Learning Mandarin - speak more, read more。

What is your strategy for teaching your child Mandarin?  We didn't have one and I quite regret it. These days, we try the 1 parent, 1 language approach.  Some days are more successful than others!  I do find myself being a nicer, more patient parent when I speak Mandarin to my kids.  That's because the words for scolding them take a lot longer to come out!! :D

I started speaking Mandarin with my kids more since last September after attending the MOE Mother Tongue Symposium.  One of the lecturers encouraged us all as parents to begin speaking with our children.  No matter how little, how broken, how simple, a little a day is better than none.  Having memorized countless of 词语手册s over the years, we have no excuse not to speak any Mandarin at all to our kids.  If learning a language is as easy as sending for once-a-week tuition or enrichment class, I will do it in a heartbeat. But the fact is that language learning is all about speaking, listening, reading and writing in a print-rich environment.  She raised an example of her nephew in Taiwan, who at 4, can read some Chinese.  He learns by looking at the same road signs near his house everyday.  Of course, in Taiwan, all the road names, shop signages, train station names etc are all in Mandarin.  Thus, just like a Singaporean child who picks up English very naturally, they learn to read Mandarin the same way.  Therein lies the problem - where can you see Mandarin words (or Malay or Tamil) in Singapore?  All our road signs and shop signages are in English!  As parents then, to support learning Mandarin, we then have to make up for it by putting up Mandarin words and labels around the house to give your child the print-rich environment needed for him/her to pick up the language.

So I was very inspired after that afternoon to start speaking to my children in Mandarin. And they ignored me for 2 weeks.  Wut!  I was quite ready to throw in the towel and send them to the nearest tuition centre when the younger one started naming things in Mandarin.  Maybe he saw how enthusiastic and excited I was when he spoke Mandarin so he started speaking more and more!  My older girl remained reticent when spoken to but eventually, she too started speaking voluntarily.  I have to give credit to her school because the interest is definitely sparked and fanned there with the catchy songs, funky computer games and 巧虎 DVDs. These days, we are doing a bit more writing and reading too based on the theme-of-the-day so that certainly helps her become more interested! Because we are doing theme-based studies, this leads very nicely into learning Mandarin via word radicals (部首)which gives some meaning to the word that we are learning.  

Since we were doing volcanoes and learning about fire, 火,this led us to look at words like 火,火灾,灭火,灯,灿烂,all with the same radical.  We also looked at another way fire is represented in Chinese words, the 4 点s below words like 煮,蒸,which also symbolizes fire on the stove.  I really want to recommend this set of cards I came across,麦田拾字 , which have pictorial representations of thousands of words! (There are many sellers and variations.  I just bought the cheapest paper version).  Aside from the cards, you can type the word in Wechat and they send you a simple gif animation of the words too!  For example, how they derive the word 人 from a man walking. 

 
麦田拾字cards


Our little journal where we do all our work.  Because I hate filing and I'm too disorganized with worksheets.

 

We decided as a family to (as much as possible) to keep our weekends free so the struggle is very real - do we send our children for tuition (Mandarin) because everyone is sending? If we don't, are we depriving her?  But I'm reminded that right from the start, we wanted to cultivate the kids' innate motivation and love for learning.  Pushing them for extra Mandarin classes may not exactly achieve this goal.

Then this happened.

This is what she is used to doing in school - draw and write. As you can see, her drawing is much more detailed than her writing.  As the child gets older, they will learn to express that detail in words.

All on her own, without any pressure, on one of her free afternoons, she spoke to herself and wrote and wrote and drew and drew.  Whatever she wanted, whatever struck her fancy, whatever she wanted to express.  This is my glimmer of hope that I'm doing right by her at this age.  Of course, this isn't much and I balk at what I see in the Berries or Tian Hsia materials but I'll take what I can get.  What I get is a little girl who is learning to love Mandarin and she has thoughts and feelings she wants to express.  I may regret this moment and retract what I say here in this blog post next year (because Primary school starts!) but we will get there when we get there!

I am also thinking of enrolling my kids into a fun-fun Mandarin camp in the holidays just to let them enjoy listening and speaking the language.  If you have any good recommendations, please let me know!

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