learning & actitivies · Singapore

Bilingualism

From Flickr

Some parents believe that children in Singapore should be spoken to and taught to speak exclusively in Chinese before they go to Primary school, and left to pick up English when they enter Primary 1. As someone who comes from an English speaking background, I find this a little unsettling because of a few reasons.

Firstly, I don’t see why we want to restrict children and can’t expose children at an early stage to two or more languages since their brains are literally like sponges. It’s evident how quickly they pick up – Mittens has already long learnt how to count from 1 to 10 in Spanish, and I had to Google it and commit it to memory just to keep up with him. Perhaps teaching too many languages full on might be a bit much, but exposing them to several words or phrases can’t do any harm. Apart from learning Chinese in school and at home, I’ve also been trying to teach him how to count in Japanese and French.

Secondly, recently I read from the book “How to multiply your child’s intelligence” that:

“By the time the child goes to primary school speech in the primary language of instruction and basic reading skills become an important asset”

(No, I’m not reading the book to breed geniuses, but it looked like it had interesting activities in it, you can find the book in our libraries here). Doesn’t that mean that if the child is not equipped to understand English by the time he enters Primary 1, that he’s going to have one steep learning curve if ALL subjects are taught in English? Why add to the stress of adjusting to primary school?

However, last week we visited the paediatrician for Abacus’s last (for now) MMR vaccination, and I raised to her my concern that Abacus isn’t talking much. I know that Mittens is quite articulate for his age – I’ve overheard some of his classmates and I can’t really make out what they’re saying, whereas he has very little trouble with words. As a toddler, he was able to very easily repeat (new) words back to us simply by listening, with Abacus that doesn’t come as easily to him, although you can see that he’s thinking about it, and looking at my mouth, and trying to speak it. And he gives up if he can’t really get it.

The paed isn’t too worried yet, but suggested he go to school or attend language skewed classes (as opposed to say gymnastics skewed ones), and also advised that if by 2 years 3 months he doesn’t start speaking in phrases we might want to consider sending him for speech therapy. Another interesting thing she mentioned was to try and stick to just one language for now, until he starts picking it up more. For children progressing well, of course 2 languages at an early age is fine.

So I guess the moral of the story is, speak both languages unless they might have some learning difficulties.

Some parents choose a specific day to speak a specific language, e.g. Mon-Wed-Fri where Chinese is exclusively spoken. Some parents, like those from mixed marriages, will have each parent speak a specific language to the children. In our case, my MIL speaks only Chinese and Cantonese, so the boys definitely benefit from her speaking Chinese to them (the ILs “reserve” Cantonese so they have a language that they can speak which the boys won’t understand! Something I find a little bit of a pity).

Many parents do speak both languages to their tots but worry when they don’t respond back in the second language – but don’t be too worried yet, some exposure is better than none, and eventually they will slowly start speaking it.

I also task the hubby to do most of the reading of Mandarin books and often borrow Chinese or bilingual books from our trusty old library – I personally really bilingual books that have simple Chinese text (and hanyupinyin is a bonus!), like 我和爸爸! (Me and My Dad), 正方形里的比尔熊 = Bear in a square and the entire Bear series from Stella Blackstone (lovely short text and a theme for every book, like shapes, transportation, etc.), the Spot series of books, etc. If it’s simple enough I’ll read both the English and Chinese to the boys, or leave the Chinese part to the hubbs :p

Chinese Character Dominoes as seen on China Sprout

Mittens also attends Chinese classes at Berries World, and he seems to be enjoying it so far. At home we try to reinforce his lessons as much as possible. Chinese is so interesting in that many characters are actually derived from pictures, so hopefully videos such as this one, will help inspire them to learn more. I also bought a set of Chinese Character Dominoes from a BP for them. Right now they’re just playing with it as a toy, but hopefully they get the idea. Eventually.

What do you do to promote bilingualism in your home?

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4 thoughts on “Bilingualism

  1. Ah~ I speak both languages to my boy though most of the time in English. But I have specifically told my mom to speak Chinese to him cause I didn’t want him to pick up the broken English from her and also to give him a chance to learn Chinese. My MIL also speaks some Cantonese to my boy since she took care of him before he started Childcare this year. However, he didn’t appear to be able to say or understand it much. I hope she will speak more to him. My dad also attempt to speak Hakka to him but he only sees my Dad once a week, so its kinda of difficult. Like you, I feel its a pity that the younger generations will not know their dialect. Like me, I can’t speak my own dialect.

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    1. Your boy is about 2 now? Still young lah, I think some exposure is definitely better than none, so they can start learning the vocab in different languages 🙂

      I actually requested that my maid doesn’t read to the boys unless they request to read, sounds mean but I thought about it a long time and her English really cannot make it, but I asked her to teach them a bit of Bahasa. No harm right? 😉

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      1. Yup. My cousin’s kids speak with a weird accent for some of the words cause they are “brought up” by the helpers. Yes I think there is no harm in letting learn some Bahasa. I think we should just expose them to more different languages since they are able to absorb now. 😛

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