Teaching Phoebie Mandarin

Not sure if all parents share this sentiments but I would love for my kid(s) to be at least bilingual. English and Mandarin are basic for ethnic Chinese in Singapore and I hope that Phoebie and her future siblings will at least be able to speak well.

Ever since we came back from the US, it has been my desire and mission to help Phoebie learn to speak Mandarin. I have a set of Mandarin-speaking parents, but because they know that Phoebie isn’t good with Mandarin yet, they speak to her in whatever English they know. I must really applaud my parents for that effort because I honestly never knew they could speak English so well until they tried to communicate with Phoebie. They may not know bombastic words but they know enough.

However, because my parents try to talk to Phoebie in English, Phoebie loses a lot of opportunity to be exposed to Mandarin. A lot of times, I remind my parents to speak to her in Mandarin and told them that over time, she will learn. My parents usually “relapse” into English because they want Phoebie to understand them.

In an effort to expose her to more Mandarin, I told Ben that we need to speak to her in Mandarin more, at least a couple of hours a day. I believe that following our example, my parents will also be reminded to speak to her in Mandarin.

Phoebie can say a lot of words in Mandarin. 大象 (elephant),蚂蚁(ant),长颈鹿(giraffe),企鹅(penguin),海豚(dolphin),蝴蝶(butterfly),小狗(dog),小猫(cat) and the list goes on. She can count 1 to 20 in Mandarin and she can make fruits and colours in mandarin. The problem though, is she doesn’t know how to form sentences.

When she remembers a Chinese word she wants to tell us, she will mix it with English.

20130806-215505.jpg This was what happened today when she tried to mix the 2 languages. I didn’t know whether to laugh or not.

I remember learning English by reading and speaking a lot when growing up in my Mandarin-speaking family. And I know the best way for Phoebie to learn Mandarin is also to speak to her in Mandarin as much as I can. I also bought a lot of Chinese story books and puzzles for her.

20130806-220118.jpg These are apps we downloaded for Phoebie to learn Chinese. She likes to explore them sometimes and while some may be a little advanced for her age, she has benefitted from them. She can recognize the Chinese characters of 1 to 10.

I remember reading somewhere that from the age of 0 to 5, children pick up different languages the fastest. And the best way to learn is through constant exposure.

One of the first things we did to interest Phoebie in Mandarin was to show her Chinese children shows. One of my friends introduced a group of us to 巧虎. 巧虎 was originally from Japan and is known as Shimajiro. Taiwanese and Chinese producers adapted the show and produced Chinese versions.

This is an example of 巧虎. It teaches children manners and good habits and it’s all conducted in Chinese. Phoebie was so hooked on 巧虎 when we first showed it to her that she wanted to watch it all the time. It took us some effort to limit her watching time.

Thanks to 巧虎, Phoebie knows how to sings a number of Chinese nursery rhymes.

While books, tv shows and apps on tablets can help pre-schoolers learn the language, I think the best way to help them learn is still when people closest to them model the use of the language and show no resent to it.

Why do I insist that Phoebie learns Mandarin? Not everyone agrees with this but it’s because, hey, we are ethnically Chinese, and we should at least speak the language that links us to our roots. She doesn’t have to be the best at it but knowing it well enough to communicate is important. At least she will be able to communicate with her great grandmothers.


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