Tips on Learning Chinese (Part 1 of 5) [克服障碍。华语我爱]
AJ loves Chinese, that saves me a lot of headache coaching him on this language. But 1 thing you didn't know is the love for this language was not inborn. The father is not a Singaporean, he did not study Chinese at all. He does not speak Mandarin, he understands some, after coming to Singapore, but he can't read or converse in whole sentences.
The coaching of Chinese to AJ is very much left to me. I came from a dialect-speaking blue-collar family. I learned my Chinese from TV drama series & listening to songs. Fortunately, I went to a Special Assistance Programme (SAP) secondary school after PSLE. That was the time I was truly drilled on this language. We were forced to memorise Chinese proverbs (背成语). I dread that but now I am glad we were forced to do that. Until today, they stay with me.
A well-known Chinese Language educator once told me, "不论是学习什么语言， 学习的过程都是一样的。 一定要： 听 - 说 - 认 - 读 - 写 。" How true! To master a language, one must 1st have the opportunity to listen to it, then the opportunity to speak, recognise the word/character, then read & lastly write.
When AJ was very very young, he was only exposed to English. My helper then was an Indonesian, so we only converse in English. The father can't speak Mandarin, so we only converse in English. Thus, for the benefit of everyone in the family, we only communicate in English.
It came to a point I suddenly realised that I should not delay in conversing Mandarin with AJ. But it wasn't easy. There was a lot of conscientious effort to overcome the habit of speaking English.
I made the effort to speak to him in Mandarin whenever possible. It was tough, I tell you. When you started late in immersing your child in another language & you want him/her to do this new language well, the child WILL resist. But I have persevered on. Whenever I asked him questions in Mandarin, he would answer them back in English. Familiar scene? So I had to re-word the answer in Mandarin to get him to repeat the answer. Fortunately, he was a co-operative soul. I know, there are kids out there who would not. But, perseverance is the key, yah?!
Sometimes he would answer back in a mixed of English & Mandarin, due to the limited vocab. Again, I would re-word the answer in Mandarin & get him to repeat the answer. Tough start. But who says learning a less-used language is easy?
In essence, here are some 'tips' I can offer after going through the '听' learning ordeal:
(1) Communicate in Mandarin
Yes, in order for your child not to resist Chinese, you have to converse with him/her in Mandarin. Even if the replies back to you are not in Mandarin, you have to persevere on. If your child is more co-operative, get him/her to reply after you. & please also set a good example yourself by not speaking in mixed languages, yah?
(2) Listen to Mandarin songs/rhymes
Children learn fast through songs & rhymes, so do buy or borrow lots of DVDs or music videos on this & listen together. You have to listen together with your child so that the child can feel that you are interested to learn too. At times, sing with them. I particularly like those karaoke version which you could turn off the song singing portion while having the music on & both parents & children can sing together.
I am not ashamed to share with you that, after AJ has outgrown those baby & children rhymes, I bought these for him:
Oh, come on! Don't laugh at me! These are extinct items & I really had to hunt everywhere for them. The shop owners were so glad to sell them to me for they had probably written them off from their account already.
These are oldies that have wonderful lyrics, almost poetry like. I learned to sing these songs when I was very young & I find that listening & learning the lyrics of these songs help in building vocabs & making of beautiful sentences. This will come in very handy when he writes Chinese composition next time. If the child can keep these in memory, imagine the beautiful Chinese composition they can write! Oh my!
He listens to 梁文福 & 巫启贤's 新谣歌曲 on youtube too. Because I love to sing, I often sang along as the songs were being played & his interest to this kind of songs grew.
(3) Watch Children Chinese Educational DVD or cartoon
If you listen to Chinese songs with your children, then you should also watch Chinese shows with them (logically). Better still if there are both English & Mandarin version in 1 DVD, this way, your children could watch the English one for understanding, then the Mandarin one for exposure to the language. They tend to have less resistant to the language this way.
These are some DVDs we had watched diligently:
When your child just started learning Chinese, he/she would have limited vocabs. Thus, it is important for us to read with them. Do not expect the child to read to you, you just read to him/her. Revisit the same book once in a while to reinforce word & sound recognition. Choose books with big words, words on 1 page & picture on another (not both together on 1 page). I will explain why in the subsequent post on '认'. Read with emotion, with feeling, in order not to bore the young learner.
(5) Use high frequency words
When you speak to your child in Mandarin in the early stage, use a lot of high frequency words. This way, he/she gets to remember them easily. Try to get books that use high frequency words too when you read to him/her. I find books with localised content works wonder for beginners because they allow you to use those words very often.
Since AJ has grown to love this language, I believe that somewhere along the line I must have done something right & proper. I hope that this little sharing will help to ease the path to learning Chinese for your little ones. I am no pro, I am just sharing what I have been through with my little one.