Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chinese Lessons

Up till now, I am still resisting Chinese classes and enrichment for my boys, though I have considered the options many times over in the past two years. The final decision is always the same - I shall do the coaching myself. 

I am not fond of classes that follow the MOE curriculum so closely such that they revise the schoolwork with the kids. I can do that myself easily. Nor am I interested in those that teach a few weeks ahead to prepare the kids in advance for the school lessons.

From the feedback I've read/heard, parts of the curriculum of certain enrichment programmes are simply too esoteric and inpractical. For example, why memorise aphorisms (chengyu 成语) which students would rarely use at this level, if ever, except to score points in school essays later on. What I find even more ludicrous is the teachings of analects (lunyu 论语)

Not only am I skeptical of their effectiveness for my kids at this age, I'm also not convinced that we can inculcate interest in the Chinese language and culture simply through the introduction of aphorisms and analects. I've known some parents who made their preschoolers memorize and recite analects!! If we were living in Confucius times, I can see why. But in our modern times?! 

I am searching for a programme that emphasizes oral Chinese and conversational skills above anything else. My boys have no problem with the listening, comprehension, reading and writing aspects. So their weakness lies in their oral Chinese. To speak Mandarin is not a tall order. But to speak fluently and beautifully is the challenge. That said, I'm beginning to think that my 4-year-old may have a headstart compared to his older brother in this aspect because I started coaching him differently much earlier. Perhaps their personalities have a role to play too. 

Friends have suggested speech and drama classes, but I am doubtful they will meet my objective despite their popularity. I'm also wondering if a tutor will be able to do a better job in motivating M to speak more Mandarin than I can. After all, the tutor will only be seeing him for max. 2 hrs a week. 

If the child doesn't know the word when he hears it, obviously he will have difficulty understanding the word and its usage when he reads it. Arming him with a bilingual dictionary is only going to help after a child has attained a certain level of proficiency. And he still needs self-motivation to put the dictionary to good use. 

Sure, reading a lot and being read to will help them pick up the vocabulary and sentence structures. But at the end of the day, it doesn't solve the problem of boosting confidence and fluency in the language. I know, I am expecting a lot and that's the tiger mum in me speaking. But I'm still confident that they can be proficient in the language in time to come.

Growing up, I was actually more fluent in Mandarin than in English, simply because my only source of entertainment back then was the Channel 8 TV programmes. We spoke dialect at home (so my Hokkien is superb!) and English was a language used only during school lessons. 

For my boys, the situation has totally reversed. They rarely watch Chinese TV programmes and are also not interested in them. We are definitely a English-speaking family. In the last two years, though I have increased the time spent speaking Mandarin to the boys, we can still do better in this area. 

I recognize that in a few months' time, I may not be able to coach them on the Chinese language for several hours a week on a one-to-one basis like I do now. So I'm stepping up on our efforts at home to beef up their foundation and stretch them further while I still can afford the time. 

More about what we do at home in a separate post. 


Karmeleon said...

Since you are already good in Chinese, why not just speak to your boys in Chinese? Make use of the sentences and phrases you come across in books and use them in conversation. eg. 我们玩得满头大汗, or 看,天上乌云漫天,快下雨了。 Can't be that difficult, right? I'm personally poor in Chinese. Failed my Chinese oral even at A-levels, altho' I didn't fail my CL or else I would've needed to go to chinese camp in the uni! I am thus poor at forming sentences and making conversation without hesitating at the proper words to use. Reading has helped alot. And I try to use what we've been reading in our daily activities and happenings with my toddler. He speaks well as a result. English with the rest of the family members. Chinese with me.

Domesticgoddess said...

Your Chinese is not that poor since you can string together these two sentences.

Speaking Mandarin to the kids isn't difficult and I've been doing that. But speaking ONLY Mandarin is something that I have to consciously switch to because in the past 2 decades, I have been speaking more English.

With my older boy, there is some resistance from him to speak entirely in Mandarin to me, which is something I'm working on. I know this won't be an issue if I had spoken to the boys only in Mandarin since birth and let them speak to daddy in English. But I had decided not to do so at that time because I believe that a strong grasp of English will get the child further. I am still glad for that decision, otherwise their English standard won't be where they are now.

It all boils down to expectations. Some kids I know ended up with passable quality in both languages and their parents are happy enough. Whereas others excel in one language and simply have to work harder at the other. While I don't expect them to be as strong in Chinese as they are in English (just yet), but I do not expect us (me and kids that is) to give up so easily.

Karmeleon said...

Yes, it's not that poor now bc I did speak to him in mostly Mandarin from the time he was a few months old, and I've been trying out all those words from his books since then too. Which means I've been trying for 2 years. Surely I've improved, lah! He speaks mostly Chinese to me. And he speaks English to everyone else. His three-times-a-week 3-hr workgroup is solely English too.

Domesticgoddess said...

It is a choice we parents make, isn't it?

Look at those children from China who speak Mandarin at home, hence are strong in Chinese language. They also have to work at their English. Some people think that it is easier to pick up English from school than CHinese since most subjects are taught in English. I have mixed views about this.

If the child doesn't have strong foundation in English to begin with, there is high chance he ends up speaking Singlish from schoolmates and has only passable quality of English. Which also affect his understanding of other subjects. So to excel in this language, he still needs to work hard. No other way.

Jeremy said...

I am an avid reader of your blog,but never commented until now. I agree with you. My daughter was looked after by a Chinese babysitter who speaks only Mandarin to her. Until she was 5. THen we put her in CC. Her Chinese standard is quite good but English is not so good. Because my wife speaks Mandarin to her and I speak English. But we so busy with work that we also hardly converse after work or weekends. Just normal conversations.

When she goes to kindergarden, she picked up lots of bad English. Now in P1, she struggles a bit. Can understand English and do daily work but not anywhere as good as your boys. I only wish we spoke more English at home for the first few years.

Karmeleon said...

That's right.

With 1 of me speaking Mandarin with him, and 5 others at home speaking English with him and him reading primary level English & Chinese fluently without help, I am not so worried, since he is only 2years old.

Domesticgoddess said...

Hi Jeremy, thanks for coming forward to share your experience. It is still not too late for your gal to brush up her English. :> Like you said, her Chinese is good, which means she has one less worry.

Domesticgoddess said...

Karmeleon, your little one is only 2. Plenty of time to go.

Corsage@A Dollop Of Me said...

I'll be very interested to read about your journey regarding this! My husband never had formal schooling in Chinese and I am very weak in it (can't read much without hanyu pinyin), so I have resorted to sending Bubbles to once a week Chinese playgroup. It is an accompanied class. By golly, I am amazed at how well she has taken to the language! I too am learning as I am in class with her and try to sing the same songs etc at home. Very thankful how it has turned out. Having said that, I do know that the next phase (reading/writing) will be a different ball game altogether. We'll see :)

Domesticgoddess said...

Corsage, I think I would have done the same in your situation. Like another reader said, parents often improve as we learn alongside our kids. I think the writing is an easy phase once the child starts reading and is speaking fluently. You still have plenty of time on your side though, so you can enjoy the journey with her. :>

Karmeleon said...

@Corsage - I learnt how to converse also by observing the Chinese Playgroup teachers. Then ask them how to repeat if I didn't hear clearly, or when I am not sure. Learnt lots that way too!

*hehe* the main reason why we didn't speak Mandarin at home is also similar - bc Husbs doesn't know Mandarin at all. So didn't try with older 3 kids until the youngest.

Domesticgoddess said...

Oh Karmeleon, I didn't realise your hb also doesn't speak Mandarin. Where is he from?

Corsage, is your hb foreigner too?

Karmeleon said...

Only from Malaysia, but he never took Chinese, only Malay. And spoke Cantonese with parents. But after leaving home for studies, he now even struggles with speaking Cantonese. ;P Our youngest even took it upon himself to translate to his dad! Observed that from the time he was around 18mths.

Domesticgoddess said...

Haha! Kids are so cute to do translation voluntarily. My boys do the same. When they were smaller, they used to correct me when I said they are Chinese boys. They would call themselves English boys, like their dad who is from England.

The Beauties In Our Lives said...

It is hard to find a good Chinese enrichment programme for them, isn't it? I had been searching high and low, to no avail as well. My girls are lucky because my mum, who stays with me 3 nights a week, speaks 100% Mandarin with them. I kind of regretted not speaking with them in Mandarin from young, because now, they find it a little strange to speak to me in Mandarin, except for a smattering of phrases! I am contemplating bringing them to China for a complete immersion where we only speak Mandarin to them for 2 weeks!

Right now, the only way is to read more to them, and encourage them to write and speak more as well. Sentence construction becomes a challenge in primary school when they have to write essays and 造句. But I am sure your boys will manage well! :)

That being said, I did not speak English until primary 1, and Mandarin was my only mode of communication with my parents...yet English was my stronger language over Mandarin. Hence, I guess the main language we spoke at home does not necessarily translate to academic success in that language.

Domesticgoddess said...

Linette, your gals are lucky indeed! Having a grandparent around 3x a week to practise Mandarin with will help tremendously, esp if granny speaks well and converse plenty with them.

Actually the 2-weeks China immersion plan sounds good, especially since you go to China often. I can't imagine doing that with my boys (not yet anyway) otherwise they will probably sulk the whole time. N may try, but M will ignore me for the 2 weeks for sure! Haha!

I agree with you that speaking a language at home doesn't guarantee academic success in that language. It helps to a certain extent, like understanding what's spoken in class and read basic materials etc... but to excel will still require the child to either have a flair in it or some efforts from the child.

I am a strong believer that with a strong will and lots of hard work, we can overcome almost any difficulty. This also means that I expect a certain level of commitment from my boys no matter what. I know of some parents who are already giving up at lower primary level - they shared that they aren't expecting much, as long as their kids pass the subject. Hmm...

Corsage@A Dollop Of Me said...

Karmeleon & Domesticgoddess:
My husband is from M'sia :)

Just like yours, K, he did his schooling in Malay. His family spoke primarily English. I'll work hard like you to brush up on Mandarin :)


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