Research shows that being bilingual can improve cognitive skills not related to language, as well as fight against dementia. Given all the advantages, it is no surprise that most parents would love to ensure that their children grow up bilingual. Unfortunately, we do not always know the best way to go about that.
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A common mistake parents make is not realising that language is “caught, not taught’ in the early years.
Kids must be exposed to a language to be able to pick it up. Sure, they can rote learn vocabulary or read sight words, but without a social context and relevance, language means very little.
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Another common mistake is to put too much pressure on one language.
For example, English is associated as the language of the home, of jokes, of storybooks and cuddles, of playtime and social interaction, while Mandarin is delivered in more anxious “we must learn this” spurts. Children will automatically avoid a language that does not have the positive associations.
Here are 5 ways in which you can create an environment where two languages can flourish.
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SINGING is a great way to learn language and you don’t have to be a good singer. When words are matched with melody, we remember them more easily.
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TELEVISION when used sensibly can be a powerful learning aid, as long as the programmes – such as educational videos or some shows – are carefully selected, the time is limited and the activity is shared. Set aside time during the day to watch Mandarin children’s programmes.
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GAMES can introduce to your child Mandarin characters – for example, matching pictures and characters, a magic box or picture dominoes.
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LABEL ITEMS around the home and begin to introduce the Mandarin names for objects during conversation.
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CREATE OPPORTUNITIES for your kid to learn and speak the language. You can arrange play dates with other Mandarin-speaking children.
Huang Ying is the head of Chengzhu Mandarin Centre.
Related story: 2 new Chinese preschools help kids master Mandarin