Wednesday, 12 February 2014

My plan to deal with The Chinese Language

This post was originally named "Our struggle with The Chinese Language". Then I decided that instead of whining about it, I should turn it into a post on my plan to deal with this! So, maybe it's just me. I'm the one who's not very good in Chinese. Hubbs is the one who gets mistaken for being a Chinese Teacher when people find out that he is a teacher, but no, he's a math teacher. 

Let's see, I have lots to blame my inadequacy in Chinese on. I could blame it on my parents - they don't speak Mandarin at all at home when I was growing up. Educated in English medium schools in 60s Singapore meant that you learnt Malay instead of Chinese, as a second language. At home, my parents spoke to my sister and I mainly in English, and some Teochew. I could even blame it on the primary school I attended - everyone spoke English there. But then, how come my sister ended up with A* in PSLE Chinese and As for every Chinese spelling, test and exam she ever took? My primary school friends didn't have any problems scoring As in Chinese either. Maybe it's just ME.
Look who are the new proprietors of the school grocery store? I love it that the school even made specimen money for the kids to pretend play. I asked Asher in Chinese "Uncle, how much is this apple?" and he replied "Don't call me Uncle!!!" hahaha...
My Chinese education really started only when I was in secondary school - most of the students spoke in Mandarin there. I was dumbfounded for the first two weeks - I couldn't talk. I couldn't reply, and I only half understood what my friends were saying. After recovering from the initial shock of it all, I started to reply in English (that's what I could communicate in!) and I even grew comfortable enough with my new friends to ask them to explain themselves if they use Mandarin words and phrases that I didn't understand. It started out kind of awkward, but after awhile, they got used to English-speaking me, and started to ask me what I meant if I used English words they didn't understand. And that's how I started to learn Mandarin, from my classmates. 

To this day, my secondary school friends fondly remember me as the one who couldn't speak Mandarin. Some of them take great joy in reminding me that I didn't know that xi1 gua1 was one of my favourite fruits - watermelon. My Chinese education continued in Junior College and in University, where, amazingly, most of my closest friends that I hung around the most during these schooling years, were all more Mandarin-speaking than English-speaking... So perhaps it wasn't that surprising that I married hubbs, who is as Mandarin-speaking as one could get in supposedly bilingual Singapore. 

But... I still had this fear of Mandarin, of learning Chinese. I remember the pain of learning Chinese. The embarrassment of scoring very badly in Chinese spelling, tests and exams. The three times I took O Level Chinese and twice in A(O) Level. Thinking of it makes the blood in my arteries bubble and freeze over... 
I saw the collection of nice Chinese artwork from afar and thought to myself "So pretty! Those must have been done by the K2s" But when I walked nearer, I was pleasantly surprised that they were done by Asher & Shawna's class! Got them to point out to me which ones were theirs :)
As such, I am determined to make sure my kids don't suffer the way I did. Hubbs loves the Chinese language and culture and is determined to have the kids learn about that too. Thus, our plan, from Day 1, before Isaac was born, was this - Hubbs would speak solely in Mandarin to the kids, and I will speak English. That was our deal. And so it was for the first two and a half years of Isaac's life. And it did work! Isaac would naturally speak English when he spoke to me, and speak Mandarin when he spoke to hubbs! Hurray!

Then, the twins were born, and we were plunged into the hectic and tedious times of caring for two infants at the same time. Isaac started attending school, and hubbs, in his state of physical and emotional exhaustion (from aftermath of the twins birth) lapsed in his Mandarin speaking to Isaac. For, as Mandarin speaking as he was, hubbs was, in a very Singaporean way, effectively bilingual. So when Isaac started attending school and being in an environment with more English-speaking people around him, he started to speak more in English. And he started to speak to hubbs in English, and when he did, hubbs unconsciously started to reply in English.

By the time we realised what was happening, Isaac was on a slippery slope downhill. That's when we realised that the key to this conundrum is really immersion. It reminded me of how I learned Mandarin myelf - from being constantly surrounded with Mandarin-speaking friends. Hence, while it is almost impossible to control the language other people spoke around the kids, it was necessary to keep exposing the kids to the Chinese language as much as we can, every single day.
Apparently, the kids used a straw to blow the ink to make the pretty paintings! So ingenious! Very nicely done too, I thought! The direct translation for the method of art is "Blow Drawing" or "Blow Art" - sounds very wrong in English :p

We quickly backpedaled and tried to cover our tracks. Hubbs went back strictly to speaking Mandarin to the kids at all times and stepped up his reading of Chinese books to the kids. When hubbs drives, the radio is tuned to Chinese radio stations. We have a No TV Rule at home, and the only rare exceptions on a weekend morning - is for Chinese cartoons. When we watch the kids favourite cartoon movies on our Movie Nights - we select Chinese as the language option. Hubbs even had me half convinced to speak Mandarin to the kids, which I do, but only for conversational Mandarin. For as much as my Mandarin has improved since I was a child, my level of Mandarin leaves much room for improvement and I am not comfortable in speaking sub-standard/incorrect Mandarin to my kids.

For this reason, we're thankful that at Learning Vision, the kids' childcare/school, the Chinese teachers that the kids had since we joined have been very good! The kids spend so much time in childcare, so it's really such a blessing that we have such good teachers there. I often catch the twins singing to themselves in Mandarin. Whenever I hear them sing, I will ask:"What's that song you're singing? It sounds wonderful! Can you sing it for me again?" and they love it. They would sing it, and I would smile, laugh and clap and take videos. And I would ask them to sing for hubbs to hear, and for our friends and relatives.

I managed to take a nice video below of the twins singing two Chinese songs which they have learnt in school. The first one is about a little tadpole searching for his mummy. The second song is a song describing a frog, that it has large eyes, a big wide mouth, a white belly and four limbs. Love the actions that come along with the song. And even though Shawna and Asher sing it with a bit of an English accent, I think that's fine - so long as they find Chinese fun - that's much more than I could ever say for how I ever felt about Chinese!

The twins often talk about what they do in school, including Chinese class. They like their teacher Lin Laoshi,  who happens to be Taiwanese. Shawna has been asking me when Lin Laoshi will be back as she had returned to Taiwan for the Chinese New Year period. The day before her teacher left for Taiwan, Shawna came home and told me "Lin Laoshi says I must learn the Chinese New Year song and dance and perform to her when she comes back." She told me seriously :) She also says she misses her Chinese teacher and keeps asking how many more days it will be till she gets back. And when she talks about Chinese stuff, it reminds her of... Chinese Camp! And she would ask again "Can I go Chinese Camp again, mum?" :) "We'd see how it goes during the school holidays, Shawna." :)

This year, the twins are also old enough to register for an enrichment elective available in school - Chinese Speech & Drama! Hubbs saw the forms and filled in the forms so quickly that I didn't even see the blank forms to begin with. Apparently, the twins were so excited about it that they took the forms out to show their father - they know that hubbs handles all things Chinese, so they handed the forms to him instead of me, as they usually would. It's a good thing that English Speech & Drama is already included in the school's standard/regular syllabus, so we only have to pay a bit more for this Chinese Speech & Drama lessons. But the thing I like about Learning Vision, is that these elective enrichment classes are held in the centre itself, during childcare hours. So the kids are still safe in the same childcare premises; we don't have to ferry them anywhere for extra classes; and it's all done during the childcare hours so that we can spend the precious weekends bringing the kids out to play! Faboo! :)

So that's our plan in progress on dealing with this Chinese Language thing... So far it's working out pretty alright, since thankfully, we have good support from the childcare. But I shall think of more plans... stay tuned for more of Pamela's Plans! wrraaahhahaha!!!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you have a great plan! Well done to your hubby and you for putting all these 'environmental factors' in place too. 要坚持!


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