Mandarin enrichment classes for kids: what you need to know
Before you enrol your preschooler for Mandarin enrichment classes, here's a guide to what you need to know.
July 4, 2016
Make it fun The key to transforming your kid’s I-hate-Mandarin attitudeis to find a class that’s fun, emphasises Jean Chan, COO andexecutive principal of Cerebral, the parent company ofZhi Ying Language School.A typical K1 and K2 lesson there involves pupils drawingsomething related to the five to eight new phrases theylearn in class.There’ll be discussions, games and simple worksheetsto help them remember the characters. No pressure here Over at Chengzhu Mandarin Centre, teachers give kids timeand space to get used to the class.“Any child who’s afraid of Mandarin usually sitsat the back of the classroom and observes.We realise that peer influence is greater than the teacher’s,so when your little one sees how well her classmates are copingin the lesson, and how encouraged they are when they answerquestions correctly, she’ll want to join in, too,”says Huang Ying, head of Chengzhu. Not ready to write Another reason why your child may dislike the language:She has been forced to write Chinese before she’sphysically able to, says Sonya Song, principal andmanaging director of Yuquan Language School.There are more than 30 muscles located in the wriststhat develop late, she explains.A young child before age five wouldn’t beable to control her hand well.If forced to keep writing, she’ll suffer emotionally,which is why Yuquan’s pupils begin writingsimple characters only at about age five.They also write each character or phrase threetimes at one go; any more and they’d get tired or distracted. Benefits of being bilingual It’s worth piquing her interest in Mandarin becausethe benefits of being bilingual extend to more thanjust processing information in two languages orunderstanding different cultures.When she’s bilingual in an alphabetic languagelike English and a logographic one like Chinese,her brain has to focus on the language being used,while intentionally blocking the activity of the other,says assistant professor Noel Chia Kok Hweefrom the Early Childhood and Special Needs Academic Groupat the National Institute of Education.In this case, the bilingual brain involves boththe left and right hemispheres.She’s considered really smart if she can handle the twolanguages well.On the other hand, if a kid is bilingual in two alphabetic languages,the language processing may not be as tedious and complex, he adds. Best of both worlds Our experts say that kids won’t get confused betweentwo languages because the brain can separate them.It’s best if you speak to her in one languagewhile Hubby does so in another.This way, she’ll be conditioned to talk to the twoof you in the respective languages, thus polishingher proficiency in both.Sonya says such habits are formed mainly from birth to age three.“Some parents tell us their kid cannot speak Mandarin.But after checking, we realised that’s not true.It’s just that their child is not used to using it with them,as they only converse in English,” she explains.“There are also some children who combine bothlanguages in the same sentence.You don’t have to worry about this because it’s aprocess that kids go through.It happens because they’ve a limited vocabularyand don’t know the Mandarin words to express themselves.” Give it your best shot Are enrichment classes necessary if the little one islearning Mandarin in preschool?If you don’t speak it at home or you have high expectationsof her linguistically, then consider additional lessons, Huang Ying adds.“The purpose of enrichment classes is to give her more opportunitiesto listen and practise Mandarin – not to give her extra pressure,” she says.Even if you barely passed Mandarin at school, youshould still speak to your child to encourageher to use the language. Don’t be afraid to speak itor that you’re saying it wrongly. What matters mostis that you’re establishing the habit of using the language.In fact, you can even ask her to be your teacher andteach you what she learns in class.This will increase her interest to learn it. Learn together But you must also make an effort to learn and correct yourself.And you don’t have to worry that she’ll pick up your errors;she’ll learn the correct structure and vocabulary from school.Use audiobooks and the Internet to create a Mandarin-richenvironment at home, Huang Ying suggests.“You can listen to the stories together and play meaningfulgames on the many Chinese apps available on your smartphone,” she says.“Learn with her. If you don’t show any interest in the language,how will she be interested?” Sing it Alternatively, organise play dateswith children who can speak Mandarin.Sonya thinks children’s songs will help to piqueher interest, too.Your kid will be hooked to the rhythm and mimic theChinese lyrics, pretty much like how the youththese days sing along to Korean pop songs eventhough they don’t speak or understand the language.As a result, she’ll be keen to learn more about the language. Are we ready for P1? Your child will learn 800 characters in Primary 1, says Jean.She must be able to understand basic instructions in Mandarin,communicate in it and write simple sentences in Primary 1,says Huang Ying.She’ll also have to read short passages and answer questions on them.However, the quizzes are now harder because the answersare not found in the story.She must think about the story, draw from her ownemotions and express them in her own words.For instance, the text could be about a boy, Xiaoming,who picked up a wallet outside his school and handedit to his teacher.Your kid could be asked to talk about how she thinksXiaoming felt when he found the wallet.In addition, there’ll be weekly spelling tests on bothChinese characters and hanyu pinyin.The focus of the first term is on teaching the Chinesephonetic system, Huang Ying says.“A child usually needs one year to learnhanyu pinyin – but it’s now taught over three months in Primary 1.That’s why a lot of parents look for preschools that teach it in K2.”If you want to measure how well she reads, Prof Chia recommendsthis check, which can be done at any time from K1, aslong as she can recognise words: If she can read withouthelp and makes one error in 100 characters, she’s consideredat the independent level.If she makes two to five errors, she’s at the instructionallevel, where she reads with help from her teacher.She’s considered at risk if she makes six to nine errors.(Photos: 123RF.com)