation in the right environment, you can give your child the edge in school and in life.
Learn the brain science behind mastering Chinese at an early age in this complimentary webinar on 19 June 2021.