Although we are Chinese by ethnicity, both my husband and I are native English speakers who are more comfortable speaking English in everyday situations. In our hectic schedules, how do we teach our child to appreciate the Chinese culture here and speak mandarin fluently when she grows up?
Being able to speak fluent mandarin has proven to have become more practical in recent times. China’s influence is growing over the world and the region. Moreover, it’s part of the Singapore Chinese cultural identity which exists and has thrived within the rich racial and cultural diversity in our sunny metropolis.
However, according to findings by the Straits Times, English has become the main language spoken at home in Singapore. While effectively bilingual households exist, the number of families speaking mostly English has superseded that of those who speak mandarin. Raising a bilingual child while speaking only one language may seem to be a challenge, but it is not impossible. All it takes is some encouragement from home and positive influence externally.
Starting young gives them the advantage they need
Research has also shown that children who are immersed in a second language from an early age are more likely to do well in language and literacy development.
From a tender age, give your young tot exposure through interactions with Chinese speakers, watching Chinese cartoons and educational shows, or placing them in a bilingual environment. For parents who are not comfortable that their own level of Mandarin to kick start their child’s learning journey, consider placing him/ her in Chinese playgroup, nursery or kindergarten. MindChamps Chinese PreSchool provides a platform, with most of the core and enrichment programmes at MindChamps Chinese PreSchool being effectively bilingual for all levels, starting from playgroup to kindergarten 2.
Be immersed in Chinese culture from a young age
Pick up a calligraphy brush! Learn the intricacies of Chinese tea appreciation. Or check out a riveting Chinese opera in Chinatown.
“Chinese folk art forms are rich and colourful, and they follow the characteristics of children's physical and mental development, life experience and operational ability to choose from some interesting folk art types,” says MindChamps Chinese PreSchool Curriculum Trainer, Chen Ying.
This immersion in Chinese could be the missing link between communication and cultural appreciation in Mandarin. It’s through the initial contact, participation and experience, that children can cultivate a love for Chinese, and also be exposed to different language mediums. These are beliefs that are at the center of MindChamps’ curriculum, which includes a Chinese Culture Appreciation programme.
Mummy and Daddy can do it too!
Children take after their parents. And as our tots’ key influencers at home, we play a key part in how they spend their time at home. Outside of school, parents can ensure that the Mandarin learning journey continues by emphasising comprehensiveness, and integrating activities in different areas, such as reading and writing.
“At MindChamps, children come from school every week with a Chinese book for parents and their children to read together. This helps develop children to listen to the ability to enhance the child's ability to understand the ability to exercise language, while enjoying the fun of reading Chinese books,” says Chen Ying.
She also recommends taking children on field trips, while conducting the bulk of the dialogue in Mandarin. For example, most displays at the Singapore Zoological Gardens are in Mandarin. This helps children get stimulated and forming word associations - through English, moving live animals, and Mandarin.
Be Consistent and Persevere
Keeping a preschooler’s consistent interest and inclination for the Chinese language requires plenty of perseverance and patience on their parents’ parts. When the going gets tough, always be mindful that you are playing an important part in laying the foundation for your child’s future for this beautiful language that is Chinese!
Article written by MindChamps Chinese PreSchool Curriculum Team