Most parents I know outsource Chinese to tutors and enrichment centres either because they have no time to revise the subject with their children at home due to busy work schedule, or they feel incompetent at the subject to even try. A lot of people are not very good at the language and probably had some bad experience with the subject during their own school days, so they feel intimidated by it to this day. Some may simply feel that they have no idea what to do to help with their children’s revision even if they feel comfortable with the language.
I honestly believe that even among the ones who think they are no good at the language, there are a good number of people who are competent enough to do basic revision with their children, especially at the lower primary level. The thing is to overcome their mental block. Let me break things down to simple terms for you so that you know the simple steps you can take without being overwhelmed.
First of all, you should know that the overall assessment of the subject covers :
- Listening Comprehension
- Written Paper – grammar, vocabulary, comprehension, etc.
I have some suggestions for what you can do for each of the component. You can do as much as you are comfortable to handle.
1. Listening Comprehension
Ideally, from the time your child is a baby or a toddler, you should have started reading story books to him. However, if you have not, or you are not good at reading Chinese, there are still options such as reading pen and audiobooks. Audiobooks are available in the National Library, which you can easily borrow using the Libby App. You can also borrow the CDs from the multimedia section of the library. Listen with your kids and discuss the story so that they will listen attentively. Play it in the car when they are captured audience. My #3 listened to audio stories since he was little without even thinking it was a chore.
I would not suggest using the TV because firstly, I have a very low opinion of the local drama programmes. The language is wanting and the content is often of low quality and sometimes even questionable. I doubt young children will be able to stomach news and documentaries much. If my objective is language exposure then I would rather let them listen to CCTV standard mandarin than our local version. Most importantly, I am of the personal conviction that children should not be exposed to too much screen time, so I am not even willing to make an exception for the innocent weekend cartoons, even if they are in Mandarin.
If you are at least competent with “market level” mandarin, by all means try to speak more with your kids in Mandarin. Although a Mandarin speaking environment at home is not the most critical for learning the language, having more opportunities to speak the language will at least enhance fluency. The time gap between thinking of a response and speaking it out will be greatly shortened.
The current curriculum and textbook for Chinese is very good, in my opinion. In the past, Oral was always treated like a separate segment and I remember having to get oral help books from Popular. Those books grouped crucial vocabulary by topics. E.g. “Scene at the school canteen” would have all the vocabulary associated with canteen and food. It was always disassociated with the textbook lessons. The current textbook incorporates these into the each lesson, so the children now learn a lot more vocabulary from the textbook than before. The topics are also more in line with the text of the lesson. The whole approach is more holistic and systematic. The kids also learn a lot more conversational language skill.
So what you can do minimally is to open up the textbook, look at the beginning of each lesson, and go through the list of vocabulary with your child. If you can, look at the next page and practise the type of Q&A stated there for the topic. Bear in mind that your child do not need to know how to write those words. It is purely for vocabulary store. This will help a lot towards your child doing well for Oral.
Finally, get your child to read out loud the text of each lesson until he can do it smoothly. If you can get him to read a storybook out loud, by all means do so. But the text in the textbook is the minimum. This will help to practise the reading segment of the Oral test. Practising reading is like a physical exercise, much like practising for sports or practising an instrument.
Nothing much you can do about it. So choose your battle. This one is not for you to fight.
4. Written Paper
The hardest is the Comprehension passages. Kids who have trouble with Chinese usually struggle with this the most. There are certain techniques to tackle this section but I think the school teachers are able to teach your children all they need to know.
However, there is something you can do at home to help with the other sections. That is, to make sure that your child is able to read and write what is in the 识读字 and 识写字 list. Just by making sure that this is done well will help your child to score well in the beginning sections of the Written paper. It is one thing to lose marks at the Comprehension passages because you cannot understand the passage or cannot express the answers well enough; it is criminal to lose marks for something that you are actually able to learn from the textbooks. To me, this is like the minimum the kid should do for basic revision.
Turn to the last few pages of the textbook and look for a Table that looks like this :
识读字 are characters that your child need to know how to read. This is the middle column.
识写字 are characters that your child need to know how to write. This is the right hand column of the table. You can use this table or you can simply make sure that you periodically revise your child’s Spelling List from school. The teachers will ensure that the list of words in the spelling list incorporates the ones in this table and more.
Lastly, if you can, revise the 词语 vocabulary in the text. There should be 3 texts in each lesson. The first is for children with very weak Chinese foundation. The one you want to look at is the 核心 or the Core Text.
This is the text that the schools will teach all the kids. Your child should know the meaning of all the vocabulary in the text. Usually he will also need to know how to write them.
There is a more wordy text which is the 深广 text for higher ability children. Teachers may or may not go through this text. Examinations will not be based on this text so you can basically ignore it.
In the past, there was a Chinese-English vocabulary list at the back of the old textbooks. The vocabulary are from the text of the lessons and will be tested in the Written Paper. The list looked like this :
The new textbooks do not have this list at the back. You may be able to find 词语手册 (Chinese-English Examinable Vocabulary Handbook) from Popular published by various other publishers. Those can be good references for you to use as a revision tool for your child. This is different from the Oral Vocabulary list I mentioned earlier. E.g. In the Oral List, your child will learn what Gardens by The Bay is in Chinese, or how to say ‘celery’ in Chinese. The Written Paper will not test such vocabulary.
Even if you are unable to handle the subject without engaging external help, there are some simple, minimal things you can still do to help your child revise for Chinese at home. You may be able to put off tuition for your child for a couple of years by doing these:
1. Make sure he is familiar with the oral vocabulary lists at the beginning of each lesson in the textbook
2. Make sure he can read all the words in the 识读字 List at the back of the textbook
3. Make sure he can write all the words in the 识写字 List at the back of the textbook.
If you do this week by week, lesson by lesson, you are taking small bites each time and it will be manageable for both you and your child.
Then, only if you are able to, if you have the time, get a Vocabulary Handbook (or if the school provides a list), make sure he knows the meaning of all the words there and how to use them.
For the rest of the stuff, by all means outsource to someone more able to help your child if there is such a need.