An all-Mandarin preschool programme? The thought of exposing your little ones entirely to this tonal subject in their early years may seem a little daunting.
After all, the majority of preschools here follow Singapore’s bilingual education system closely, where English is the main language of instruction, with an hour or two of Mandarin lessons daily.
But a number of schools now offer programmes that immerse children in a Mandarin-rich environment, not only in terms of academic subjects, but also activities that cultivate a love of Chinese culture.
Dr Lucy Quek, deputy director for early childhood education at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, says that listening to Mandarin continually enables young children to respond naturally and spontaneously.
“They may not understand everything at first, but the tone, facial expressions and body language of the teacher and other children provide some form of inference for the listening child.”
Research has shown that exposure to more than one language shapes a child’s brain, and it increases his ability to switch as well as to stay focused, she adds.
“Parents who place their children in full Mandarin immersion preschools are likely to be speaking English at home. Thus, the child gets exposure to both languages. And, if preparedness for formal schooling is in terms of language competencies, it is a plus point to be in an immersion programme.”
So, how do these programmes work? We speak to some of the schools that offer such experiences.