Monday, May 12, 2008


Many children in Singapore come from English speaking homes and as a result, struggle with their 2nd language in school.

When I was in school, we could elect our 2nd language, and my parents chose for me to do Malay. However, the new policy by the Ministry of Education now is that if you are an ethnic Chinese, you are required to do Mandarin as a 2nd language unless you have compelling reasons to choose a different 2nd language.

As such, the 2nd language my children do in school is Mandarin. I remember when my eldest first started learning Mandarin, it was agony for me. I was learning it for the 1st time together with her. I could speak a smattering of Mandarin, but when it came to reading and writing, my knowledge was zilch.

We signed up for enrichment at a tuition centre that allowed parents to sit in with their children. However, we missed the first lesson which covered the basic strokes. I really had no clue when the teacher talked about heng or piah. I had to call up my niece, and she had to literally describe what those strokes meant. Writing chinese turned out to be somewhat of a drawing class for me.

This enrichment centre that we went to only taught higher chinese. My daughter's school covered the normal chinese syllabus. So when it was time to change schools (when she got into the GEP programme, and she chose a SAP school - ie one that covered the Higher chinese syllabus) I was relieved to find out from my daughter's teacher that she was not struggling with her 2nd language!!

So, how are my kids are coping with their 2nd language? They are doing fairly well, but my son still detests speaking it. I have started Little D on a Mandarin playgroup. The teacher has already taught her some of the basic strokes and she can (surprisingly) recognise some chinese words already. I was told that the real test of how well they are accepting the language would be when they are quite happy speaking the language and it becomes 2nd nature to them.

One night last week, Little D was sleep talking. She said: "This is stinky. Chou Chou. Wo bu xi huan!"

Looks like I will not have to worry so much about her Mandarin. She even dreams in it.


TripleJin said...

Eh? I thought all Singaporeans are quite good in Mandarin!

I think it's easier if everyone else is speaking Mandarin, then there are more opportunities to practice....unlike here, I can't even practice my Cantonese!!! terms of speaking other dialects at home to my kids, it's a gone case!!!!


Iml said...

Getting children to love languages starts at home. I picked up mandarin here in singapore. I learn with eldest and speak broken mandarin at home and the children will correct me, with pleasure.

bp said...

Haha, even when D is sleepwalking, she's speaking such good Chinese... in no time, she'll ace it, just as S is doing so well in the cheemer vesion in school!

You know, I really need to speak Mandarin to my boys, something that becoz we always just use English or they can't really understand me when I switch to Mandarin, I have been lax about. And not proud of, becoz they still can't carry out a simple conversation, can only understand some simple things I say. Sending Jon for Chinese class, but it's only once a week, has helped a little, but agree with Mott and Iml that languages have to start at home!

Ling That's Me said...

I also face the same problem as you but of late, my girl is brushing up her Mandarin. Now is my boy's turn, who show no interest in learning anything, but play.