Mandarin enrichment classes for kids: what you need to know

By Anita Yee   — July 04, 2016
  • Make it fun
    1 / 9 Make it fun

    The key to transforming your kid’s I-hate-Mandarin attitude is to find a class that’s fun, emphasises Jean Chan, COO and executive principal of Cerebral, the parent company of Zhi Ying Language School.

    A typical K1 and K2 lesson there involves pupils drawing something related to the five to eight new phrases they learn in class. 

    There’ll be discussions, games and simple worksheets to help them remember the characters.

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  • No pressure here
    2 / 9 No pressure here

    Over at Chengzhu Mandarin Centre, teachers give kids time and space to get used to the class.

    “Any child who’s afraid of Mandarin usually sits at 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 coping in the lesson, and how encouraged they are when they answer questions correctly, she’ll want to join in, too,” says Huang Ying, head of Chengzhu.

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  • Not ready to write
    3 / 9 Not ready to write

    Another reason why your child may dislike the language: She has been forced to write Chinese before she’s physically able to, says Sonya Song, principal and managing director of Yuquan Language School.

    There are more than 30 muscles located in the wrists that develop late, she explains. A young child before age five wouldn’t be able to control her hand well.

    If forced to keep writing, she’ll suffer emotionally, which is why Yuquan’s pupils begin writing simple characters only at about age five. 

    They also write each character or phrase three times at one go; any more and they’d get tired or distracted.

     

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  • Benefits of being bilingual
    4 / 9 Benefits of being bilingual

    It’s worth piquing her interest in Mandarin because the benefits of being bilingual extend to more than just processing information in two languages or understanding different cultures.

    When she’s bilingual in an alphabetic language like 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 Hwee from the Early Childhood and Special Needs Academic Group at the National Institute of Education.

    In this case, the bilingual brain involves both the left and right hemispheres. She’s considered really smart if she can handle the two languages 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.

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  • Best of both worlds
    5 / 9 Best of both worlds

    Our experts say that kids won’t get confused between two languages because the brain can separate them. 

    It’s best if you speak to her in one language while Hubby does so in another. This way, she’ll be conditioned to talk to the two of you in the respective languages, thus polishing her 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 both languages in the same sentence. You don’t have to worry about this because it’s a process that kids go through. It happens because they’ve a limited vocabulary and don’t know the Mandarin words to express themselves.”

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  • Give it your best shot
    6 / 9 Give it your best shot

    Are enrichment classes necessary if the little one is learning Mandarin in preschool? 

    If you don’t speak it at home or you have high expectations of her linguistically, then consider additional lessons, Huang Ying adds. 

    “The purpose of enrichment classes is to give her more opportunities to listen and practise Mandarin – not to give her extra pressure,” she says.

    Even if you barely passed Mandarin at school, you should still speak to your child to encourage her to use the language. Don’t be afraid to speak it or that you’re saying it wrongly.

    What matters most is that you’re establishing the habit of using the language.

    In fact, you can even ask her to be your teacher and teach you what she learns in class. This will increase her interest to learn it. 

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  • Learn together
    7 / 9 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-rich environment at home, Huang Ying suggests. 

    “You can listen to the stories together and play meaningful games 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?” 

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  • Sing it
    8 / 9 Sing it

    Alternatively, organise play dates with children who can speak Mandarin. Sonya thinks children’s songs will help to pique her interest, too. 

    Your kid will be hooked to the rhythm and mimic the Chinese lyrics, pretty much like how the youth these days sing along to Korean pop songs even though they don’t speak or understand the language. 

    As a result, she’ll be keen to learn more about the language.

     

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  • Are we ready for P1?
    9 / 9 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 answers are not found in the story. She must think about the story, draw from her own emotions 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 handed it to his teacher. Your kid could be asked to talk about how she thinks Xiaoming felt when he found the wallet.

    In addition, there’ll be weekly spelling tests on both Chinese characters and hanyu pinyin. 

    The focus of the first term is on teaching the Chinese phonetic system, Huang Ying says. 

    “A child usually needs one year to learn hanyu 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 recommends this check, which can be done at any time from K1, as long as she can recognise words: If she can read without help and makes one error in 100 characters, she’s considered at the independent level. 

    If she makes two to five errors, she’s at the instructional level, where she reads with help from her teacher. She’s considered at risk if she makes six to nine errors.

    (Photos: 123RF.com)

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