Sweet-talking them to say a few words or a sentence in Mandarin? Sending them for different Chinese tuition and enrichment classes? Cajoling them to pick up a Chinese book to read? All in the hope that your kid will learn Chinese fast and well?
You may have probably tried some of the above “strategies” (or punishing draconian measures from your kid’s perspective), and did it work?
Probably not (that’s why you searched and landed on this blog post).
We heart you – completely. Don’t we all wish we have the M-agic pill, pop it into our kids’ mouth and hey presto! Their attitude towards learning Chinese is completely changed!
But even without the pills, fear not, here are some tips (most tried and tested) that we would love to share with you!
TIP 1: Learning through Translation
Living in a multi-lingual country like Singapore, our kids are used to seeing different languages on display. Take for example, the big and bold sign that hangs outside any construction site – it says “DANGER-KEEP OUT!” sign? It usually comes in all four official languages.
And this particular sign “安全第一”（Safety First）is also a common sight. What we see, we remember. And this is where learning can start.
Dear parents, if you see any of those signs, or Chinese commercial taglines, point them out to your kids, quiz them or translate for them. Let them marvel at the efficiency of how four Chinese characters can express as much or MORE than a sentence of English.
Make learning Chinese an everyday skill. And with teaching materials all around you – your kid can probably attend one less tuition class.
TIP 2: Learning through Play
Child development researcher Karyn Purvis said this, “Play disarms fear, builds connectedness, and teaches social skills and competencies for life.”
When kids learn through play, they associate the learning with the “fun” and “happy” emotions. Can you remember the first time you play tug-of-war? Or if you can’t remember, think “Squid Game”.
We learnt valuable lessons on teamwork and strategies through tug-of-war, with a lot of laughter (and maybe some arguing).
When we are totally engaged in a game, learning becomes invisible. The gaming process is so enjoyable that we go on a dopamine high – and it helps to retain interest.
Gamification and Storytelling are tried and tested pedagogy methods. Who wouldn’t love a game of Kahoot after a 30 mins of lecture? And when kids are engaged through playing or absorbed in story adventures, they enter an active and positive frame of mind – they naturally connect better with learning!
Here at Vitamin M, we call it our GamiStory approach – where Gamification meets Storytelling.
TIP 3: Leveraging on Popular Culture
Our kid like to ask the big question – WHY do we have to learn Chinese? If not for the exams, why do I need to learn Chinese? WHY? WHY? WHY?
It’s a good question, you should not avoid it.
BUT avoid going back to the identity argument – you’re Chinese, so you need to learn Chinese. That’s making them feel bad (I can’t speak Mandarin, and so I’m a bad Chinese?) and ashamed of themselves (Since I am so bad in Mandarin, I may as well stop trying.). It’s a depreciating feeling, and we don’t want that to be associated with learning Chinese.
Instead, we can aim for the positive. Learning Chinese allows you to access very interesting pop culture content! While stories of Madam White Snake (白蛇传) and Nezha (哪吒) can feel very Chinese and distant from our modern lives, there’re interesting animation remakes, readily available on Netflix.
And those are cool animation stories with even cooler characters speaking in Mandarin!
Also, we have heard of kids who are amazed by Chinese culture once they caught a glimpse of the diverse possibilities. For the girl who loved princess-cy stuff, they would be amazed by the works of a video-blogger from a remote province in China. Li Zi Qi is a modern artisan living in a faraway village, and she practices all kinds of traditional Chinese crafts, like embroidery, wood carving and cooking – shot beautifully – and without a word of narration and dialogue!
TIP 4: Learning Through Expression
One of the common suggestions when it comes to learning a language is this – go sing karaoke
Have you ever wondered why this works?
When we sing, we are expressing through two medium – music and text. Music frees us to express emotionally, and lyrics gives us the wings to verbalise the emotions.
A language that is alive, goes beyond written and spoken words. When we sing, we are enthralled by the tunes and melodies playing constantly in our minds. And with lyrics, memory retention is multiplied. If someone tells you, if you can condense your exam pointers into a song, you’ll remember it for life. It’s true!
No parent need to teach their kids how to sing Disney’s Frozen theme song “Let It Go“ – as the song has been played repeatedly in thousands of living rooms day in day out. Parents literally froze when they hear the song for the n-th time.
So pick out a Chinese song and learn with your kid, or simply play Chinese songs from time to time in the living room. They might not know what they are singing, but they are actually “reading” the Chinese characters out and storing that knowledge into their subconscious memory.
Listening to Chinese radio stations can work too – we have experimented with oldies, songs from the 90s with a lot of repeated lyrics – those songs are catchy and easy to learn.
TIP 5: Learning Through Role Models
You may be wondering, my Mandarin is not that great, who can be the role model?
The answer is, YOU.
Kids emulate adults in their growing years. Whatever attitude and behaviours the parent adopts, they will almost always pick it up.
If you shun away from Chinese Language, because it’s too difficult, how can we convince the little ones to take up the challenge when the almighty parent has given up?
So, learn Chinese, and speak Mandarin, together with them. If Daddy and Mummy can do it, so can you!
Create an environment conducive for cultivating their interest in Chinese. Leave Chinese newspapers and magazines at home and read them. Enjoy your favourite Netflix content but with Chinese subtitles. Speak Mandarin with Google’s help if you need to.
Be their shining role model and their most loyal compatriot to learn Chinese. It will be a rewarding journey.
While these 5 tips might not work like magic pills to transform your kids from a Channel 5 to a Channel 8, there is something magical in store for your kids to cross channel, if you can apply them consistently and relentlessly in your daily lives.