“Firstly, associate Mandarin with something that’s positive and fun – like play.
For instance, one day, I saw Jaymee playing with drink coasters.
“So, I sat with her for 10 minutes, and taught her about shapes and movement in Mandarin. We even had a little competition, where I drew a starting line, and we each took a coaster and rolled them to see which rolled the farthest – and she loved it. It’s about looking for opportunities to introduce Mandarin.
“Secondly, identify key family members, who can speak Mandarin, to help you. In my family, there’s my father-in-law, who is bilingual, and very supportive.
“My kids love their grandfather, and I can tell them that even though Gong Gong went to school in England, he does business with Chinese people, and can speak Mandarin very well!
“Thirdly, make it a part of their routine. Because, if they associate Mandarin only with school lessons like ting xie (spelling) and moxie (memorised spelling), learning will be a miserable experience.
“Finally, look for friends and play opportunities. I told my husband (actor-turned-banker James Lye) that we should postpone trips to primarily English-speaking countries. If we don’t visit places where people actually speak Mandarin, the children are going to think that it’s pointless to learn the language since nobody uses it.
“We took them to Taiwan for a holiday, and they had great fun! For a week, they were in a place where people only spoke Mandarin. Back home, even at the hawker centres we frequent, I’ll tell the hawkers to speak to my kids in Mandarin (and they are usually very cooperative), so that my children have to order food and converse in the language.”