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.