In this enrichment-saturated age, I’m quite pleased to have resisted the lure of sending K&B for every enrichment class they could possibly attend. Mums enquire about Shichida for their 8-month olds, others queue for prime timeslots at Julia Gabriel Playnest… not to mention Kumon (for math), phonics classes (to read) and speech and drama (public speaking (!)).
The only class that I felt keen to enrol K in, was a mandarin class. Why so? Bear with the history…
At one stage I was all fired up about teaching her myself, given my love for the language. I purchased 四五快读from当当网, and quite quickly imbibed the first 30 pages of 密密麻麻prose on how to use the set effectively. I did the first lesson with her, and she loved playing games with the little word cards (for a time). But before my self-pats on the back even lost their warmth, I realised that I lacked the perseverance to milk the set’s full worth.
The recommended method was to spend 10-15 mins on mandarin per day. One could do a chapter (2-3 pages of picture-led learning), or repeat a chapter over a few days. It sounded most manageable. However, not only was K not in the mood for mandarin everyday, I couldn’t bring myself to insist on it everyday either.
So I equivocated, excusing myself with the (self-constructed) ‘theory’ of ‘child-led mandarin learning’. I’d offer (when I could remember), and only proceed if she said yes. I suppose my basis was sound. It was to avoid any negative sentiment towards the language altogether. Sometimes, it worked so well that she’d be the one initiating learning from the book. But most times, it meant that we slipped into not quite touching the book for weeks, which turned into months. *OOPS*
In the interim, I purchased mandarin storybooks galore, and tried my level best to read one a week, if not one a night. My
snooty preference was for books without HYPY, since I felt the latter was a crutch, and detracted from the beauty of the hieroglyphics. (Unfortunately, I realised recently that P1 tests HYPY first, not writing of the words!)
It is a slight pity that my love for the language could not extend itself to me speaking exclusively to the kiddos monolingually (which is universally acknowledged as The Best Way to Go). I see parents at the playground who do (Singaporean Mum speaks Mandarin ONLY to kid, French Dad totally in Francais, and parents speak to each other in English. And they were consistently doing that for like an hour, and the kid understood their instructions in either language, so I think they actually do it ALL the TIME!) and feel like kowtowing to them.
I console myself with my attempts (everytime I meet her 老师, I promise to 坚持）to speak mandarin whilst walking her to school in the mornings. Not much effect 10 mins on random days has though. So I still felt a tad disheartened when I hear her 3 year old classmates fluently telling their 奶奶s，“这是我的朋友.” when they meet K in the lift, with nary a prompt.
Thus, I told myself, rather than have her lag so far behind that she resents the language, perhaps it was time to outsource the learning. Language requires regular exposure, and what better than Berries (everyone seems to swear by Berries), or the nearby Tien Hsia (sure they might be a tad worksheet-oriented but the centre was unbeatable convenience-wise, so.)?
I sweetened the ground by tempting the girl with the fact that 2 of her close classmates went to Tien Hsia, so she happily went for a trial. When I asked her how the trial class went, she said “Good”, and seemed all poised to attend the next week.
HOWEVER, I found out from her classmate’s mum, that our delicate little miss cried during class. Ever the concerned momma, I gently probed. She admitted to crying but didn’t want to articulate why. It turns out that her (voluble) classmate had informed Her mom that K cried after being scolded by her teacher for wandering out of her seat to press the buttons of a nearby CD player. That mom also told me that this teacher was quite fierce, mostly because she had to keep the rowdy boys in line. I like strict teachers, so didn’t take issue with that.
But… that spelled the end to all my outsourcing ambitions, and the end to my hope that with minimal effort on my part henceforth, she’d start loving the language, speak it fluently and perhaps even develop a passion for calligraphy (HAH!).
She threw a massive STROP when I suggested going for Tien Hsia the next week. In line with my theory of not jeopardising love for the language, I relented. I thought, how about trying Berries? It would be a different venue, a different teacher, a fresh start. Made the appointment, even took leave to bring her there. But when it was time to go, she stoutly refused – tears and screams, the whole shebang.
Seemed like that one incident had turned her off Mandarin classes for life (gulp).
And so, the responsibility for her Mandarin education fell squarely back on this Momma’s broad yellow shoulders. Haiz.
There was a glimmer of light in the whole scheme of things. K was (and is) blessed with a good kindy mandarin teacher. Though she appearsg a tad 妖艳, she obviously had solid pedagogical training. She was always reassuring when we met. Whilst she said that half a hour of Mandarin 肯定不够, she said 只要在家多讲，久而久之，潜移默化地，她的华语就会进步。你要坚持！
To which I felt like donning a red scarf and pumping my fist going “我会坚持的，老师！”All I said though, was “好吧，就让我再接再厉。。。我现在庆幸的是她对华语没有反感…”, which she agreed was key.
Time proved her advice to be most sound.
N1 – She told me that it was completely natural for our efforts to look like they have fallen on deaf ears. But that seeds would have been planted and slowly germinating. K did enjoy singing mandarin songs, though they’d sound weird, just like her spoken mandarin – the ubiquituous ang-moh accent lingered heavily on her mandarin, like it did on most singaporean kids I know. I asked 老师 if I should read purely in Mandarin, or translate simultaneously so she understood more, and she advised the latter.
N2 – She told me, K has improved. And K did start volunteering little phrases in Mandarin when I least expected it. “妈妈，我吃完了！” Her repertoire of Mandarin songs (with the cutest actions) expanded quickly, though I doubt that she understood most of the lyrics. I’d
encourage make her speak Mandarin whenever she wanted something (great incentive!), so her most fluent phrase is “妈妈，可以给我___ 吗？”This year, K seemed to want to speak Mandarin, but when hampered by her lack of vocabulary, she’d just prattle a mix of intelligible and unintelligible phrases. But I was glad that she was showing interest, and was not afraid to try.
K1 – She told me that parents tended to want to see concrete evidence of learning, but at this stage, most of their learning is in the abstract. Rather than wonder if a child should be able to write X number of words, converse at length, or read Y number of words by whatever age, what we should be doing as parents is to read to them, and let them describe events or emotions in pictures, 培养孩子的想像力。On her part, K would regale me with stories of games they played during mandarin class. Although it’s only for a short period a day, I was glad that K’s love for the language was being nurtured. It did help that she really liked this teacher, and that the same teacher was allocated to her class three years in a row (an anomaly!).
And so, we amble along. I guess we’re not doing too badly. My belief with most of learning is that, if the child learns at a later age, he/she tends to pick things up faster. For instance, a 3 year old could be made to learn how to write a simple chinese word, and he/she might take a fortnight to learn it. A 5 year old, on the other hand, might have the fine motor skills and mental capacity to learn how to write it the correct way, and commit it to memory, in a day.
Parents experience much glee when they tell of how their precocious child has accomplished X, Y and Z at such a tender age (oooh! signs of giftedness, perchance?). But I’d say, with much less effort (or hot-housing), much more can be learnt, much more quickly, if we adopted a more leisurely pace.
Not sure how long we’ll last without external help, but this mummy will try to stave off tuition for as long as she humanly can!