After I published a post on my children’s school system, an SAP school which emphasizes greatly in Chinese traditions and values and everything Chinese, many parents wrote to me to ask how I manage to engage my kids’ interest in the Chinese language. To be honest, we started off easier than most parents whose kids are struggling with this language. We are a Chinese speaking family. In this post, I am going to share with you what we do in our family and 10 tips that sees our kids enjoy through this “monster” subject that many Singaporean children hate.
During our parents’ generation, many of them speak dialects and Chinese, and the children grew up speaking the same language and less of English or even none. That’s what happened to Kel and I. Both of us speak no English at home. We picked up in schools. And similarly, we have many friends who are like us. But what puzzles us is, when many of our friends got married and have kids, they speak to their kids in English most of the time even though they may speak Chinese to their spouses. I may understand to a certain extent on this mentality. It could be attributed to the lack of English speaking environment during their own childhood when they may have gone through a tough time learning English. Hence when they have kids, they do not want them to go through the same tough journey on learning English and are determined that their kids be exposed to English speaking environment from young. I wonder how many parents think this way.
This is, however, not so trending with the times. Our country’s founder Mr Lee Kuan Yew has many times, places great emphasis on the Chinese language and its importance for our future generation to venture the emerging China market. He is a great motivation for many who are struggling with Chinese. Although he was introduced to learning Chinese from the age of 6, he really started learning the language at 32! And from then on, it was a lifelong quest for learning the language. Now, he speaks fluent Chinese in public speeches! In his book on “My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore’s Bilingual Journey”, he spoke on the importance of learning Chinese at home as the kids will learn English in schools anyway. I can’t agree more than that. To quote him:
Language is heard and spoken long before people learn to write and to read. The more frequently one uses a language, the easier it is to express one’s thoughts in it. The younger one learns to speak a language, the more permanently it is remembered.
And that’s what happened to my kids. They grow up in a Chinese speaking family. Kel and I speak Chinese. The grandparents speak Chinese. We watch Chinese shows most of the time. Kel and I read both English and Chinese newspaper. For me, it is faster to read in English though. Both of us picked up English purely in the schools, and now our kids do the same.
In school, my kids are natural in switching to speaking English with their peers. That’s mainly because most of the kids speak English and most lessons are taught in English. They have ample opportunities to hear and speak English in schools. And when they are back home, they revert to speaking Chinese to us and with each other.
So, how can we improve our child’s Chinese?
1) Start speaking Chinese at home as much as you can
Start by switching to speaking Chinese gradually. Designate a regular time to speak Chinese or play a game with the rule of only Chinese language is allowed during the game. The important thing here is to make the language fun.
2) Label Chinese words
Put labels everywhere in the house with simple English and Chinese words on objects like television, fridge, toothbrush, door, bathroom, etc. You can label action words like “brush teeth 刷牙”, “wash hands 洗手”, “open the door 开门”, etc.
3) Read Chinese books to your kids.
Go to the nearest library and borrow those translated English books. I love books by Japan authors in particular. They have good provoking thoughts and books on good values and traditions that are translated into Chinese for a good read. The Japanese are good with illustration too. Books written by US, England, Hungary, Korea authors, etc are equally good too. Look out for those which says [日] author’s name, [译] translator’s name, for eg. for a Japanese story translated book.
4) Go to the library
Visit your neighbourhood library often and tell your kid to borrow equal number of Chinese books and English books. Help them choose interesting and easy-to-read ones.
5) Watch Chinese Children’s programme
My kids love to watch Children shows in Chinese on Channel 8 every Sunday morning. They have interesting and educational content. Recently they have Di Zi Gui 弟子规 too. Also, try switching to Chinese when watching Mickey Mouse clubhouse, Baby TV and other shows. Most of these shows have dual language selection.
6) Listen to a Chinese audio
Switch on to Chinese radio channel in the car. Play a CD full of Chinese Kids songs. During the Chinese New Year period, play and sing the New Year songs together.
7) Write small notes in Chinese
Write love you notes and leave them around in the house for your kids to find. They will be excited to read what you have written to them!
8) List your groceries in Chinese
Write down your groceries in Chinese and give the list to your kids. They have to read the list and search for the groceries in the supermarket. Before long, they will recognize “soya sauce“, “toilet paper“, “milk” in Chinese.
9) Tell your own childhood stories to your kids in Chinese.
Children love stories. My kids love to hear my childhood stories and can’t resist their grandma’s childhood stories too. Through listening, they’ll get more exposure to Chinese words. Remember, try to recite your story without the temptation of adding in English words unless you are explaining the meaning of a Chinese word to them.
10) Start a reward system
Start a reward system which your kids can start accumulating points for good effort of speaking Chinese. Then they can redeem for a sticker or a fun trip or anything you set for them. The points can be accumulated with any games, a Show and Tell performance in Chinese, or just a simple question in Chinese. A small effort to speak the language is worth your encouragement.
Most of the above are tried and tested in my family. The Chinese language is our family’s first language. Whenever I speak English, it’s usually for reprimanding or serious instructions. Hence, my kids do not like me to speak to them in English. The photo on this blog is a recent trip to our neighbourhood library where out of 24 books, 18 of them are in Chinese. Even The Diary of a Wimpy Kid is borrowed in the Chinese version! That’s how much my kids love Chinese more than English. My woes now are to motivate them to read more English books. How I wish they are master of bilingualism!
It’s never too late to start instilling interest in learning a language. Start early and create as many Chinese speaking opportunities as possible. This would be most helpful to improve your child’s Chinese language.
I hope you find these tips useful for you! If you have more to add to the list, feel free to tell me!