Diana Ser’s most important tip for parents who want bilingual kids

By Lynn Wee   — July 11, 2017
  • Diana Ser shares her top parenting tips
    1 / 7 Diana Ser shares her top parenting tips

    While celebrity mummy Diana Ser is well-known for her hosting gigs, she is also adored by many for her website, Crazy about Chinese, where she posts videos on how she uses everyday opportunities to teach her three children – Jake, 11, Christy, nine, and Jaymee, six, Mandarin.

    Here she shares her do’s and dont’s when it comes to creating a Mandarin-friendly environment at home.

    Related: Diana Ser: I stopped full-time work so I could cook for my kids

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  • Some kids just refuse to speak or learn Chinese. What's your advice for their desperate parents?
    2 / 7 Some kids just refuse to speak or learn Chinese. What's your advice for their desperate parents?

    “I think the problem is that many parents leave it till it’s too late. If you start with a newborn or when your child is six months old, they don’t know how to refuse anything. They only refuse when they are uncomfortable, so the preschool period is really important. If they grow up with Mandarin the way they grow up with English, then they wouldn’t reject it.

    “Of course, there are also parents who have tried but the child just refuses it. I totally understand that – it’s an uphill task. It’s not easy trying to get my three kids to love Mandarin, but I know that as long as I keep putting in effort now, I will see the results later.

    “My No. 1 and 2 (Jake and Christy) do pretty decently in Mandarin in school, but, that’s just the academic part of it. I’m looking forward to later on in life when the actual application comes, because I’m sure it will help them.”

    Related: Diana Ser’s top tips for teaching kids Chinese 

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  • Would you say the best tip is to start young, and to keep trying?
    3 / 7 Would you say the best tip is to start young, and to keep trying?

    “Once the kids reach primary school, everything gets a lot tougher. When they enter the education system, the stress of producing results comes in, and it’s so difficult to make it fun. It’s only when they are younger, they can have a bit more positive association to it.

    “Also, parents’ attitudes are almost everything. I do not know how often I’ve heard parents saying in front of their child ‘Chinese is so difficult, I used to flunk it all the time’. And, to be honest, it annoys me.

    “The kid is a piece of bank paper to a large extent, and everyday, they are hearing Daddy and Mummy complaining how difficult Chinese is, even when they have no concept of that. They would have already adopted your attitude, and it’s very self-defecting.

    “The very least parents can do is to say “wow, let’s do it together”, and reserve your own comments between you and your spouse, behind closed doors – don’t let your child listen to it. Why so? Because it influences them to say that, “See, my Mummy says it’s so difficult, it’s true, and I refuse to learn it”. So, my best tip is to start young, really try to be positive, and be involved whenever possible.”

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  • Do you schedule a timetable for your kids to speak Mandarin at home, or does it come naturally?
    4 / 7 Do you schedule a timetable for your kids to speak Mandarin at home, or does it come naturally?

    “Unfortunately, it doesn’t come naturally. I wish I could say that, but I’ll catch myself speaking in English, and the next sentence, I’ll suddenly introduce Mandarin.

    “Being Singaporeans, we just forget. It’s so much faster to do it in English. Sometimes, I struggle with not knowing how to say a certain word or phrase in Mandarin as well, which I’ll then check on the spot.

    “At the end of the day, it’s all about trying my best, and sometimes, I even wonder if my best is good enough. But, I have to just keep doing it – even if it’s switching from English to Mandarin amidst sentences. So, my conversation with my kids are in two languages (with my kids replying in English), but I pretend that there’s nothing happening, and I continue speaking in Mandarin. At least they are listening.”

    Related: Diana Ser: TV host, mummy, and now, champion of Mandarin

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  • You use multimedia platforms to teach your kids Mandarin. How do you manage the screen time aspect of it?
    5 / 7 You use multimedia platforms to teach your kids Mandarin. How do you manage the screen time aspect of it?

    “I manage it with an iron-fist. (jokingly)

    “I never gave them a chance to have free-reign with devices. So it’s not something that they take for granted. They don’t have iPads, and they only have a dummy phone which I can ring them for school pick-ups. They don’t have access to data, and they know that they are not supposed to turn on the TV without my permission. So, I have to say yes before anyone can turn on the TV.

    “TV time is from 7.30 to 8pm, followed by bed time. After a while, kids are routine, and they are habitual, so they know that it’s not TV time. “And when they want to get something special (for example, extra TV time), they will send the youngest one, Jaymee (because she still acts very cute, and she thinks she can get away with it), to request for it.”

    Related: Why Diana Ser makes her kids sleep by 8pm

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  • What are your top tips on creating a Mandarin-friendly home?
    6 / 7 What are your top tips on creating a Mandarin-friendly home?

    “Firstly, associate Mandarin with something that’s positive and fun – that’s play. For instance, one day, I walked past and saw Jaymee playing with the drink coasters. She was just spinning the coasters away – children are very clever in creating their own toys, and I realised it was a really cheap toy. So, I sat down for 10 minutes, and we learnt about shapes and movement in Mandarin. We even had a little competition, where I drew a starting line, and we each took one coaster and see whose rolled the farthest – and she loved it. It’s about looking for windows of opportunities where you can introduce Mandarin.

    “Secondly, identify key family members who can speak Mandarin, or who are a bit more supportive – that will really help. Like my father-in-law, who is very bilingual, whom I know will be very supportive of it, and that helps. I can tell my kids who love their grandfather that even though Gong Gong went to school in England, he does business with the Chinese people, and can speak Mandarin very well, too!

    “Thirdly, like what I’ve shared, make it a very regular part of their routine. Because, if they only associate Mandarin with ting xie and mo xie, it will be very miserable.

    “Finally, look for friends and play opportunities. I told my husband (actor-turned-banker James Lye) that we have to quit going to all the Caucasian countries. If we don’t go to places where people actually speak Mandarin, the kids are going to think they it’s pointless to learn Mandarin since nobody uses it. We took them to Taiwan for a holiday before, and they had great fun! For a week, they existed in a place where people only spoke Mandarin. Even at the hawker centres we frequent, I’ll tell the hawker to speak to my kids in Mandarin (and they are usually very cooperative). My kids are then forced to order their food and to converse in Mandarin.”

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  • You’re not only focused on raising bilingual children, but strict on discipline as well. Could you share some discipline methods that have worked for you?
    7 / 7 You’re not only focused on raising bilingual children, but strict on discipline as well. Could you share some discipline methods that have worked for you?

    “Discipline methods will change as their age change. So, my eldest, Jake, he is 11 years old, and is a tween now. I realised that the very draconian – the ‘mummy says and you must do’ kind of method only worked when they are younger. For him, I need to tweak that, otherwise I’ll lose him.

    “Just the other day, he raised his voice at me in public, and I bit my tongue so hard that it nearly bled, as I didn’t want to scold or tick him off in public. After the whole episode, I reminded him that he had shouted at me in public, and there were lots of people who were astounded and were probably wondering why he was shouting at his mum.

    “The next day, he came to me and said, “Mummy, you know my teacher says that boys who are going through puberty have a bad temper”, and I thought, that’s a teenage boy’s way of apologising.

    “So, I need to soften my ways and reason a bit more with him. But for the younger ones, I can still say “Mummy says this and you jolly well do it” – I am the old-fashioned disciplinarian. But, at the end of the day, different methods work for kids of different ages.”

    Related: How to discipline child in public

    (Photos: Instagram/Dianaserlye)

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