01 May 2011

What can I do about 听、说、读、写?

The Environment
More and more children are growing up in an English-speaking environment. And when they start schooling, how much time do they have for Chinese lesson per day? Depending on the school culture, some children speak English throughout the entire time they are in school. So, on average, the children are exposed to Chinese/ Mandarin about 1hr per day. There is very little chance for them to improve their Chinese!
With that in mind, I make it a point to speak to my kids in Mandarin since they were babies. They are now comfortable in conversing with me in Mandarin. But that doesn’t mean that they are weak in their English. I’m actually amazed at the speed they are picking up English in school.

Internal motivation
Create an enjoyable environment for your child to learn Chinese. Provide him with opportunities to use what he has learnt and allow him to have a sense of achievement for using the language. 
Make story-telling fun, create interesting lesson plans, allow real life application and praise him for all the effort he puts in. When the child feels good, he will want more of it. That will be his internal motivation. Often, I’ll praise my son “你真棒!” for words he can read and he feels good about it. Sometimes you can exaggerate it a little even, for the effort he puts in.

The basic of learning a language starts with listening and speaking. I’m sure a lot of people know that. If you can speak Mandarin, go ahead and speak to your child in Mandarin. Whatever he hears will be stored up in his word bank for use later. Also, encourage your child to reply you in Mandarin. Even if he says it wrongly, just gently correct him by saying the correct word after him.
The challenge comes with reading and writing. Some children whose primary spoken language at home is Mandarin do not fare well in the Chinese subject either. Why? Speaking in one thing, making a conscious effort to learn is another.  Like I mentioned before, Chinese is not phonetic. I can’t look at the word and try to “pronounce” it. I can’t pronounce it and try to “spell” it out. Chinese characters are like symbols; you need to memorise it to some extent. Can we make the memorizing more enjoyable?
I just want to share some activities that you may engage with your child in learning Chinese:
- As you walk around your neighborhood with your child, talk to him about his surroundings. For older children, engage them in conversation about their surroundings. Sometimes, parents also need to do some homework. If you don’t know what the object is called, find out and go back to your child and tell him later.  
- Describe the environment or the object to him. For example “今天的天很蓝,一朵白云都没有".This will help him express better in writing composition later on.
- Watching Chinese TV programs is also another way to learn, if you allow them to watch TV. Do you know that some of the Playhouse Disney Channel programs can be set to Mandarin?
- Are you an iPhone user? There are Chinese learning apps for children too. I’ve downloaded a few for free. Just search for “儿童”.
You can enable Chinese language under “Settings”->”General”-> ”Keyboard”->”International Keyboards”->”Add New Keyboard”. You can add “Chinese –Simplified Handwriting” to write Chinese words, or add “Chinese – Simplified Pinyin” to input Chinese words by hanyu pinyin.
- Young children like to sing. Besides of singing English nursery rhymes, have you considered Chinese 儿歌 or 童谣? If you don’t know how to sing like me, you can try searching for some online. Some of the common ones are 小白兔乖乖,世上只有妈妈好,小毛驴,小老鼠上登台,打电话.You can also print out the lyrics so that your child learns to read at the same time singing it. My N1 girl likes to read 《小兔乖乖》from the series 小小孩影院经典童话. Whenever we come to the page where mother rabbit knocks on the door, she will sing the song.
- As you read the story books, encourage him to repeat after you if possible. You can also make use of the story to encourage your child to repeat certain phrase. For example, when I read 《小兔子去上学》from the 幼幼知识童话-语言篇,after the first time little rabbit says “早上好”, I’ll ask my girl to tell me how will the little rabbit greet the others he meets subsequently. But don’t ask in the way as though you are testing him…make it fun. For example, in 《我家真漂亮》from the same book, after we finished the story, we play the directional game. I say the word and she point to the said direction. My girl always giggles when she point to her backside (because her hand is not so agile to reach to her back for , she points to her backside instead…lol)
- After reading the story, you can ask him tell the story with a different ending. For example, try 《三只小猪》or《狼来了》with a different plot or ending. Or you can try dramatization, ie. act out the scene. It doesn’t have to be the whole story, neither do you need to say the exact words used in the story book. The point is to give your child a chance to speak Mandarin.   
- As you read the story books, you can identify certain words that you want to bring to him attention. Point out the specific word each time you come across the word. If he is willing, ask him to repeat the word after you. Whenever you read that book again, encourage him to read that word on his own. You may also write the word on a blank card and paste it somewhere prominent, celebrate that he has learnt that word that day.
- Of course, reading good story books is important. For example, the following are some sentences I picked out from《小兔子的圣诞愿望》from the 牛津经典童书.分级阅读第2 series.
   ·         小口袋皱了皱小鼻子,抽了抽小耳朵,动了动小胡须。” – you can almost see the movement of little bunny from the description.
   ·         松枝堆叠起来像软软的地毯,如同在家里一样舒适” – uses imagination to describe the surrounding.
   ·         雪天使在金黄色的光线下闪闪发光” – elaborates on the visual effect.
These are good sentences that can help your child in his composition writing. As he reads more, he gets the idea of how to describe and can create his own sentences next time. For younger children, these sentences will store up in their knowledge bank for use later. 
 - Allow your child the chance to practise. Makes it applicable to real life situation so that he can see the value in the language. For example, in a Chinese restaurant, let him read the menu and see what he would like to order. Or in front of a Chinese signage, ask him what it says.

- As I mentioned in an earlier blog, Chinese words are 象形文字. It’s easier to remember the word if you can associate the word with the object the word means. For words that is a combination of several parts, breaking the words up into several parts (部件) helps too. For example, , it is 2 persons (and ) on the soil ().  If you don’t know the background of the word, you can still create your own. For example, , you can come up with a ridiculous association such as 2 persons (双人旁) have ten () eyes () and one () heart (). He can even draw out the association for a more visual input. 
- Learn to use a dictionary. If he knows how to read the word (maybe there’s a hanyu pinyin aid in the story book), he just simply flips to the page of that hanyu pinyin in the dictionary and look for that word. If he does not know how to read the word, then you will need to teach him how to search for the word by the 部首and 笔画. I’ll put up some info on that later for some parents who may have forgotten how to do that.
- Do a journal.  You can use one word as the theme and find information regarding the word, paste the pictures, form the word using art materials, or write a short sentence or paragraph etc, depending on the age of your child. Or you can identify a theme, for example, after you come back from the zoo, print and paste photos of the animals, print out the names of the animals and ask your child to match against the pictures, or ask him to write the words if he’s older. Basically, it becomes a collection of words he has learnt; his achievement.

- Write a diary. Encourage your child to talk about his day or an incident/ event. Help him phrase the sentence if he has difficulty expressing his thoughts. Then ask him to write down in the diary. For younger children who do not know a lot of words yet, you can write down the sentence for him and let him copy. The action of writing (the experience) can help him remember the words better than just looking at them.
- There are many occasions for your child to practise his writing: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Birthdays, Teachers’ Day, Christmas etc. Let him design a card and pen down his wishes on it. My son is still writing Happy Mother’s card to me now.  lol

- Last but not least, practise makes perfect. No matter how we have tried to make learning fun and  interesting, the child still needs to practise writing the word.

Do feel free to share your success stories about teaching Chinese to your child. I'm sure there are many parents who have many creative ideas on how to make learning Chinese fun and interesting.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the useful tips!! I can use it in my teaching, esp to the primary ones.. :) Looking forward to more of your posts! Keep it up! :)


Welcome to Happy Cottage!

I started 开心屋 - Happy Cottage because I have 凯 and 欣 in the house. Together they are the 开心 (sounds like) team.

Mommy loves Chinese language and is a big fan of Chinese story books. Thus the kids often receive interesting children Chinese story books from mommy. Many of the children Chinese story books are so beautifully drawn and well written that I like to read them myself.

Learning and loving the language is not an easy task in Singapore as our environment is not condusive enough for such learning. Thus I believe I have to create such an environment at home. Through daily communication in Mandarin and regular reading of the Chinese materials, I hope to cultivate their likings for the language. You can find many of the books in the Book Store.

Besides introducing children Chinese story books to you, I would also like to share some learning resources and tips on the usage of the language here. I've met some parents, in their best attempt to communicate with their kids in Mandarin, misread some words or used an incorrect sentence structure. You can find the information in the tabs above.

So, why is this blog written in English? I know of many parents who have kinda lost touch with the language. If I were to share in Chinese, then it may not be as effective.

Do come back often for more updates.