Solutions

6 easy ways to help your child learn Chinese

Three mothers share how they helped their children develop a love for the language.
 

If you and your child had to put up a five-minute skit in Mandarin, would you both be able to? That’s what 22 parent-child teams did at the annual Parent-Child Talent Competition 2015 on June 6, organised as part of the Speak Mandarin Campaign.

Impressed yet? You too, can help your Chinese-hating kid love the language – with tips from these three finalists.

Make it a part of your life
“I read Chinese storybooks to my three children, aged 12, nine and four, whenever I can. We also watch Mandarin programmes on TV together, and discuss interesting phrases and words we come across,” says Hazel Chong, who, together with her daughter, emerged the winner for the Upper Primary category.

Adds Sharon Teo, who was one of the finalists in the Upper Primary category: “My two kids, who are aged nine and six, listen to Mandarin songs on the radio, and read translated versions of English books. We make it a point to go beyond what’s taught in school and try to incorporate Chinese into our daily lives.”

Don’t forget about culture
“Chinese shouldn’t be taught in a cultural vacuum. For example, my husband and I often take our kids to arts festivals, where they are exposed to operas, storytelling and lantern-making – all conducted in Mandarin. We also try to visit Chinese-speaking countries while on holiday. This can help inculcate in your kids a greater interest in the language,” notes finalist Kae Thong, another finalist in the Upper Primary category, who has three kids aged 10, six, and two.

Explore digital learning tools
“We make use of iPad apps regularly. Some of these apps help my kids with character recognition; we even downloaded a karaoke app that plays children’s songs in Mandarin,” says Sharon. “When we use traditional media like books, I often have to be physically present to help my kids identify the meaning of some words. In that respect, iPad apps are great for encouraging independent learning.”

Start them off early
“Expose your children early in life. It would be a great advantage if their main caregiver is able to speak Mandarin to them,” suggests Kae Thong. “Currently, my youngest child attends a bilingual pre-school, which has dedicated Chinese teachers. This has made him more inclined towards the language – for instance, he speaks Mandarin readily to them,” observes Hazel.

Use humour to help them learn
“Using funny English translations can sometimes help your kids remember the equivalent word in Chinese. For instance, badminton in Chinese is literally translated into English as ‘feather ball’, earth as ‘ground ball’, and so on. My kids always have a good laugh whenever we make learning fun!” says Sharon.

Be positive
“As parents, we always strive to show kids our love for the Chinese language and culture. We also debunk the notion that Chinese is a ‘less useful’ language,” says Kae.

Adds Sharon: “Chinese isn’t the easiest of languages to learn. We try not to criticise the kids when they make grammatical or vocabulary mistakes. Instead, we gently correct them by repeating their questions or sentences back to them with the correct words. In the end, what matters most is that they’re willing to learn.”

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