“I hate Chinese! It is the toughest subject! I wish I could drop it.”
Does this sound familiar to you? If your child is struggling with Chinese, rest assured that they are not alone. Not every student is linguistically-inclined, but is it possible to turn a chore into something enjoyable?
Here in Singapore, we pride ourselves in being a multilingual nation. Learning one’s own mother tongue has been incorporated seamlessly into our school curriculum, where children are taught a second language from as early as kindergarten. Students of Chinese ethnicity will typically learn Mandarin Chinese as their second language. If they excel in it, they can potentially opt to take Chinese as a double first language, together with English.
However, even though most students are no stranger to learning a second language, it is not uncommon to find students who are averse to it. Perhaps it is the way mother tongues have been forced upon the curriculum to unwilling students, or perhaps it is the stress of taking three or four other subjects in addition to Chinese. Whatever the reason, the pool of students facing difficulties in their mother tongue has always been there. As a helpless parent on the side-lines, you may be wondering if there is anything you can do to help your child regain an interest in Chinese. Well, you are not alone. As educators of a tuition agency in Singapore, we have continuously asked ourselves: how can we cultivate an appreciation for Chinese in our students?
Why Study Chinese?
Mother tongue has been made mandatory for most Singaporean students, not least because it helps to bridge the gap between the older generations and the younger. In Singapore, we can hear Chinese spoken every day at our local mama shops and hawker centres. However, Chinese is also key to gaining leverage in the rapidly expanding business world. As one of the major players in the global economic field, China is an important figure when it comes to dealing in today’s businesses. The ability to understand and speak Chinese is highly sought-after in many companies that are looking to expand internationally. People of all ethnicities have taken to learning Chinese given China’s rise in economic power. Here, we are extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to learn Chinese from as young as preschool, and to study it throughout our schooling years. For students looking to equip themselves with relevant skills for the workforce, speaking Chinese should be a topmost priority.
Additionally, taking Chinese, especially at higher levels, can reward students with better placements in their desired schools. For instance, by scoring well in higher Chinese in their PSLE or O-level examinations, students can be given priority to enrol in selected top secondary schools or junior colleges. As the playing field only gets more and more competitive, students will need every edge they can get to enrol in the school of their dreams.
Exposing Your Child to Chinese
We believe that early exposure to a language plays an important part in getting a child interested in the language and makes it easier for them to pick it up. Studies have shown that teaching a child a second language in their preschool years activates a linguistic part of their brain, and thus they will have an easier time even picking up additional languages when they are older.
Exposure to Chinese can be as simple as tuning in to Chinese radio stations when your child is around. Try reading them some story books in Chinese, playing Chinese games, and singing Chinese songs with them. If you are feeling creative, you can even make some flash cards with simple Chinese phrases to quiz your child! Need a little inspiration? There are plenty of fun applets created just to teach young children Chinese. You can try some educational games out with your child!
If your child is having trouble coping with Chinese in school, you could also try signing them up for primary school Chinese tuition. Tuition has the advantage of putting your child in the hands of a professional geared towards results, so you can be sure that those red grades will see an improvement. Chinese tuition does not have to be dry and boring – with the right teacher and classmates, tuition lessons can turn into fun sessions that your child will be begging you to take them to!
While it is always best to teach a child a new language from as young as possible, do not worry if your child is older and has been missing out on some of these opportunities. It is better to be late than never – now is as good a time as any to start exposing your child to Chinese!