What does removing mid year exams mean for our children?

MOE announced yesterday that mid-year exams for all primary and secondary school levels will be removed by 2023, and follows previous removal of all exams in P1 and P2, as well as removal of mid year exams for P3 and P5.

We are big advocates of having students find meaning in Chinese beyond exams. However, from experience, we noticed that prior removal of the P1 and P2 exams has led to more students entering P3 with a weaker Chinese foundation; we highlight the risk of complacency below and outline tips on what we parents can do to help our children.

Finding Meaning Beyond Exams

A common opinion is “learning Chinese is just for exams.”

This is partially due to demographics. In 2000, a mere 1 in 3 children spoke mainly English at home; fast forward 20 years, nearly 4 in 5 children speak English most frequently. In primary school, most students use Chinese only during Mother Tongue classes, and switch back to English immediately after. If young children use Chinese predominantly or solely in an academic setting, is it surprising that they think Chinese is just for exams?

As parents, we naturally want the best for our children, and most of us have probably tried to introduce more “engaging” ways of learning Chinese, from reading Chinese stories to fun learning activities.

But if you are reading this post, I’m assuming that those initiatives had mixed outcomes. This is because languages are built on vocabulary and grammar foundations, and for primary school students, many “fun activities” are only fun if a student is able to comfortably understand the material.

So what does this have to do with removing exams?

The Hidden Side Effects Of Removing Exams

Since 2019, P1 and P2 students have had exams removed in a bid to reduce academic pressure, while still keeping the PSLE exams for P6.

A less-talked about effect is the change in learning attitudes: post the change, we noticed more students and parents becoming significantly more complacent with regards to revision or doing their assignments. Indeed, a common opinion we got from many parents was “no exams anyway, why worry so much”.


Languages are not like Math or Science where once you understand a concept, you can go from zero to hero in a short span of time.

Languages require regular practise to build vocabulary and grammatical building blocks, and the stronger your foundation, the easier it is to either enjoy the language through books and cartoons, and eventually ace harder academic tasks like composition on comprehension.

Conversely, over the last two years, we’ve noticed more P3 students with weaker foundations and laid-back learning attitudes vis-à-vis Chinese. In addition, many teachers choose P3 as the year to “shock” students with harder questions, which can cause students to lose confidence and hate Chinese.

What Can I Do As A Parent?

Complacency is the enemy.

As busy parents, it’s easy to think that since there are no more mid year exams, it’s okay to put off revising Chinese, and just wait until it’s closer to SA2. That’s what I used to do all the time as a child, and is also why I sucked at Chinese and hated it my entire childhood. The key to doing well in Chinese is regular revision.

We previously talked about how to help your child revise vocabulary, and the concept of the Forgetting Curve: when anyone learns something, he or she forgets half of it within a day, and almost all of it by next week. And the more times we revise the word, the longer we remember it.

Let’s look at the typical schedule of a busy parent. We help our children prepare for their spelling or 听写 the night before the test. One week later, we repeat the cycle for the next chapter.

But how often do we go back to previous chapters to revise older words? Typically very rarely, unless there is an exam looming. That’s why with the the removal of mid year exams it’s even more important for parents to be extra vigilant, and continue to schedule regular revision with their children.

How To Revise?

We understand that it’s not easy for parents to know what to revise, especially since getting our children to willingly revise Chinese isn’t the easiest of tasks.

That’s why over the last year, we built a Chinese equivalent of Koobits for our students, and we found most students who practised just 10 mins a day saw tremendous improvement in vocab, language skills and language confidence.

In the portal, you can do the following:

  • Revise a personalised vocabulary list that targets your child’s weak areas
  • Pet Battle, where your child takes on the role of an aspiring pet collector (think Pokémon). Capture and train pets by answering Chinese assessment book questions correctly
  • Watch weekly video lessons (P1-P4) and fun animated stories
  • Work on Hanyu Pinyin through topical quizzes

And to thank your loyal blog-readers, we are happy to provide you with a free account with selected features. Simply sign up for a free account here, and begin revising.

Hacking Chinese With High-Frequency Phrases

Over the last two weeks, I’ve received a number of enquiries from P1 mothers on how to help their children learn Chinese. Besides P1 being the first major milestone for children, the pandemic has also made it harder for children to use and learn Chinese organically.

My typical response is to focus on both oral/listening and vocabulary. If your child cannot understand what his or her primary school teacher is saying, Chinese lessons are going to be both useless and boring. Meanwhile, a strong vocabulary foundation makes understanding and using Chinese simple.

We’ve been on the “Vocabulary is the key” boat for a long time, which was what inspired us to create a Chinese clone of Wordle to help primary school students revise vocabulary daily. But what happens if a child hasn’t had that much preparation prior to P1?

Is there a way to smartly accelerate the process of vocabulary learning?

TLDR: High-frequency lists are a common way to learn a language, but most lists focus on characters (单词) rather than phrases (词语), which can be challenging for young children. We used Data Science to determine the 50 most common phrases (词语) that appear in the P1A textbook, spelling lists and assessment books.

Read on if you’re interested in our methodology, and here’s the top ten most common phrases. By definition, high-frequency phrases will seem extremely simple to an adult since they are so commonplace. Yet this also makes revising them extremely high-value if your child has limited time.

1. 喜欢 (xǐ huɑn) - to like
2. 什么 (shén me) - what
3. 妈妈 (mā ma) - mother
4. 今天 (jīn tiān) - today
5. 爸爸 (bà ba) - father
6. 老师 (lǎo shī) - teacher
7. 星期 (xīng qī) - week
8. 哥哥 (xǐ huɑn) - older brother
9. 生日 (shēng rì) - birthday
10. 我们 (wǒ men) - we

80-20 Rule

One of my favourite principles is the 80-20 rule, which states that 80% of outcomes come from 20% of actions. 80% of exam questions come from 20% of the textbook material (hence the concept of “spotting questions”), 80% of a company’s revenue comes from 20% of its customers, etc.

So how can we identify the 20% of vocabulary that appear 80% of the time to “hack Chinese”?

High-Frequency Characters

My first thought was to look for high-frequency characters. This is a common strategy for improving English vocabulary – by focusing on the most commonly words, kids are able to improve reading dramatically.

High frequency words are a common strategy for learning English

So surely this should work for Chinese?

I did some research on Chinese high-frequency lists, and a disclaimer I found is that high-frequency lists are extremely dependent on the material that the lists were derived from, as a list that is built from formal learning texts would differ from a list build from storybooks, etc. That introduces the problem below.

The unique difficulties facing Singaporean kids

If you are were born and raised in Singapore, you might not realise the peculiar challenges facing our children when they learn Chinese.

Singapore has one of the largest Overseas Chinese populations in the world and 70+% of our population is ethnically Chinese, yet the primary language used is English. Many of Singapore’s official Chinese textbooks, learning materials and standards are heavily influenced by China, yet the majority of our day-to-day reading is English.

Hence, materials created for native speakers in China and Taiwan are too difficult, while content meant for foreign learners are too simple. So how do we find a high-frequency list that is suitable for Singaporean kids?

Since we can code, the obvious first approach was to create our own high-frequency list based on the most common words that a P1 child would encounter.

Based on our experience, the typical P1 child mainly reads two things in Chinese: 1. the P1 textbook and 2. his or her Chinese homework (and yes, we agree this is a sad state of affairs). Thus, we created a text corpus by combining the P1A textbook together with the thousands of P1 questions in our digital database with appropriate weights. And lastly, we ran the text corpus into a frequency counter to derive the most common characters.

It’s extremely easy to create a frequency counter (this is for the textbook only)

Houston, we have a problem

And so I happily showed my teachers the list of 50 most common characters to my teachers. Only to sense a bit of reluctance.

“Dan, these characters might appear frequently, but some of these characters can be hard for young kids to visualise.”

– Teacher Jia Jia

Let’s look at the list of top 10 most common characters in the P1A textbook:

To an adult, characters like 什, 么, 是, 的 are obvious and it’s hard to imagine anyone struggling with them, but to a child, the easiest words to remember are concrete items, ideally things that they can see, touch, using multiple senses.

In addition, I neglected a key difference between English and Chinese. In English, words largely have distinct meanings, and combining different words typically does not change the meaning. In Chinese, each character is nuanced, and combining different characters together results in different meanings. Even 上楼 and 楼上 have different meanings, despite comprising the same characters.


Introducing chunking, a memory technique where we take individual pieces of information and group them intro larger units to make remembering easier. For instance, it’s much easier to remember a phone number if we break it down into chunks (9120-62-62) than if we tried to remember the sequence 9-1-2-0-6-2-6-2.

Similarly, from experience, students tend to find it easier to remember Chinese phrases (词语) that consist of two characters rather than individual characters. In addition, phrases tend to have a specific meaning that don’t change based on the following character, making it easier for students to remember.

Approach #2 – High Frequency Phrases

Given the above, we decided to try an alternative approach of looking at high frequency phrases instead of characters. While this made sense from an pedagogical perspective, it introduced coding challenges.

Given a sentence “我喜欢上学”, determining how frequent a character appeared was trivial since each character is a single unit. So the characters “我”, “喜”, “欢”, “上”, “学” each appear once.

But how about phrases? A human could easily tell you that the above sentence contains “喜欢” and “上学”, but how would a computer know that an item like “欢上” is invalid? What about the phrase “喜欢上”?

One approach would be to have a human manually inspect and split every sentence into characters and phrases (e.g. converting the above to “我”, “喜欢”, “上学”), before using the frequency converter, though this would take an extremely long time.

I won’t bore you with exact implementation details, except to say that we created a reusable program that allows us to quickly determine high-frequency phrases from any body of text. We will be revisiting this topic in near future because while high-frequency phrases will seem extremely simple to an adult, revising them is extremely high-value if your child has limited time.

What did you think of our approach? Feel free to leave us a comment with your feedback and suggestions!

Wordle For Primary School Students

Wordle has been taking the world by storm. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s a daily word game where you need to guess a five letter word within six tries. It’s fun, addictive and quite a good way to revise vocabulary.

As a principal of a Chinese enrichment centre, I naturally looked for Chinese versions of Wordle to help students revise. Unfortunately, while there are Chinese Wordle clones, most of them focus on idioms (成语), and are far too difficult for Singaporean Primary School students.

Thus over CNY, we created a Chinese Wordle clone aimed at helping P1-P6 students revise daily. The game tests one phrase a day taken from the MOE syllabus, and can be completed within a minute. Fast, effortless revision, with the goal of making your child feel good about his or her Chinese. The game is completely free and requires no login, so if you find it cool, please share with your friends.

In the remainder of this post, I go into more details about the approach and problems I face in the process of creating Chinese Wordle. Continue reading if you want to know how the sausage gets made.


I love Wordle – I play it daily, and my sister and I like to compete to see who solves it faster.

When creating a Chinese version of Wordle (KidStartNow Wordle), we had two main goals. Firstly, we want students to experience the same sense of excitement we got when we successfully solved an English Wordle, the satisfaction of “feeling smart”. If students feel good about successfully solving a KidStartNow Wordle, then they will hopefully be more willing to practise Chinese.

Secondly, we want kids to practise vocabulary. As previously mentioned, improving vocabulary is one of the fastest ways to getting better at Chinese, just that the process can be tiresome. A daily 1-min practise session is a great way to help students revise.

However, when I tried a number of Chinese Wordle clones, I often felt frustration rather than enjoyment. Why?


Most Chinese versions of Wordle focus on idioms (成语), and if you tried it, you probably experienced the demoralising feeling of staring at a whole line of Chinese characters, trying to form a valid idiom.

Some versions have 20 characters to choose from, and trying to form idioms is hard because a) idioms are naturally more difficult and you can ONLY form idioms using the 20 characters given (think Scrabble), and b) most adults can only hold 5 to 9 items in their short-term memory, as proposed by Harvard Professor George Miller (this is also why many students struggle with 组词成句).

Try forming an idiom from these characters

You might think – the alphabet has 26 letters, isn’t that worse? No, because you can input any 5-letter word to reduce the word pool, and most Wordle players have go-to starter words like ADIEU or SOARE. Players also have heuristics like using common consonants to strategically remove characters, making Wordle’s difficulty curve smoother and more enjoyable. None of these work for Chinese versions.


The first design decision we made was to test two-character phrase (词语) rather than four-character idioms (成语). This would mean fewer number of characters to choose from, and would make initial guessing less frustrating for students. From an academic standpoint, there are significantly more phrases than idioms to practise in the MOE syllabus.

The second design decision was to only take words from the MOE syllabus to make the material more relevant to students. Currently, only words from P1-3 are utilised, and there is no differentiation by level, though Upper Primary words can easily be added if people find this game useful.

Attempt 1 – Simple Pairing

Our initial approach was to randomly select four phrases (词语), and use their characters as the choices. For instance, if we selected 军人, 超市, 生日, and 下雨, then we could use the eight characters as the choice pool.

A choice pool created by combining four distinct phrases

However, after testing, we found that this simple approach didn’t work well. This creates a game where students need to find pairs, and since each character is only used in one phrase, they wouldn’t be able to use the Wordle colors (i.e. green colour for a correct word and position, yellow for a correct word but wrong position) to strategically guess a word.

Attempt 2 – Clustering

The next algorithm we tried was to select a “seed” character (e.g. 道), randomly select phrases that utilised the character (e.g. 味道,街道,知道), and then used them to form a word pool (味, 道,街,知).

This approach had several benefits: firstly, guessing feels simpler. Secondly, there are opportunities for students to get characters correct (green, yellow) without guessing the full word and makes the process more fun. Lastly, this helps kids revise vocabulary through the process of 连词/扩词, and is similar to how we teach vocabulary in the classroom.

Attempt 3 – Refactoring

While the previous attempt was an improvement, there were still several issues. Firstly, what is the best way to select a “seed” character? What if the “seed” character has minimal phrases?

One way we solved the problem was to use a frequency counter to count all lower primary school words (e.g. the word ‘子’ appears in 19 phrases), and only consider characters that met a threshold number of phrases.

The second problem was slightly more tricky: how do you determine if a child’s inputted word is valid? For instance, using the above approach, we started with two “seed” characters (生, 上), and for each character, we generate a list of three valid words (and four characters for the choice pool).

But do you notice the problem?

Six words and eight characters

What if a student forms a valid phrase that does not exist within the MOE syllabus? For instance, 上身 or 晚生 are also valid words. It would be academically misleading to say the phrase is invalid just because it’s not taught in primary schools.

To solve this, we combined the MOE syllabus with CEDICT, an online Chinese dictionary (with > 120k entries!!) to ensure users could enter valid phrases that don’t appear in the MOE syllabus. Problem solved!


If you have read to this point, please take a minute to try out KidStartNow Wordle, and please share if you found it helpful. Practising takes just 1 min, and is completely free with no login. Fast, effortless revision, with the goal of making your child feel good about his or her Chinese.

Why is setting academic goals useless?

Have you ever made a New Year’s Resolution to exercise more, to study harder, to spend less time on games… only to stop doing it a month later?

I definitely have. And I’ve seen many students aim to do better at Chinese (and other subjects), but eventually fall short. In this blog post, we explore why students don’t achieve their academic goals and how to excel in Chinese by forming good study habits.


If your child didn’t do well last year, chances are they made some sort of New Year Resolution or promise to do better this year, like “I will get 95 marks for Chinese.” Goal setting is helpful, but just like 80% of New Year resolutions fail, many student resolutions don’t materialise.


Two reasons. Firstly, many students set improvement goals after doing poorly in an exam or assessment. A month or two later, the feeling of “I must avoid doing badly again” tends to wane, and distractions like the playground or Minecraft become more important.

Secondly, students tend to focus on big goals (score full marks for Math) rather than small daily routines (do one Math practice paper every Saturday). After all, the big goals feel motivational and transformational, while the daily routines feel like menial work. However, setting goals without corresponding changes in habits is like wanting to become more healthy while not changing diet, exercise habits or sleeping patterns.


One of my favourite books is #1 New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits by James Clear. The central message is instead of focusing on big goals (I’m going to ace Chinese), we get far better results by making changes to our routines (I’m going to revise Chinese 3x a week).

To quote his blog post

“You get inspired by The Biggest Loser, head to the gym, bust your butt to the point of exhaustion, and take the next three months off to recover.

You finally get that urge to write your book, write all day over the weekend, and then head back to your day job on Monday and never come back to it.

Too often, we let our motivations and desires drive us into a frenzy as we try to solve our entire problem at once instead of starting a small, new routine.

I know, I know. It's not nearly as sexy as saying you lost 30 pounds in 3 months. But the truth is this: the dreams that you have are very different from the actions that will get you there.”

This fits with what we have observed over the years – students who focus on making small upgrades to their study habits tend to stick with it and improve quickly, while students who only set goals but don’t change their daily routines tend to see little improvement.


As parents, we want our children to excel and enjoy learning Chinese (if you don’t, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog post). Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn, especially if your child doesn’t get sufficient exposure at home.

In our previous post, we talked about how focusing on vocabulary helps students both improve in Chinese and enjoy the language more. As a quick reminder, when your child learns a new word, he or she forgets half of it within a day, and almost all of it by next week. Regular revision improves retention and helps your child lock in the word.

So what should we parents do?

Step 1: 

Have your child come up with an academic objective (I want to ace Chinese this year). You can work with your child to come up with the objective but it should be something that your child wants to achieve rather than something we parents force down their throat.

Step 2: 

Come up with one to three study habits that your child will do regularly to achieve the academic objective in Step 1. For instance, “I will read 1 Chinese book a week” or “I will revise vocabulary every day for at least 15 mins” or “I will research and write one compo every fortnight”.

Ideally, each of the study habits should be quantifiable (“I will read 1 book a week” is better than “I will read every week”), and doing all of the study habits regularly should naturally result in your child fulfilling his or her academic objective.

Step 3:

Accountability. There’s no point setting objectives and study habits if they aren’t being followed. Check in with your child regularly to ensure that he or she is on-track, but if the study habits that were originally set are too loose or stringent, adjust accordingly.


Most students don’t want to revise Chinese. If that describes your child, read on.

Over the last year, we built a portal where students capture and fight cute pets by practising Chinese (think Chinese equivalent of Koobits), and just 10 mins of practice a day helped students improve tremendously in vocab and language confidence. Each time your child answers a question, our AI system understands his or her standard better and personalises a learning journey that helps your child learn optimally.

If you are currently a member, just log on and practise. If you aren’t a member, simply sign up for a trial account and practise, free of charge with no time limits.

10 mins a day is extremely doable for any child, especially since they are having fun in the process. But if your child currently doesn’t revise Chinese at all, you can always start with 10 mins once a week, and gradually increase.

The key is to build sustainable study habits that will naturally help your child improve. Good luck!

How to help your child excel at vocab

Your child struggles with Chinese vocab and you don’t know how best to help them.

If this describes you, keep reading to find out why improving vocab is the simplest way to get your child to enjoy and excel at Chinese and the steps you can take to help them today. To help busy parents, we are providing you with free Silver Membership to our AI-learning portal that allows your kids to easily revise and remember vocab.


Weak vocabulary makes reading hard. If your child can’t read, paper 2, especially comprehension (which makes up 21% of total marks), becomes a challenge. Not to mention, a weak vocab foundation makes it hard to score in composition and oral, which many kids also struggle with

The importance of vocab has been proven by many studies, including one by Harvard Professor Dr. Vicki A. Jacobs, who says that, “vocabulary explains 70-80% of reading comprehension, and accounts for a significant amount of verbal ability, a strong predictor of […] academic achievement.”

Naturally, kids with poor vocab tend to dislike learning Chinese – trying to force ourselves to use words we can’t read or recognise is as painful as pulling teeth. Put ourselves in their shoes, when was the last time we, as parents, read a Chinese novel or news article. For the typical young Singaporean parent, it’s probably “so many years ago, I can’t remember anymore”. You probably don’t bother, especially if it’s too hard. 

The paradox of ting xie (spelling)

A common problem parents face is that kids can get full marks for ting xie when we practice with them, but they forget it almost immediately. Why is it that a child can ace spelling, while still having weak vocab. 

The reason is called the Forgetting Curve – that when anyone learns something, he or she forgets half of it within a day, and almost all of it by next week. This was first mooted by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885. 

This is why kids can get full marks at ting xie by cramming the night before but forget almost everything soon after. Or why some students don’t improve as much as they should despite school and enrichment.

Instead, what works best is regular revision over multiple sessions – as you can see from the graph, the more we revise each word, the deeper it is embedded in our memory. 

But we know it can be a tall order. Practically speaking, most parents focus on this week’s ting xie, which is more pressing, and leave past words for the next revision period. 

Lack of organic exposure to Chinese

The struggle with vocab is more obvious now, with more kids speaking English at home. In 2000, 30% of kids spoke mainly English at home; now, 80% of kids do.

To make things worse, most Singaporean children dislike reading Chinese books. Reading is extremely important in language learning, to increase vocab, sentence structure and fluency. But, this is a chicken-and-egg problem: students should read more to improve their vocabulary but reading is hard if their vocabulary isn’t already decent. This is especially true for primary school students, who unlike preschool kids, rarely use animated stories, reader pens or have parents reading to then


So does improving vocabulary help solve most of the common problems our children face with Chinese?

Pretty much. From our years of experience, we notice that as children’s vocabulary improves, reading and writing become easier, and they naturally become more interested in Chinese. 

But we hear you say “I know building vocabulary is important, but I don’t know how to help my child”. Here are some suggestions.

Step 1. Identify the correct areas to revise

First, we should identify the vocab area to focus on depending on your child’s standard. 

If they are quite weak and struggle with language use (语文应用) in Paper 2, this is probably because they have forgotten many of the words taught. We should focus on rebuilding fundamentals by practising the keywords from the textbook and 词语手册 and be sure to revise words from previous levels as well. If your child is going to P6 next year, it’s helpful to revise P3/4 words during the break. 

But if your child is comfortable with language use questions, but loses marks from harder sections like comprehension and cloze passage, focus on the 深广portions of the textbook (optional harder versions of each chapter). Also encourage your child to read material outside the textbook like storybooks to increase vocab organically.

Pro Tip: Get your child to read the textbook aloud – many studies show reading and speaking text aloud is much more effective at remembering information vs silent reading.

If your child is more advanced, then the next step is to accumulate extra-curricular vocabulary. To get the AL1, memorisation is unavoidable. The fastest way to do so is by reading/memorising model compo passages and good phrases (好词佳句, 默写). Your child can also supplement this with a regular diet of Chinese stories, and self prompts on where and when to use these phrases.

But we don’t recommend that students overly focus on memorisation of compo passages until they are comfortable with their textbook material – that would be putting the cart before the horse.

Common ProblemsHas problems understanding some parts of Paper 2, and unable to answer Cloze Passage or Comprehension questions. Able to get most of Paper 2 questions correct, with weaknesses in certain sections like sentence structure (造句)and Cloze Passage.
Loses marks in Comprehension due to not fully understanding the passage or lacking the answering techniques.
Scoring near full marks for Paper 2 excluding Comprehension
Comprehension is usually not too big a problem except for the last question.
Most marks lost in compo.
Vocabulary FocusFocus on rebuilding fundamental vocabulary like high-frequency words, as well as previous and current levels’ textbook wordsFocus on both the core textbook words as well as the extension sections (深广, 扩词). Focus on extra-curricular vocabulary like compo-specific idioms and phrases (好词佳句), and model passages.

Step 2. Engagement is key

The real hard step is how to persuade our kids to revise, especially those who dislike Chinese. Based on the Forgetting Curve, we know that students need regular bite-sized revision sessions in order to firmly remember vocab. 

And while there are some children who are naturally self-motivated to revise Chinese, the vast majority of us parents struggle with trying to convince our children to practise Chinese.

That’s why we started KidStartNow 9 years ago. Our vision is to help our children love and excel at Chinese by combining great teachers with technology, through great classroom lessons and finding ways to encourage students to revise regularly.


Over the years, we noticed two interesting points: firstly, it’s much easier for preschoolers to enjoy learning Chinese, but once they enter primary school, their attitudes to Chinese change dramatically.

Secondly, while many primary school students dislike Math, online portals like Koobits and Prodigy have successfully convinced hundreds of thousands of children to revise Math even though they normally don’t like Math.

That was an aha moment for us: “what if we make revising Chinese as fun as playing a game?

10 minutes of practice a day

Over the last year, we built a Chinese equivalent of Koobits for our students, and we found most students who practised just 10 mins a day saw tremendous improvement in vocab, language skills and language confidence.

And to thank your loyal blog-readers, we want to help your kids also easily revise and remember vocab, and will provide you with a free Silver Membership to our AI-learning portal. Simply fill up the form at the end of the post and we will reply to you in 2 working days.

Portal Introduction

Our portal is divided into two sections: the first is an academic section where your child can do vocabulary daily challenges, read stories and watch short videos on compo and comprehension (P1-P4). This academic portal is more suited for traditional revision like Ezhishi or MC Online, and is geared towards preschoolers or primary school students who are quite willing to revise Chinese already.

Pet Collection Battle

However, as mentioned above, many students do not like revising Chinese and require a more engaging format to entice them to learn. That is why we created a more gamified revision section that can be accessed by clicking the “NEW PET BATTLE” in our portal.

In the Pet Battle, your child takes on the role of  an aspiring pet collector (think Pokémon). The goal is to become the greatest collector by capturing and training pets, and the way to do that is to answer Chinese questions.

How to play?

When your child first logs into Pet Battle, he or she gets to choose between two starter pets – Burnox and Flamebun. Don’t bother, you will soon get a chance to capture many other types of pets.

After you choose your pet, you enter the game and can choose what to do. Currently, the game has three different game modes – Quick Play, Realm Battle and Arena (unlocked after level 10).

Quick Play

The goal of the Quick Play mode is to help students revise vocab from their textbook by answering ten short questions.

Students will be first tested on whether they can recognise the sound of a word (e.g. be able to pronounce 浇 when they see the character). After that, we will test whether they actually know  its meaning (e.g. to water) and then help them expand their vocabulary with 词语搭配 (e.g. 浇花, 浇水). Importantly, each time your child answers a question, our AI algorithm is tracking his or her progress, and will use Machine Learning to personalise a learning journey just for your child.

Realm Battle

In this mode, your child will first select one of his or her pets, and use it to engage in battles with wild pets – the goal is to capture the wild pets by defeating them. Before the start of each round, your child will be given a Chinese question – if your child answers correctly, the pet will attack successfully, while answering wrongly means the pet will miss.

To capture more pets, simply do more Realm battles!

Levelling & Merging

Did you notice that there are different stages in the Realm Battle mode, and some of the wild pets have higher levels? 

Every pet has a level and a star rating, and can grow in strength by eating bamboo that is obtained from winning battles and logging in daily. In addition, you can evolve your pet to the next star rating by merging 3 or 5 copies of a pet (hint: do more realm battles to obtain more copies).

To level or merge a pet, click on the “PETS” tab on the main page.


So how does one become the World’s Strongest Pet Collector? After your child has collected a team of strong pets, it’s time to test themselves against other players in The Arena. 

Gain trophies by winning Arena battles, and they will be given attractive rewards at the end of each season based on trophies. Just like the other modes, the more Chinese questions you answer correctly, the higher the chance of winning.


In a nutshell, the secret to success in Chinese is building a strong vocabulary foundation, and the way to do so is by a) selecting the right material to revise, and b) scheduling regular practice sessions to beat the Forgetting Curve.

It can be a challenge for many parents to get their children to revise Chinese, which is why we built a Chinese equivalent of Koobits to encourage healthy revision habits. Over the last year, we found most students who practised just 10 mins a day saw tremendous improvement in vocab, language skills and language confidence.

To thank your loyal blog-readers, we want to help your kids also easily revise and remember vocab, and will provide you with a free Silver Membership to our AI-learning portal. Simply fill up the form at the end of the post and we will reply to you in 2 working days.

A non-technical guide to Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence or AI is the hottest buzzword in most industries, and education is no exception. In schools, MOE is working on an “AI-enabled adaptive learning system to support teaching and learning”, while at home, many parents use websites like KidStartNow’s Pet Battle or Koobits to revise intelligently.

But have you ever wondered what exactly is AI? In this post, we give parents a non-technical rundown of AI using an example everyone can appreciate – getting our kids to read more.


AI has notoriously many definitions, but I like IBM’s explanation that AI is using computers to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind.

To the average person, AI means robots like Skynet in Terminator or J.A.R.V.I.S in Ironman – intelligent machines that are indistinguishable from the human mind. That is called Strong AI, and what most don’t realise is we are still far from that. Rather, most AI applications today are Weak AI, which is focused on teaching machines to do a specific task like sweeping your floor or assessing your child’s Chinese pronunciation. 

Pro-tip: Note that Weak AI does not mean that the AI does the task poorly, just that its intelligence is confined to a narrow scope. For instance, chess-playing AI is stronger than the best human players but it is considered a Weak AI as it’s only good at playing Chess. 

Strong AI
Weak AI

In today’s post, we will be exploring two broad kinds of AI – Expert System and Machine Learning, with the goal of building an intelligent system that can choose a good book for a 6 year old girl to read.


Expert System is an old-school AI system that emulates the decision-making ability of a human expert, typically through if-else rules.

So let’s say I’m the robot, and my wife is training me to go to the bookstore to select a book that is both educational and also appealing to a 6 year old girl. You can think of me as a proxy for a robot.

My wife, being an expert on both shopping and what my daughter likes, could write down a list of rules that help me select the right book. For instance, I could

  1. Consider only books that are cheaper than $10, have pictures and do not have pinyin
  2. Reject books if they have more than two sentences per page or contain overly complex vocabulary (based on MOE syllabus)
  3. For each book, give 1 bonus point if it is about a topic my daughter likes (e.g. animals, princesses, fantasy). So a book with animals and princesses is worth 2 points.
  4. Select the book with the highest score. In the event of a tie, choose the cheapest book with the highest score.

Congratulations – we have just created a basic Expert System!

At this point, you might go – “Dan, that doesn’t sound very intelligent”. But while rule-based systems are rudimentary, they work well for certain domains like education and healthcare.

For instance, the KidStartNow vocab revision app combines rule-based systems with forgetting curve models to track the words your child knows and the optimal set of questions to review.


Machine Learning is another kind of AI and is the cool kid on the block, and is basically teaching a computer to identify patterns from examples in data and make predictions (see youtube video below for a great explanation on what is Machine Learning).

Alright, let’s go back to the book selection example. What if my wife doesn’t actually know what sort of books our daughter likes – how should she train me to go to the bookstore to buy books?

One way would be to first show my daughter a list of books that we have at home, and for each book, ask if she likes it or not. After showing her enough books and recording her preferences, I will naturally gain an intuition of what she likes, which I can use to select a book with reasonable accuracy.

But wait, machines aren’t as smart as humans – we can’t simply tell a machine that my daughter likes Three Little Pigs, and have it automatically understand why. 

One thing we could do is associate each book with certain identifying features – for instance, a Three Little Pigs story would be a book about animals that has pictures, while the Frozen novel would be a book about princesses without pictures. This way, when we tell the machine that my daughter likes Three Little Pigs, it is able to start to reason “maybe she likes animal books with pictures”. And all we need to do is repeat the process with a large amount of books (aka data).

TitleCategoryPicturebookDaughter likes it?
Three Little PigsAnimalsYesYes
Three Little Pigs NovelAnimalsNoNo
Cinderella NovelPrincessNoYes
Frozen NovelPrincessNoYes

Congratulations – we have just created a basic Machine Learning System that can predict what books my daughter will like!


You might be wondering: the approach we just described sounds relatively simple, and how could that possibly work? The answer is data.

In his AI course, famous AI scientist Andrew Ng talks about how the rising amount of data, together with cheap computation power and improvement in algorithms, is powering rapid improvements in Machine Learning performance, especially in the field of Deep Learning.

Given sufficient amounts of good data, we can train machines to do very specific tasks like personalising a Spotify music playlist or predict bank fraud. In the next section, we will talk about specifically how machine learning is used in the education space.

Machine Learning In Education

Speaking Mandarin is a big problem for many Singaporeans given that the majority of families now speak predominantly English at home. For many preschool parents, a concern is that their kids are speaking Chinese with an English or “ang-moh” accent. At KidStartNow, we are working on a machine learning audio pronunciation feature, where students can record and upload an audio clip, and our system can determine both accuracy of pronunciation as well as fluency and dictation.

Another use of machine learning in the education space is in universities, where AI can identify struggling students that are at risk of dropping out, so that officers can provide academic support. The way it works is that universities train a machine learning system with data from previous years, and it learns to predict at-risk dropouts from information like attendance records, grades and socio-demographic information (controversial).


While Artificial intelligence has been extremely hyped over the last few years, we believe it has transformative potential in the education space, and hope this non-technical explanation has been helpful

At KidStartNow, we believe that the secret to improving in Chinese is through effective revision – that’s why every time your child uses our vocabulary revision app, we track his or her progress, and then use AI to personalise an optimal learning plan. If you are interested in finding out more about our app or regular Chinese enrichment classes at Bedok, please leave your details below and we will contact you within 2 working days.

Chinese Comprehension Deep-Dive (Upper Primary)

阅读理解 or Chinese comprehension is the minefield where many exam marks are lost. We previously did a case-study of a lower primary comprehension; today we will be analysing an upper primary Chinese comprehension passage and examine common mistakes students make.


Students can get a maximum score of 200 for PSLE Chinese, and there are a total of three comprehension passages with a total score of 42 marks.

The first comprehension passage is 10 marks and consists of five multiple choice questions. The second passage is a short announcement, advertisement or letter (通告、广告、便条) worth 10 marks, and consists of three multiple choice questions and a short writing task.

In this post, we focus on the third (and most scary) passage, or 阅读理解二B组 worth a whopping 22 marks and consists of all open-ended questions involving writing.

PaperSectionMarks (%)
Paper 1Composition40 (20%)
Paper 2Language Use 30 (15%)
Cloze Passage10 (5%)
Comprehension 1 (Multiple Choice)10 (5%)
Sentence Completion8 (4%)
Comprehension 2 – Module A10 (5%)
Comprehension 2 – Module B22 (11%)
Paper 3Oral50 (25%)
Listening20 (10%)
PSLE Chinese marks allocation


In our Chinese enrichment classes, we emphasise three key factors to ace the comprehension passage – vocabulary, exam techniques, and checking. It’s not rocket science, but not something easily learned overnight.

The best but longer-term solution to acing comprehension is to simply read more. Reading is one of the best ways to change students’ attitudes towards Chinese and improve vocabulary but we understand exams are just around the corner, so here are some fast tips to improve.

Factor One: Vocabulary

Reading is the core bedrock of comprehension, especially for upper primary. In lower primary, it is possible to rely on exam techniques to do well even without full understanding the passage. However, as we explain later, this is much harder to pull off when passages get more difficult.

So as a parent, what should we do?

If you have very limited time, the biggest bang for your buck is to revise the textbooks and make sure your child can recognise and understand all the keywords covered this year. Don’t focus only on Textbook B (下册), and make sure to revise Textbook A (上册) too.

Revise the keywords in your textbook

Another good way to revise is to skim through some of the recent comprehension passages done in school or at enrichment centres – circle words that you can’t remember, look it up, and commit to memory if they are important.

Pro Tip: Get your child to read the textbook aloud – many studies show reading and speaking text aloud is a much more effective way of remembering information vs silent reading.

Lastly, if you have more time or if your child’s standard is weaker, be sure to revise previous levels as well (e.g. revising P3 words if you are P4). While previous level words aren’t tested directly, they will appear in both language-use questions and comprehension passages.

Factor Two: Exam Techniques

As we previously discussed in our lower comprehension post, the general approach we advocate is as follows:

Step 1: Skim through passage to get an overall understanding of the passage and to identify its broad theme, topic or storyline.

Step 2: Identify and underline the question words in the questions (i.e. the 5W+1H questions).

Step 3: Do a detailed read of passage while using question words and context from Step 2 to find the sentences where answers are found.

However, there are minefields for upper primary. There are tricky questions that “punish” students that just copy and paste. Some questions require retrieving information from different paragraphs to get full marks, while other questions require students to omit certain irrelevant information to avoid getting penalised. We cover more examples in the case study below.

Factor Three: Checking

It’s hard to overstate the importance of checking, especially as passages become harder. It’s one thing losing marks to a question you don’t know, it’s another losing marks on something you know but was careless.

The three things to check:

  1. Check that you haven’t made mistakes when writing the characters – depending on level and grader, you could lose up to two marks for wrong characters (or 10% of the comprehension score!!). Whenever a student copies wrong (照抄都能抄错), it makes a teacher sad so please be careful!
  2. Check that what you wrote fully answers the question; if it’s a two part question, have we answered both parts? If it is a two mark question, does our answer have two points?
  3. Check if there is irrelevant information in our answer that might be penalised

P5 CASE STUDY – 阅读理解






The first two questions are worth two marks each, and requires us to look for a synonym in the passage based on the keywords in the question.

The general approach for the first two vocabulary questions is the following:

  1. Underline keywords in the questions
  2. Based on the keywords and our initial skim of the passage, try to think about what are potential answers
  3. When doing a detailed read of the passage, look for the correct answer

Q1. 文中形容“用坚强的意志和力量战胜或消除”的词语是:

Answer: 克服

We underline the keywords 坚强 and 战胜, which hints to us that the answer is probably related to being resilient and overcoming something (e.g. difficulty). We pick up on the phrases 努力克服困难 and 勇敢地克服困难, and arrive at the answer 克服. 

Q2. 文中形容“大声叫好”的词语是:

Answer: 喝彩

We underline the keywords 大声叫好, so we know we are looking for a situation where people are cheering, which bring us to the phrase 最终赢得喝彩

This question is harder as the term 喝 has multiple meanings and pronunciation (多音字). Most students will automatically think of “to drink – hē” but it has another meaning “to shout – hè”.

Q3. 玛丽闷闷不乐原因是什么? (2 marks)

Answer: 因为老师安排玛丽在音乐剧表演中扮演狐狸,玛丽不会演狐狸,想要放弃演出。

Reading the question, we know we are looking for a reason for why Mary is unhappy, and look for 闷闷不乐 or a similar phrase in the passage.

Just like the question we previously encountered in our lower-primary comprehension case-study, we need to convert what Mary said to reported speech.

However, since this is a two mark question, we expect to furnish two points, while Mary’s speech about wanting to give up as she doesn’t want to perform the fox role is just one point.

We notice there is more relevant information from paragraph 1 about Mary’s teacher organising a musical that is not reflected in Mary’s speech. If we leave that out, we won’t get full marks.

Pro Tip: Upper Primary questions tend to require students to piece together information from different paragraphs, so students need to read and answer carefully!

Q4. 玛丽认为雨声好听吗?妈妈告诉玛丽雨声是怎样产生的?

Answer: 玛丽认为雨声好听。妈妈告诉玛丽,雨点想要落到地面,有时却没办法直接到达地面,会遇到了石头、屋顶等障碍物。但是雨点仍然勇敢地落下来,与障碍物碰撞,发出声音。

There are always questions with “free marks” for students – this is one of them.

Potential areas where students might lose marks on this question are a) only answering one of the two questions, b) not converting from directed speech to reported speech, and c) writing characters wrongly.

Q5. 玛丽为什么眼前一亮

Answer: 因为玛丽从妈妈鼓励的话语中,明白了自己要像遇到石头、屋顶等障碍物的雨点一样,勇敢地克服困难,为演出付出努力,最终也能赢得喝彩,所以她眼前一亮。

The question asks us why Mary’s eyes shone. We look for the keyword 眼前一亮 in the passage, and notice it precedes Mary saying she knows what to do. So what does she know to do?

The same paragraph involves a dialogue between Mary and her mom, where her mom tells her a story about raindrops and overcoming difficulty. This is where it gets slightly tricky – most of the conversation is in reported speech, and some of the information in the paragraph is not directly relevant to the question.

If your child “copies and pastes” the entire paragraph without omitting irrelevant information and without converting to reported speech, he or she might be penalised.

Q6. 玛丽之后是怎么做的?她的表演结果怎么样?

Answer: 玛丽抓紧时间练习,她查找有关狐狸的视频,学习狐狸说话的语气、神态和动作,不断地模仿练习,改进自己的表演。最终,她的表演受到同学们的称赞。

This question is quite simple but note that it has two parts, and students need to make sure they fully answer both parts to get full credit.

In particular, as most of the answer comes from paragraph 4, a common mistake is for students to copy and paste from paragraph 4 and neglect to include the information from paragraph five that she received compliments from her classmates.

Q7. 如果你是玛丽,听了妈妈的鼓励,你会像玛丽那样做吗为什么

Potential Answer: 如果我是玛丽,听了妈妈的鼓励后,我会像玛丽那样做。因为遇到困难时,我们不能逃避,要勇敢地接受挑战,最终克服困难。如果我们克服了所有困难,我们的人生就会越来越精彩。(答案合理即可)

The final question is usually the hardest as it requires students to understand the passage and then reflect on it. In this question, we are asked what we would do if we were Mary and why.

Rule of thumb: if the subject of the question is doing something morally correct (like Mary), you are highly highly encouraged to say you will do the same thing, while if the subject is doing something wrong, say you will not do the same thing because doing so will lead to negative consequences. Moral relativism does not exist for primary school comprehension!!

Generally speaking, most students are comfortable with describing or summarising what happened in the passage, but lose marks when it comes to reflecting.

Usually in class, we ask students to first recall when they were in a similar situation, and reflect about the experience. However, more often than not, students will say they have never been in a similar situation, and find it difficult to put themselves in the shoes of the protagonist.

This doesn’t only apply to comprehension – one of the PSLE oral topics this year was about cleaning your room, and if a child has never had to clean his room before, would she be able to reflect on it? Unfortunately there isn’t a silver bullet for such questions besides practice as they require not only language skills, but the ability to reflect or 举一反三.

Typically, there are two ways to get better at such questions: the first is to practice a lot of comprehension questions as there are common patterns (at KidStartNow’s enrichment classes, we practise 1-2 comprehension passages a week).

The second way is for parents to read fables or stories with our children and then ask them for their thoughts afterwards. Or to have regular discussion sessions with our children in Chinese. Many of these reflection questions tend to have a moral message, and the more our children practise, the better they get at answering such questions. 


Chinese Comprehension can appear to be extremely complex, but given the proper techniques and vocabulary foundation, any child can tackle it.

Lastly, if you are looking for help with Chinese, KidStartNow runs weekly Chinese enrichment classes that combine time-tested teaching methods with proprietary AI technology to make learning Chinese effective and engaging. 

We are recommended by 20+ parent bloggers and 95% of our parents continue with us every term because they see their children improve week after week, month after month. We provide physical N2-P6 classes at Bedok and online P3-P6 classes, and please leave your details below and we will contact you within two working days.

Three free ways to really thank your teacher

It’s Teachers’ Day tomorrow (3rd Sep), and rather than the usual Teachers’ Day gift ideas, I’m going to suggest three free ways to really thank the teachers that have made a difference.

Great teachers change our lives. Personally, I am eternally grateful for my P4 English teacher for believing a naughty boy that was constantly falling behind could make it. His belief in me gave me the confidence to believe in myself.

💡Side note: You don’t have to wait until Teachers’ Day to thank a teacher. Teaching can be a thankless job outside of Teachers’ Day, and honest appreciation goes a long way in motivating teachers to continue.


Almost all students will thank their current teachers during Teachers’ Day in some shape or form, yet most students will overlook thanking former teachers even if they previously made a huge difference in their lives. It’s not that students have forgotten their previous teacher; rather, it’s not the norm to do so.

Yet for many teachers, their most treasured gifts are sincere messages or handwritten-cards from former students that tell them how their efforts made a difference in their lives.

Because while teachers pour endless hours trying to help their students succeed both in life and academically, there will inevitably be moments of doubt as to whether all their efforts and time spent actually resulted in anything.

Case in point: One of the best P6 Math teachers I know re-reads whatsapp thank-you messages from his graduated students when he needs motivation – knowing his past efforts were not in vain have paid off gives him the energy to educate the next generation.

Genuine thank-yous from former students cost nothing, yet gives teachers a great sense of accomplishment and motivation. Especially because it’s unexpected.


One of the most common parenting/leadership techniques is to lead by example, and it applies to thanking as well. As parents, it’s very common for us to remind our children to thank their teachers, but it’s even more powerful if we ourselves express gratitude to our children’s teachers in both words and actions.

One of my favourite “thank you” techniques is to include a concrete example. If you feel your son’s Science teacher has really made a difference in terms of getting him interested in the subject, tell them that during the next parent-teacher meeting. 

Another way we parents can show our appreciation is to do our best to work with teachers. For instance, if my child’s English teacher says he is falling behind and recommends reading more to improve his vocabulary, it’s natural for me to feel unhappy (and I might even wonder what the teacher is doing).

But it’s important for us parents to realise while teachers do their best, they only see students for a few hours a week, and they can’t force our children to do homework or reading. Listening and implementing feedback and advice from teachers is a great way to help our children improve and show thanks.

And if your child follows the feedback and improves, why not tell his or her teacher? Saying “Thank you for suggesting that we read with him daily – we’ve been doing that and can really see his interest and vocabulary improve.” will really make your child’s teacher feel valued. 


But above all, the best way for a child to thank a teacher is to work hard and do well, both academically and in life. A “Best Teacher Ever” mug or a bouquet of flowers is nice, but nothing beats the feeling of seeing a child work hard and live up to his or her potential.

Great teachers see potential when others see none, and believe when even the child doesn’t. My wife was from a rural town in Taiwan, and as her grades in high school were merely above-average, she planned to attend a mid-tier university near her home. But her form teacher saw potential in her, and challenged her to strive for Taiwan’s best university 台大. No one except her teacher believed it was possible, but after months and months of hard work, she finally made it. Going to 台大 changed a rural girl’s life by exposing her to the best and brightest, and none of it would have been possible if her form teacher didn’t see her potential.

Conversely, a surefire way to make a teacher sad is 恨铁不成钢, where a child squanders his or her potential by not trying.


Teachers shape the lives of both us parents and our children, and let us show our gratitude to them, by telling them that we appreciate all they have done and showing them that we will live up to our potential.

Happy Teachers’ Day!

Does Singapore really need Chinese enrichment?

The biggest news last month is China’s crackdown on the private tuition sector, prompting renewed discussion on Singapore’s own enrichment sector, and leaving many parents and educators wondering if Singapore is next?

In this post, we discuss why China is cracking down on the private education market and whether Singapore really needs Chinese enrichment?


In end July, China announced strict regulations on the private education, including forcing education firms to convert to nonprofit status and banning tutoring during weekends and holidays. 

To fully understand the situation, one must understand how investment has changed China’s education market. For more details, I highly recommend watching this Chinese video.

In the past, China’s education market was more akin to Singapore’s current system, with a single teacher teaching in a physical classroom. Such a system was limited by both quality teachers and classroom sizes, and did not attract much interest from large investors.


Everything changed when education companies introduced the 双师 or two-teacher system, where you have a superstar teacher that streams to multiple classrooms, and each classroom has an assistant teacher to handle questions, marking, etc. The two-teacher system meant the private education market could benefit from economies of scale since a superstar tutor could now reach thousands of students at one shot.

Source: https://edtechchina.medium.com/two-teacher-system-the-new-model-for-the-education-training-market-in-china-63da97df0d4b

This attracted the attention and capital of deep-pocketed investors such as China’s tech behemoths Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent. Flush with cash and amidst the COVID-19 situation, educational companies became increasingly aggressive in their marketing efforts, with ads allegedly like “Did you include your child’s future in your shopping cart” or “If you don’t sign up for enrichment, we will nurture your child’s competitor instead”.

And thus the crackdown, purportedly to increase fertility rates to counter China’s major demographic challenge of an aging population as well as to reduce the rising gap between the haves and have-nots.

💡Interesting Note: Just like China, Singapore is also facing a tremendous demographic challenge – our total fertility rate dropped to a historic low of 1.10 in 2020, way below the replacement rate of 2.1. I believe should China successfully reverse its low fertility rate by curbing tuition, curbs on our local enrichment industry are highly likely.


Do our children really need Chinese enrichment?

The short answer: it depends on us parents. A child can definitely excel in Chinese without enrichment as long as parents spend sufficient effort building a conducive environment.

On the flip side, if we parents don’t regularly communicate and teach our children Chinese, it could be difficult for them to become fluent in Chinese as there are much fewer opportunities for children to pick up the language organically compared to the past.

For instance, in our previous post, we talked about how in 2000, a mere 1 in 3 children spoke mainly English at home; fast forward 20 years, nearly 4 in 5 children speak English most frequently. In primary school, most students use Chinese only during Mother Tongue classes, and switch back to English immediately after.

For many such parents, Chinese enrichment is not so much a nice-to-have vitamin but a necessary pain-killer to prevent their children from hating and failing Chinese.


At the same time, while many news reports focus on the eye-popping fees of some enrichment centres, they often overlook that Chinese enrichment tends to be significantly cheaper compared to English, Mathematics and Science (EMS).

The Singaporean enrichment market is typically broken down into the EMS and Chinese segments, with the majority of enrichment centres specialising in either one or the other. Enrichment centres that do both tend to brand them separately (e.g. Julia Gabriel + Chengzhu, Tien Hsia + Morris Allen) or provide different price points.

Comparing both mid-range and high-end centres, Chinese enrichment tends to be significantly cheaper compared to EMS enrichment. A mid-range Chinese enrichment tends to charge between $20-25/hour* for P6 classes compared to $30+ for EMS.

Meanwhile, high-end EMS enrichment centres that promise stellar results charge up to $50/hr, while there’s not really an equivalent** in the Chinese market. For instance, Wang Lao Shi and HCL are typically considered to be among the most academic of Chinese centres, and their fees are roughly $25-30/hour, much lower than their EMS equivalent.

*Quick note on methodology: some EMS centres lower the upfront price tag by offering shorter terms (e.g. 11 lessons vs 12) or shorter lesson durations. I’ve chosen to compare prices on an hourly basis since I believe it’s the fairest method.

**There are some Chinese enrichment centres that are that are more expensive, but they tend to cater to a more niche audience (e.g. international students)


That’s not to say the Chinese enrichment industry is blameless, for it has accentuated the difference between those that attend classes vs those who don’t.

Consider Hanyu Pinyin (HYPY). Officially, the teaching of HYPY is supposed to start in primary school. While many government affiliated childcares and kindergartens do not teach HYPY, most private childcares and kindergartens as well as Chinese enrichment do teach it.

This pressures many parents who enroll their kids in government affiliated preschools to seek out enrichment or holiday camps to ensure their children won’t fall behind in P1, causing a vicious cycle.


Despite the above, I believe the upsides of having enrichment to promote excellence in Chinese greatly outweigh the downsides, because of the importance of being bilingual.

Cultural and heritage factors are obviously important plus-factors when it comes to learning our Mother Tongue. But as a pragmatic Singaporean, let’s also talk about the practical benefits of our kids being effectively bilingual (aka actually being able to communicate and work in Chinese, not just being able to pass an examination). 

China is projected to become the biggest economy in 2028 (5 years ahead of schedule), is currently our biggest trading partner, and we are also China’s biggest foreign investor. At the same time, given Singapore’s neutral geopolitical stance, there’s a trend towards large Chinese companies setting up regional offices here. Personally, my wife is from Taiwan, and works in a Fortune 500 company that targets China from Singapore, and there are many large companies in the same boat.

We strongly believe in an ever-changing world, giving our children the gift of bilingualism is the best way to ensure their future. Yet while China grow increasing important, the climate for our kids to learn Chinese organically grows increasing difficult.

Therefore, in my arguably biased opinion, considering the lower cost of Chinese enrichment as well as the importance of bilingualism, there is a lot of value in having the option of Chinese enrichment for Singaporean parents who have neither the time nor ability to coach their children.

Comprehension Deep Dive (Lower Primary)

Ask any primary school parent which Chinese topic gives their child a headache, and the answer is either comprehension or composition. We have previously discussed how to tackle composition and a general approach to acing comprehension, and in this post, we are deep diving into a specific comprehension passage (P2) to show how parents can apply these concepts.

As a quick refresher, we advocate the following three-step approach when tackling comprehension passages.

Step 1: Skim through passage to get an overall understanding of the passage and to identify its broad theme, topic or storyline.

Step 2: Identify and underline the question words (疑问词) in the questions (i.e. the 5W+1H questions; click here for more information). Knowing what kind of question word we are dealing with will give us clues on how to identify the answer.

Step 3: Do a detailed read of passage while using question words and context from Step 2 to find the sentences where answers are found. Underline or highlight these sentences and write the relevant question number next to it.

We are big advocates of reading the passage twice vs reading just once and it doesn’t take much longer since the first read is just a quick skim. From our experience, this simple tip greatly improves marks especially when it comes to tricky and “what do you think (感想)” questions.


Step 1: Skim through passage 

The very first thing we should do when we get a passage is to do a quick read-through to get a rough idea of the passage. From our first scan, we know the passage is about an ant bragging to his friends that he killed a tiger.

💡Pro Tip: Some students prefer to skip this step and read the questions first before reading the passage. From experience, students who do that tend to only read the passage once, which can cause them to lose marks. In comparison, skimming the passage first before reading the question will naturally “force” students to read the passage twice.

Step 2: Identify and underline question words

Now, let us take a look at the questions, while highlighting the important question words. For Q1 and Q2, we underline the question word【什么】- which tells us we are looking for objects, events or incidents (WHO/WHAT). In Q2, we also underline 【告诉】, which tells us we are probably looking for some sort of speech.

Q1. 小蚂蚁在路上捡到了什么?

Q2. 小蚂蚁拿着毛,告诉朋友们什么?

For Q3 and Q4, we underline【为什么】- this suggests that we are looking for a reason or justification (WHY). For Q3, we also underline 【说】as it implies the answer is probably related to some sort of speech.

💡Pro Tip:【为什么】questions should usually be answered with【因为】

Q3. 为什么小黄鸟那根毛是自己的?

Q4. 听了小蚂蚁的话,朋友们为什么笑了?

For Q5, we underline 【怎样了】-  which suggests that we are looking for an outcome or state. We also underline 【最后】which tells us the answer is likely to be at the end.

Q5. 最后,小蚂蚁怎样了?

Step 3: Do detailed read of passage to find the sentences where answers are found

Q1. 小蚂蚁在路上捡到了什么?

Typically, the answer to the first question is found in the first paragraph, so we start looking there. We know the question is asking for an object and also notice that the phrase 【小蚂蚁在路上】 is repeated in both the question and the passage, and we have our answer.

Answer: 小蚂蚁在路上捡到了一根黄色的毛。 

Q2) 小蚂蚁拿着毛,告诉朋友们什么?

From our question words, we look for some sort of speech that the ant says to his friend, and identify the sentence with the answer.

Importantly, we cannot just “copy-and-paste” because this question requires us to convert Direct Speech to Reported Speech, or the equivalent of converting  [Sam said, “I went to the movies”] to [Sam said he went to the movies].

Answer: 小蚂蚁拿着毛,告诉朋友们它刚刚打死了一只老虎,它手上的毛是老虎的。

💡Pro Tip: An easy way to lose marks is for students to answer only half of the question, by not including【它手上的毛是老虎的】. It’s not uncommon for students to correctly underline the correct answer, but only include half of it because they don’t want to write so much. Don’t give up free marks!

3) 为什么小黄鸟那根毛是自己的?

Based on our underlined question words, we know we are looking for some sort of spoken explanation by 【小黄鸟】, and easily identify the sentence with the answer. Similar to Q2, we need to convert Direct Speech to Reported Speech.

Answer: 因为小黄鸟认为那根毛的颜色和它身上的毛一样,所以它说那根毛是自己的。

4) 听了小蚂蚁的话,朋友们为什么笑了?

We see the question word【为什么】again, so we know we are looking for a reason or justification, and that our answer should start with【因为】.

Since this is a passage for Primary Two, it’s easier and we can use phrases that appear in both the passage and question like 【听】 and【 笑】 to easily find the answer. Harder passages are likely to use synonyms instead, which underscores the importance of having a solid vocabulary foundation.

Answer: 因为朋友们知道小蚂蚁没见过老虎,却说自己打死了老虎,所以朋友们笑了。

5) 最后,小蚂蚁怎样了?

【最后】and 【怎样了】tell us we are looking for what happens to 【小蚂蚁】 at the end, and that the answer is probably near to or at the end of the passage.

As we mentioned above, since this is a lower primary question, the passage and question repeats the word 【最后】, making it easier to identify the correct answer. However, the passage could had used a different term or omitted【最后】, and thus it’s important for students to know 【最后】means “finally”. 

Other important temporal terms include 【然后 / 后来】* and 【一开始】**, etc.

Answer: 最后,小蚂蚁的脸红了,飞快地跑掉了。

* after

** at the beginning


Comprehension can appear to be extremely complex, but given the proper techniques and vocabulary foundation, any child can tackle it. Having said that, answering techniques and vocabulary do not appear magically, but require constant practise and regular reading. Hope you find it useful, and please feel free to leave comments and suggestions!

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