Myth: My child will pick up Chinese naturally in school, just like I did

As a principal of a Chinese school, I get daily questions from new parents worried that their children will fall behind as they are raised in English-speaking families. “My child gets zero exposure to Chinese at home, how ah?”

The good news is you aren’t alone: last week, Singapore’s Department of Statistics released its latest census, revealing nearly four in five children use English as the predominant language at home. The bad news is MOE hasn’t really reduced the difficulty of the Chinese curriculum, so you still have to find a way to help your child enjoy learning Chinese.

The importance of environment

If your children mostly speak English, you might be wondering: what does this mean for you?

We all know that having a conducive family environment is one of the best ways to pick up languages.  Young children have an amazing ability to learn languages through immersion – children can grasp unfamiliar words and concepts simply by being exposed to it multiple times, even without formal instruction.

What’s less known is that insufficient exposure to a second language can affect a child’s willingness to use the language. Pearson, Fernández, Lewedeg, & Ollerin studied Spanish-English bilingual children with different levels of language exposure and found that if a child was exposed to the language less than 20% of waking hours, he or she would be very hesitant to use the second language.

So does being an English-speaking family mean our children will suck at Chinese, especially if our Chinese aren’t great too? The short answer is no, but we parents will need to put in more effort. 

Myth: My child will pick up Chinese naturally in school, just like I did

A common misconception is that our children will naturally pick up Chinese in school without any real issue. Afterall, when we were young, our parents didn’t send us for enrichment or teach us Chinese, and we picked it up fine in primary school. So shouldn’t it work for our children?

However, this ignores the tremendous demographic shift that has taken place – 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. (Note: 2000 data is obtained from a previous census)

The situation in primary schools has also changed – just like at home, most students in schools use Chinese only during Mother Tongue classes, and switch back to English immediately after Mother Tongue classes. I recall 20 years ago when I was in Primary School, that was the exact opposite – we spoke English during lessons and Chinese at most other times. 

So what can we parents do?

We highlight the demographic shift not to be pessimistic but to be realistic about the challenges that our children will face.

The good news is while many Singaporean Chinese parents worry they cannot help their child with Mandarin because they worry their own Chinese standard is too weak, the reality is we can still provide rich immersion opportunities at home even if our pronunciation or grammar aren’t perfect.

In their seminal book “Bilingual Edge”, Georgetown University linguistic professors King and Mackey explain that the belief that only native speakers can teach their children a second language is simply a myth.

They say that imperfections do not harm or impede children’s language learning, and children language acquisition occurs even if adults do not speak perfectly. What is critical is not that children hear complete sentences, but that they are directly engaged in conversation. Even parents with limited Chinese proficiency can interact with their young children in Mandarin, providing important language input and vocabulary foundation.

💡Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid of speaking to our children in Chinese. We do way more harm not speaking to them in Chinese because it deprives them of a healthy language environment.

Indeed, many parents will speak to our teachers in Mandarin, saying they are afraid to speak to their children in Chinese because they either find it unnatural or they aren’t sure about their abilities. But if parents can have a proper conversation in Mandarin with teachers, we are more than qualified to have short conversations with their children in Mandarin, setting them up for future success in the language.

Making reading with your children a regular activity

Another great way to provide rich immersion opportunities is to read to your children regularly. 

As we mentioned in an earlier post, reading builds both vocabulary and interest in Chinese; indeed, research shows children can increase their vocabulary substantially through incidental learning, where students encounter new words from reading, even when they do not receive explicit explanation of these new words. 

And if you are worried about not being able to recognise all the words when reading to your children, we recommend using Pleco, a great Chinese dictionary app that allows you to scan words to look up meanings. 

Closing note

We understand parents are very busy, and if you would like to “outsource”, KidStartNow runs weekly classes that combine time-tested teaching methods with proprietary AI technology to make learning Chinese effective and fun. 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 onsite 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.

How to encourage revision

This is the second post of a three-part series on the common problems primary school students face when learning Chinese. In this post, we examine how to encourage students to revise Chinese.

In our previous post, we talked about how most of the common problems students faced stem from vocabulary, and the importance of regular revision to “beat” the Forgetting Curve. The million dollar question is “yes, but how do I get my child to revise?

While every child is different, something that has worked for many of our students is a three pronged approach towards making revision easier, more bite-size and more game-like.

MAKE REVISION EASIER

The first tip comes from our star teacher Hong Mei lao shi: “many students don’t want to revise because they find it hard. A simple yet effective method is to get students to first read the textbook before doing their homework, and to do the revision/homework as soon as possible. Reading the textbook and practising sentences builds vocabulary, which is the foundation for composition writing in the future.

If you are going “duh, that’s obvious” right now, hear us out.

The last thing most kids want to do after coming home from class is to immediately do their homework or revision. However, the longer they put it off, the more difficult it will be. Consider the Forgetting Curve below – when we learn something new, we forget half of it within a day, and almost everything within a week. So the longer your child puts off revision/homework, the more he or she has forgotten, which makes revision more painful.

And when students do start revising, it’s quite common to jump immediately to the questions and call their parents for help if they get stuck. This is bad for two reasons – a) it does not train their self-reliance, which is important as students go into Upper Primary, and b) it’s annoying for us parents too if we are being honest.

Instead, get your children in the habit of first reading the textbook, especially if more than 1 day has elapsed since class. New content is most easily forgotten, and revising the textbook first will make doing the questions easier. The easier revision becomes, the more likely our children will revise regularly.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

💡Pro Tip: To really consolidate the content, get your child to read the textbook aloud rather than silently. The act of reading and saying text aloud is more effective in remembering than silent reading.

MAKE REVISION BITE-SIZED

One of the most famous Japanese business philosophies is Kaizen (改善), famously used by Toyoya to grow from a small division to the second largest automobile company in the world. Kaizen means Continuous Improvement, across all levels, in a gradual and methodical process.

You might be wondering what has Kaizen got to do with learning Chinese.

One of my favourite books is The Spirit of Kaizen, which talks about how we can use Kaizen to improve our personal lives. When trying to improve ourselves or our children, we tend to gravitate towards drastic actions like “I’m going to get my child to revise 2 hours of Chinese everyday” or “I’m only going to speak Chinese to my child”.

However, most parents who have tried the above revert back to old routines pretty quickly. This is because our brain is hardwired to reject revolutionary changes.

The key to creating lasting change is to instead take small incremental steps. When our children equate revision sessions to long 1-hour affairs, they are likely to procrastinate and reject it. However, if sessions are a minimum of just 5-10 minutes, they are more likely to revise since it’s so short. And once they start, they are likely to continue for much longer than 5-10 minutes.

💡Pro Tip: We learn much more effectively doing regular bite-sized revisions compared to irregular cramming sessions.

I’m applying the same techniques to learn Artificial Intelligence. The last thing I want to do after a long day of work is to decipher complex Math equations used in AI, but I commit to a minimum of just 5 minutes of practise, which usually ends up becoming an hour.

MAKE REVISION GAME-LIKE

As someone who used to hate Chinese, I totally get why many kids find revising Chinese painful and boring – assessment books are dry and provide zero feedback, and it’s just a slog.

But consider a similar case study: Math. Interestingly, many parents tell us their kids love doing questions on sites like Koobits even though they normally don’t like Math. It’s the same story in North America, where Prodigy helps hundreds of millions of users revise Math through games.

But why do these same students not like to revise Chinese on e-learning sites? Our hypothesis is that many Singaporean students dislike Chinese more than Math and most Chinese e-learning systems are just not engaging enough to overcome this dislike of Chinese. 

We spent the last two years testing this hypothesis, and after many different attempts, we found the most success with a pet collection game. Your child becomes a pet collector, and captures cute pets by answering Chinese questions correctly. This motivates your child to revise Chinese, as the more questions he or she answers, the more pets captured.

While we still have a long way to go, the initial results are encouraging – more than 1m questions have been answered on our platform, and students who regularly use our portal see an 80+% improvement.

We provide 7-day free trials of our portal, and if you are interested, just click on this link.

SUMMARY

As we mentioned in our previous post, building a strong foundation in vocabulary is critical to long-term success in Chinese. Vocabulary issues naturally trickle down to composition and comprehension; and many kids who don’t like learning Chinese do so because trying to read and write a language where they don’t know many words is tedious.

Try out the above three revision strategies to build a strong vocabulary foundation, and we are sure it will help your child improve in Chinese!

Lastly, KidStartNow runs a Chinese enrichment centre at Bedok, and if you are looking for help with Chinese, please also leave your details below and we will contact you within two working days.

The importance of reading

As parents, we instinctively know the importance of reading in second language acquisition. Unfortunately, it’s also not that simple to get students to read Chinese stories. In this article, we explore the importance of reading, reasons why many children dislike reading Chinese, and reading strategies you can implement immediately.

INCIDENTAL LEARNING FROM READING IS KEY TO GAINING VOCABULARY

Reading is extremely important in learning, and this is backed by research that shows that children can increase their vocabulary substantially through incidental learning, where students encounter new words from reading, even when they do not receive explicit explanation of these new words

When we read and encounter new words, we are able to contextualise and eventually learn these words even without a teacher or consulting a dictionary. In fact, UIUC’s Center for the Study of Reading found “incidental learning from context during free reading is the major mode of vocabulary acquisition during the school years.”

Chinese storybooks is a great way to expose our children to new words and language patterns in a natural and relatable way, rather than only relying on the traditional approach of force-feeding good words (好词佳句).

READING TRIGGERS THE RETRIEVAL EFFECT

While most people assume learning occurs when we study and memorise new content, many studies have shown better results when we are instead tested or are required to “retrieve” the material learnt. In particular, the act of retrieving information from memory helps strengthen the concept or word being retrieved.

💡Pro Tip: the process of reading naturally triggers the retrieval effect as we recall the meanings of the Chinese characters, and serves as vocabulary revision

To many students, vocabulary revision via reading is more organic and pleasurable vs word drills or flash cards, especially if the content is selected correctly (more on this later in the post).

SO WHY DO STUDENTS DISLIKE READING CHINESE?

Despite the benefits of reading, many parents struggle with getting their students to read.

A common story I hear from parents is that they will bring their children to the local library, and tell them to select a few Chinese stories to borrow. Yet half an hour later, their children will report back with a bag full of English stories and zero Chinese storybooks.

ARE ENGLISH BOOKS JUST MORE ENGAGING THAN CHINESE BOOKS?

Yes and no. The problem is there’s often a big gap between what your child finds interesting and what he can read in Chinese.

Most of the Chinese storybooks you buy in Singapore are actually originally meant for much younger children in China since there’s obviously a huge gap between what an 8 year old Singaporean child can read in Chinese vs a child of the same age from China.

If Chinese book you purchased for your 8 year old was originally meant for a preschooler in China, is it surprising if your child finds it boring? Especially when compared to the English books he or she is reading like Geronimo Stilton or even Harry Potter?

The reverse is also true: at 8 years old, my Taiwanese wife was reading Wuxia novels (金庸小说) in Chinese and Three Little Pigs in English. No prizes for guessing which she preferred.

READING IN A SECOND LANGUAGE CAN BE FRUSTRATING

Reading in a second language requires more effort – we are more likely to come across new words or characters we have forgotten.

Earlier, we talked about the usefulness of incidental reading and retrieval effect in strengthening our vocabulary. However, searching through our memory is also tiring – it might be good for you, but it doesn’t mean it is easy.

It’s human nature to avoid hard things – when given a choice, since reading english books are both more enjoyable and less frustrating, is it any surprise that students gravitate away from it?

STRATEGY 1: FIND CONTENT THAT IS ONLY AVAILABLE IN CHINESE

Sometimes, the best way to “force” us to do something is when there’s no alternative. Find books that are genuinely exciting and meaningful to kids that are only available in Chinese. For instance, many of our students enjoy reading Monkey God stories (TMall, Amazon), and since they are not available in English, it’s a great way to get students to read Chinese. For older kids, Chinese Manga is another useful source of unique material and there is plenty of free content on any of the popular Chinese manga websites.

💡Pro Tip: we avoid buying Chinese storybooks from Singapore – buying directly from TMall or other Chinese retailers is both much cheaper and allows for substantially more choice.

It doesn’t have to be only books – any sort of content that is only available in Chinese is a great way to increase exposure. A friend of mine sets the language settings of his Nintendo Switch to Chinese, so if his kids want to play games* like Breath of the Wild, it has to be in Chinese.

Playing games in Chinese forces us to read in Chinese

STRATEGY 2: UTILISE TECHNOLOGY TO MAKE READING EASIER

As we mentioned above, part of the problem is many of the storybooks available in Singapore weren’t written specially for second language learners but for native speakers. One solution is to look for content that is more complex and engaging to kids, but utilise animation and read-aloud to help our children understand the material.

Even if our children don’t fully understand the content initially, the animation and read-aloud help our children comprehend the meaning and support the text. Over time, our children will naturally absorb the words and improve their vocabulary.

KidStartNow has developed over 100 animated books targeting children between 3-8 years old, each with read-aloud, animation and vocabulary quizzes that help students learn through reading. 
Importantly, these stories are written specifically for Singaporean students, and incorporate words taken from the primary school syllabus.

We provide a free 7-day trial, and click here for more information.

Our reading portal combines stories with animaation, read-aloud, and vocabulary quizzes

A new approach to compo writing

Writing composition is perhaps the biggest problem many primary school students face when learning Chinese. And while the PSLE weightage of composition has been lowered over the years, the mere mention of writing compo can trigger opposition and boredom in many kids.

We will be exploring why students dislike writing in a future blog post, and a quick summary is that remembering and writing Chinese characters is hard even for native speakers, and the way composition is taught in Singapore involves tons of drilling and regurgitation.

REFRESHER ON COMPOSITION MARKING

Let us first examine the marking rubric that is used to assess your child’s composition.

Students can get a maximum score of 200 for PSLE Chinese, of which composition comprises 40 marks or 20%. Students can attempt either Picture Composition (看图作文) or Topical Composition (命题作文), and we typically recommend the former as it is easier to visualise and harder to “go out of point” (usually means failing grade).

Picture Composition involves 4 or 6 pictures, depending on level, and always include a blank image at the end for students to craft their conclusion and reflection (感想)

Compo marks are evenly divided between content (内容) and language expression(表达和结构). 

Content is based on how well a student has described every picture, whether the conclusion and reflection makes sense, and whether the essay is “out of point”. Most content marks are lost in the conclusion and reflection due to lack of creativity or experience, or when students lack the vocabulary to correctly describe each picture.

Language expression refers to both the essay structure (开头结尾), proper sentence structure as well as how descriptive the language used, which highlights the importance of learning good phrases (好词佳句). Marks are also deducted for mistakes in writing characters. 

THE TRADITIONAL APPROACH TO COMPOSITION

The marking structure of Chinese composition explains why for decades, the Singaporean approach towards teaching Chinese composition has been geared towards memorisation. Admittedly, for many enrichment centres, including ours, we are somewhat forced to during the regular school terms, where the focus is on delivering academic excellence.

Let’s walk through a typical compo class, on the topic of Dragon Boat festival. This approach is teacher-led, and starts with an explanation or class discussion of the festival. Students then learn good vocabulary associated with the topic, as well as model openings and endings, before writing their own compositions with teacher guidance.

There are many advantages to this traditional approach – it is extremely aligned with the exam format and is quickly applicable. Moreover, it’s effective as students can be taught a relatively large amount of vocabulary in a short period of time.

As a result, at KidStartNow, we also utilise the traditional approach to composition teaching during our weekly enrichment lessons. However, we are aware of the problems of overusing such an approach.

WHAT IS THE DOWNSIDE?

From a pure MOE examination standpoint, learning Chinese is a 12-year marathon not a sprint that ends after the upcoming exam or Primary Six. 

From experience, endless memorisation and regurgitation of model passages and idioms can cause students to hate writing, and by association, Chinese in the long-term. Disliking Chinese often causes a vicious cycle of students not wanting to practise the language, leading to a decrease in language competency, and looping back to more loss of interest in Chinese.

Learning a language is a marathon

The teacher-led, traditional approach to composition typically has low levels of interaction between teacher and students. Besides being uninteractive, students also have less opportunity for creativity and independent thought, important qualities for a rapidly changing world.

WHAT’S THE SOLUTION

We’ll be the first to admit that until there is a major change in the way PSLE composition is evaluated, some memorisation of vocabulary and passages is necessary to ace exams.

However, memorisation shouldn’t be the only approach, and we have found two methods that greatly complement the traditional approach – reading & experiential learning.

Reading is extremely important in learning, and this is backed by research that shows that children can increase their vocabulary substantially through incidental learning, where students encounter new words from reading, even when they do not receive explicit explanation of these new words. In particular, “repeated encounters with a word, provided through extensive reading, would lead to the long-term, cumulative effect of vocabulary growth.”

EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING

“I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”

Many parents are familiar with experiential learning from their children’s preschool years – it’s a learning method where children participate actively in the process and most importantly, reflect on the activity.

Experiential learning is both effective and engaging – reflecting on an activity encourages students to retrieve and apply newly-learned content, a highly effective way to remember. Considering how much more engaged students are when they are doing activities in our experiential compo camps, we can attest that it is also much more fun for children.

As a way of comparison, let us revisit the topic of writing about the Dragon Boat festival in an experiential format.

Before students actually write a single character, they are first invited to explore the topic, by creating their own unique rice dumpling while learning about the process, ingredients and its origin story (previously, students made real dumplings, but due to COVID, we changed to a digital version). Students further immerse themselves by playing a game, where they steer a dragon boat by answering vocabulary questions and competing with their classmates.

Students are encouraged to share their thoughts and after finishing all the activities, they then reflect on what they have learned, before writing a composition with teacher guidance.

Through experiential learning, students similarly learn good vocabulary and model passages that are important for doing well, but are also encouraged to be creative and have fun in the process.

The biggest downside of experiential learning is simply the amount of preparation required, as it takes our teachers at least 4-5x longer to plan a compo in our holiday camps vs a normal compo used in our regular enrichment class.

CONCLUSION – HOW CAN I HELP MY CHILD?

For parents who have the time to coach their kids at home, we recommend three things: firstly, to establish a regular reading and writing habit. Reading Chinese stories is one of the best ways to naturally build interest and vocabulary through incidental learning, while journal writing is a great way to get students to regularly practise writing. 

Secondly, you can implement experiential learning at home through role-playing. For instance, many picture composition questions portray real-life situations like helping an elderly lady in a train, a naughty child at a playground, etc. Why not act out the different scenes with your children, and teach them relevant vocabulary during the process?

Lastly, a friend of mine spends 20 minutes a day having discussions with their primary-school children in both English and Chinese. From local matters like how Singaporeans are handling covid to their thoughts on their favourite cartoon. Getting students to verbalise their thoughts (口头作文) is a great way to improve both sentence structure and vocabulary, which naturally improve writing skills.

JUNE HOLIDAY CAMPS

If you don’t have the time to regularly help your children with compo, you can consider KidStartNow’s 4-day compo camps (P2-P5) held during the June holidays at our Bedok branch. 

We have been running these camps since 2018, with extremely positive feedback from parents and students. The camp focuses on building interest in writing compositions, teaching important writing techniques, and building vocabulary foundation through idioms, metaphors and good vocabulary.

If you are looking to improve your child’s compo writing skills, please also leave your details below and we will contact you within two working days.

The importance of revision

This is the first post of a three-part series on the common problems primary school students face when learning Chinese. In this post, we examine the reason why many students struggle at Chinese.

Learning Chinese can be hard for children, especially if they grow up in an English speaking family with little exposure to Chinese outside of school. According to a report by the Institute of Policy Studies, younger Singaporean parents are more likely to use English when speaking to their children, with 58-61% of parents between 25-45 years olds using English most frequently. 

The lack of exposure at home, compounded by Chinese being one of the hardest languages to learn, presents several challenges to students learning Chinese. In our years of experience, whenever we get a call from a new parent enquiring about primary school Chinese classes, it almost always involves one of the following:

  1. My child finds it hard to read Chinese
  2. My child needs help in composition and/or comprehension
  3. My child has very little interest in learning Chinese

While the three aforementioned concerns seem unrelated, they have a fundamental root cause driven by lack of exposure to Chinese, particularly vocabulary.

WEAK VOCABULARY IS THE ROOT OF MOST PROBLEMS

When students struggle with vocabulary, they naturally find it difficult to read because there are words that they cannot recognise. While there are heuristics like 【有边读边,没边读中间】,  it doesn’t work all the time, and a student needs to already have a vocabulary base to properly utilise the it.

Vocabulary issues naturally trickle down to composition and comprehension, since the former requires a repository of “good vocabulary” and the latter involves reading long passages to derive meaning. And while it’s important to learn exam techniques to do well at composition and comprehension, students can’t apply these techniques unless they have a stable vocabulary base.

And from experience, we find that many kids who don’t like learning Chinese do so because trying to read and write a language where they don’t know many words is tedious. As a thought experiment, imagine how annoying it would be to read a difficult Chinese novel where you have to check the dictionary every sentence.

Humankind is hardwired to avoid pain, so is it surprising that kids with a weaker vocabulary tend shy away from Chinese?

SO DOES IMPROVING VOCABULARY SOLVE THE PROBLEM?

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. 

So problem solved?

Not quite. Because there are two villains that make it really difficult to improve vocabulary.

VILLAIN A: THE FORGETTING CURVE

In 1885, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus introduced the concept of the forgetting curve, or the idea that when anyone learns something, he or she forgets half of it within a day, and almost all of it by next week. 

This explains why many students 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 attending school and enrichment.

So how should we learn if we forget new materials so quickly?

Notice that each time we revise a word, the deeper it is embedded in our memory, which is why it’s so important to do regular revision and read.

Every time our children revise or read Chinese, they are reinforcing any previously learnt vocabulary, which strengthens their foundation. Conversely, if our children don’t regularly read or revise Chinese, their vocabulary foundation will naturally weaken, creating a vicious cycle towards Chinese.

The finding where the more times we revise a content, the less we forget it underpins a popular learning method called “Spaced Repetition”. This is where learners review content using increasingly longer time intervals, and is used in many adult language learning apps like Duolingo and Anki.

At KidStartNow, we utilise the power of revision in several ways – firstly, we utilise spaced repetition in our AI-powered learning portal, to help students revise materials effectively. Secondly, we teach materials ahead of primary schools, so when students learn new chapters in school, it’s a form of revision. Lastly, we have multiple mock tests every term to ensure students retain the knowledge.

VILLAIN B: CHINESE REVISION CAN BE PAINFUL

If regular reading and revision using spaced repetition are all it takes to improve Chinese, why do many students still struggle with Chinese? 

It’s one thing to know that revision is important, it’s another actually getting our children to revise regularly. As most parents can attest, getting a child to revise Chinese can be a tricky affair. Revising Chinese usually involves drills and flashcards, both of which can be quite boring for students. After a busy day at work or at home, the last thing many parents want to do is to force an unwilling child to revise Chinese unless it’s really urgent like an upcoming spelling test.

Another really common story parents tell me is that when they bring their children to the library to borrow Chinese books, they usually wind up borrowing English story books instead.

SUMMARY

At this point, it’s good to reflect by asking two questions:

  1. When was the last time my children read a non-school related Chinese book?
  2. When was the last time your children revised something non-urgent (e.g. revising words tested on a spelling test after it is over)?

If you are like most Singaporean parents, the answers to both are “quite long”, which can be detrimental to building a strong vocabulary.

Hopefully we have conveyed the importance of revision in this post, and stay tuned for our next post where we will talk about how to encourage our children to revise Chinese regularly.

At KidStartNow, we combine time-tested teaching methods with proprietary AI technology to make learning Chinese effective and fun. 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 are located at Bedok, and if you are looking for Chinese enrichment or June holiday camps, please also leave your details below and we will contact you within two working days.

How to Improve in Chinese Comprehension (Part III): Read Smartly

Let’s start with a quick recap. So far, we have learnt about how reading a wide range of materials from young and reading with a specific purpose in mind can help strengthen your child’s Chinese reading comprehension ability.

In this blog post, we delve deeper into comprehension passage reading techniques. In particular, through reading questions smartly, your child can uncover useful hints to help him or her find the correct answers more easily.

READ PASSAGE OR QUESTIONS FIRST?

At KidStartNow, we advocate the following process for reading comprehension.

Answering Process

Step 1
The aim of the first read is to get an overall understanding of the passage, and to identify its broad theme, topic or storyline.

Step 2
Understand what the questions are asking for or about. Identify and underline the question words (疑问词) in the questions (i.e. the 5W+1H questions; see more details below).

Step 3
With the second read of the passage, identify where answers can be found in the passage.

Pro-tip
Mark out the sentences where answers are found by underlining or highlighting and writing the relevant question number next to it.

Annotating a passage becomes especially important in upper primary levels when the student may need to derive the answer for one question from different paragraphs of the passage. With highlighting or underlining all parts of the answer, your child is less likely to miss out any part and lose precious marks as a result.

Unless your child is much older, such as being in secondary school, or he or she is running out of time during a timed assessment, we do not recommend reading the questions without first reading the passage.

IDENTIFY BASIC QUESTION WORDS (疑问词)

A comprehension question is made up of question words (疑问词) and keywords (关键句子).

The basic question words (疑问词) used in questions can offer useful clues to finding the correct answers in the passage. These question words are commonly known as the 5W and 1H (see table below).

Each question word has a different purpose. Guide your child to understand all five different question words and their purposes.

Question words (疑问词) What is it asking for/about?
Who 谁. 什么人, 什么动物 person or animal
What 什么东西, 什么事情 object, or event or incident
Where 哪里, 什么地方 location or place
When 什么时候 time
Why 为什么 reason, justification, motivation
How 怎样 method, way, process, steps

Pro-tip
When answering questions with basic question words, especially at the lower primary levels, it may be possible to lift answers directly from the passage. However, remind your child to always ensure that he or she answers the question to the point. This could mean having to paraphrase the answer in order to address the question directly.

FIND WORDS RELATED TO BASIC QUESTION WORDS

Some Chinese words exist in pairs because of the nature of Chinese sentence construction. So, one way to look for answers in the passage is to find words which are associated with the basic question words.

For example, “因为” ( “because”, signifying reason) is often followed by “所以” (“therefore”, signifying the result or outcome) in a comprehension passage. So, when tackling a “为什么” (“why…result/outcome”) question, look for sentences with “因为…所以” (“because”…. “therefore”) in the passage.

DECODE TOUGHER QUESTION WORDS

Question words typically get more varied, complex and difficult from Primary 3 upwards. This applies especially to inferential questions, questions that require the student to answer from his/her life experience, or questions that ask for personal opinion.

For example:

“从哪些句子可以看出…” (“from where in the passage can you tell….?”)

“如果你是作者/xx, 你会如何/怎样…” (“what is you are the author/subject, what will you…?”)

“你认为…” (“What do you think of….?”)

For such higher-level questions, it is not so straightforward as to lift the answers from the passage. Your child will likely need to infer and deduce from reading the whole passage, or apply critical thinking skills and his or her own personal life experience. This is where reading Chinese books from young, conversing in Chinese regularly and being exposed to rich experiences outside of school can make a difference.

IDENTIFY SIMILAR KEYWORDS (关键句子) IN THE PASSAGE
Keywords (关键句子) forms the main part of a question. They also hold the key to helping your child find the correct answer in the passage.

Guide your child to look for similar keywords that appear in both the question and passage. If necessary, adapt the answer by paraphrasing it to address the question directly.

QUESTION NUMBER CAN BE A HINT

Generally, teachers set reading comprehension questions chronologically. Assuming a passage with five paragraphs and four questions, for instance, the answers to the first two questions are likely to be found in the first half of the passage, and the last two questions in the second half. Observing the question number can help to narrow down where an answer to a question might be located in the passage.

KNOW THE MARK ALLOCATION

Students often end up losing precious marks because of incomplete answers. How to know how long your child’s answer should be?

Look at the number of marks allocated to the question. If it is a one-mark question, most likely one answer is sufficient. For questions with two or more marks allocated, there probably needs to be two or more parts to the answer, to make it complete.

ALWAYS CHECK YOUR WORK

Two other common pitfalls that result in students losing marks in reading comprehension is the omission of words and words being copied wrongly. Whether your child is lifting an answer directly from the passage or adapting the answer slightly to suit the question, remind him or her to copy words from the passage to the answer field carefully.

At KidStartNow, our teachers get our students to practise silent reading when checking through their reading comprehension answers. They read silently to themselves what they have written, word for word. This helps to prevent students from just glossing over their copied words quickly.

We have shared with you a wide array of techniques and tips that our teachers have found useful in helping our students improve in their reading comprehension. Have a go at getting your child to apply them and let us know whether they work equally well for your child! If you would like us to share tips on other aspects of Chinese learning, please also write in to enquiry@kidstartnow.com to tell us!

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Seeking professional Chinese coaching in a fun and encouraging environment for your child? Fill up the contact form below or call 6481-1932 / 9820-7272 to sign up for a trial class today!

Choosing the Right Chinese Enrichment Class for Your Child (Part 1)

Welcome to another new school year!

For those parents with preschool children, you might be wondering how you can help your child build a strong foundation in Chinese and Hanyu Pinyin this year to prepare for P1 in the near future.

For those parents with Primary 1 children, whether your child has attended Chinese enrichment or not during his or her preschool years, you might be considering to sign your child up for Chinese tuition this year to help him or her cope better in primary school.

With so many Chinese tuition and enrichment centres out there, what should you look out for when choosing a Chinese enrichment programme for your child? How do you look beyond marketing brochures and websites to find out if a programme is really suitable for your child?

Here’s Part 1 of a checklist to guide your search.


What to look out for in a Chinese enrichment programme?

  • For preschool kids, does it prepare your kids for Primary One? For primary school kids, does it follow the latest Ministry of Education (MOE) Chinese syllabus 《欢乐伙伴》closely?
  • Does it utilise a variety of engaging and effective Chinese learning resources that are fun and appeal to students?
  • Are the lessons interactive and engaging?

Aligned curriculum with a focus on oral

Did you know that that the latest 2015 MOE Chinese syllabus puts a heavy emphasis on oral communications skills. In fact, oral has a higher weightage compared to composition and it is important to prepare your kids accordingly, especially if your kids speak predominatly English at home.

Hence, at KidStartNow, our preschool programme prepares students through lively lessons incorporating dramatic role-play and oral practices, which build up your child’s confidence in conversing in Mandarin. This, combined with our reading and writing exercises, means your child is well-prepared for primary school.

At the primary level, besides being aligned to the MOE syllabus, our lessons incorporate regular oral practices to ensure that your child gets a head start in learning what is required of him or her in school.

  • Effective, engaging learning resources for the ‘digital age’ child

Traditional methods of learning Chinese that involve heavy memorisation just takes the joy out of learning Chinese.

At KidStartNow, your child learns Chinese the smart way, not the hard way. There is no boring rote learning and drilling by flashcards. Instead, your child learns faster, absorbs and retains more while having fun.

This is why we have developed our signature preschool programme around our proprietary animation stories that cater specially for children of this digital age, while learning words taken from the primary school syllabus. Filled with wacky characters, the stories are humourous and exciting and naturally appeal to young children’s innate sense of adventure and curiosity. Our students have so much fun during lessons that they don’t even realise they are picking up new vocabulary, grammar and sentence construction through watching these animations.

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  • Engaging games that motivate

Games form an important part of our lessons too! Through playing fun games that are integrated with our animation stories or other classroom activities, your child gets to interact with the teacher and classmates in a stress-free context.

A self-motivated, self-directed learner makes the best student. Hence, our games also tap the natural sense of competition and drive to excel in children. Your child earns digital coins as rewards for various achievements, which are added ‘live’ to his or her digital bank account and shown instantly on the TV screen in the classroom. This has proven to motivate our students to pay more attention in class, volunteer to speak up in class more often, answer questions and do his or her work more conscientiously.

gamification

  • Combining MOE syllabus with an interactive classroom

In KidStartNow’s Primary School programmes, we adhere to the MOE Higher Chinese syllabus, focusing on the problem spots of composition, comprehension and oral.

Having said that, we ensure classes are not boring and dry by creating an interactive class via our proprietary classroom apps. For instance, kids are divided into teams and answer questions to build a digital hamburger, making the usual boring material fun and engaging!

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Experience KidStartNow’s lessons

Don’t take our word for it. Why not let your child experience a trial class at KidStartNow to see if our programme and teachers are a right fit for him or her? Make that two trial classes, as we are running a special promotion now of only $19 for two trial classes! Limited classes and seats only. Simply fill in your details below and one of our friendly staff will get in touch with you!

We’ve given you a low-down on some of the factors that you can take into consideration when you are exploring Chinese enrichment programmes for your child. Stay tuned to our next blogpost for Part 2 of our checklist of questions to bear in mind when you are visiting potential enrichment centres.

Top Chinese Speech & Drama Holiday Camp for Preschoolers

Do you have a child between three to six years old who doesn’t speak much Mandarin and doesn’t like Chinese? Do you wish to nip this disdain in its bud before your child reaches Primary 1, but don’t how to help him or her?

You are not alone in facing challenges with your child’s Chinese learning. The parents of the three children quoted below also shared your struggles in the past.

  • “Kyle is now speaking SENTENCES in Mandarin which he couldn’t before.” – Ting, Kyle’s mom
  • “Noey was obviously having a good time AND speaking Chinese.” – Vera, Noah’s mom
  • “Each day, my boy came back telling me that he looked forward to the next day’s class…” – Christy, YH’s mom

The turning point came when their children joined a transformational speech and drama holiday camp at KidStartNow.

Want your child to experience the same transformation and start falling in love with Chinese? Then read on to find out more about KidStartNow’s signature speech and drama holiday camps for three- to six-year-olds, happening this November and December!

Why speech and drama?

Speech and drama is one of the most fun and naturalistic ways to learn a language and cultivate a love for it. It is particularly effective for young children because:

  • It involves interactive storytelling, active show-and-tell and imaginative role-playing that are perfect for kinesthetic learners (which applies to most pre-schoolers!) Learning Chinese no longer feels boring!
  • It builds oral confidence in a fun way. Learning Chinese feels like playtime!
  • It sets learning Chinese and practising spoken Mandarin in context. Through contextual learning, children are more likely to know how to put into practice what they have learnt in similar scenarios in real life situations.
  • It prepares your child for P1 show and tell by developing the oral confidence and vocabulary foundation that are critical for success in school.

Raved holiday camp back by popular demand

Back for their 5th run this coming school holidays, speech and drama holiday camps at KidStartNow are extra special. We design the programme based on a unique formula of blending several dashes of magic, fantasy and adventure into well-loved children’s stories, PLUS our other signature elements such as:

  • Our hugely popular, proprietary Boshi Panda animation stories
  • Our proprietary gamification system that helps to sustain children’s interest and self-motivation through earning virtual gold coins for active participation

For the upcoming camps, the theme turns festive – Christmas with a touch of adventure! Why is Christmas in danger, and what has a greedy wolf got to do with it? Your child’s got to be in the camp to find out!

What’s in store

Each of our speech and drama holiday camps for three- to six-year-olds takes place over four mornings, 3.5 hours per day. Your child can look forward to lots of storytelling, music, games and activities, and speech and drama. You can be sure there will be plenty of opportunities for him or her to practise speaking Mandarin.

With such an action-packed, fun-filled programme, it is little wonder that KidStartNow’s speech and drama holiday camp is the #1 rated Chinese holiday camp on Google and also highly recommended by 20 parent bloggers!

Don’t let your child miss out on an intriguing Christmas adventure!

Places in our camp are limited to ensure we give your child our utmost attention. With so many curious children wondering what has happened to their favourite season of the year, spots are filling up much faster this year than expected!!

So sign up quickly today by filling up the form below, and one of our friendly staff will get back to you with all the details. Alternatively, you can also call 6481-1932 / 9820-7272 for enquiries.

In addition, if you confirm your sign-up BEFORE 1 NOV, we will be happy to provide you with a SPECIAL EARLY BIRD RATE!

How to Improve in Chinese Comprehension (Part II): Read Purposefully

This is part 1 of a three part series – check out part 1 and part 3 here.

Instilling a habit of reading Chinese books in your child from young is fundamental to doing well in Chinese reading comprehension (阅读理解) later in school. However, not only the types and quantity of materials he/she reads matter, but also how he/she reads them and your parental role in the reading process. In this blogpost, we highlight ways to read and decode stories and comprehension passages effectively.

Parent-guided, child-directed reading makes the difference

Are you wondering, “How ‘complicated’ can reading with my child get? Isn’t it just about picking up a book and reading it from cover to cover?”

As a parent, you play twin roles in the reading process. Firstly, give your child the space and time to do child-directed reading; follow his/her lead in what interests him/her. Secondly, be his/her reading support, guide and model. Make use of the interesting elements to guide him/her to expand his/her thought process.  

Engage your child in ‘guided reading or storytelling’ (导读), and not just passive story-reciting (朗读).

How to conduct guided reading

We understand how tempting it can be to treat reading with your child as an item on your task list to tick off, especially at the end of a tiring day at work and home, as your bed is calling. However, do try to resist the temptation to flip over the cover page right away at the start of each reading session and make a beeline for the last page of the story book. Instead, aim to make each reading session a two-way dialogue discussion, an interactive sharing experience (讨论分享) and a joyful parent-child bonding opportunity.

Decoding the cover

Before opening up the book to begin reading, spend some time observing and exploring the cover page. Children’s picture books (绘本), in particular, offer plenty of rich details as conversation starters. Encourage your child to draw upon his/her own interest, imagination and life experiences to deduce what the story is about, with these suggested prompts:

  • Introduce the title, author and illustrator’s names. Ask your child what he/she thinks the story is about.
  • Get your child to pick out details that catch his/her eyes and express why they are interesting to him/her.
  • Go beyond highlighting details to elaborate on the specific meanings of different visual cues (e.g. why the author/illustrator uses certain elements, different colours, different sizes, different positions).

For a spot of fun, you can also print the cover picture, cut it up into many pieces and make it into a jigsaw puzzle for your child to do. This can help to sharpen his/her observation skill.

Unravelling the story

As you delve into the story, you can do role play and read the story together collaboratively, if your child is old enough to recognise the words.

Remember to allow for pauses along the way when your child has questions or wish to share his/her thoughts as these are great opportunities for clarification and to promote understanding. You can also take the lead in pausing to ask questions at suitable points in the story, such as:

  • The 5W+1H questions – who (/什么人), what (什么东西/什么事情), where (哪里/什么地方), when (什么时候), why (为什么) and how (怎样).
  • “How do you know that?” (你怎么知道?)/”Why do you think so?” (为什么你这么认为?). This is possibly the most important question to ask your child as it trains his/her analytical, deductive and inference skills. It also enables you to understand his/her thought process.
  • Ask your child what the moral of the story is, whether the subject is doing the right thing, what lesson he/she can learn from the story, or what he/she would do if he/she was the subject of the story.

Pro Tip

Scaffold your questions progressively, from easy to hard, and be sensitive to the age of the children. Avoid plunging right into deep questions from the start. Always be encouraging, and don’t be too quick to correct a wrong answer. Aim to create a positive reading and learning experience every time.

Such guided reading is beneficial not only for reading comprehension, but also for the latest PSLE composition writing and oral format, as well as critical thinking in general, in the long run.

How to read comprehension passages

Reading in context

Unlike the English language, Chinese words (词语) are usually formed by and derive greater meaning from combining two or more characters (字).

At KidStartNow, we teach our students to read word by word (词语), not character by character (字). This is to help them understand the context of each sentence in the paragraph and the meaning of each paragraph. You can practise the same technique when you are reading with your child at home.

Example:

Instead of reading like this:

        亲                                                  

read like this:

今天    母亲姐姐    喜爱  鲜花    妈妈  买了  一束  红色  玫瑰  妈妈  感到  很高兴

Another plus point about reading word-by-word is this – even when he/she sees a word or character in the middle of a sentence that he/she does not know, he/she can skip it and move on to other parts of the sentence or passage to try to understand the larger context. With contextual understanding, it will help him/her make an educated guess of the meaning of the word that he/she does not know how to read.

Read like it’s a team sport

Note: Student names blanked out

What about students who get turned off by having to read long paragraphs of text during comprehension exercises? During KidStartNow’s lessons, our teachers break the class into two or more groups and pit them against one another to read the passage or paragraphs in turn.

When one group is reading, the others listen attentively to check if the group is reading correctly. Teachers record the teams’ scores using a quiz-based teaching app. This competition format motivates our students to pay attention in class and try to do better in comprehension.

Coming up next

We have covered tips on what to read and how to read story books and passages to aid comprehension. If you’ve found this post useful, please share it with your friends.

Look out for our next blog post where we will share tips on how to read comprehension questions as the next important key to answering these questions effectively.

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Let your child experience how our teachers coach our P1-P4 students in a fun and exciting setting. Fill up the contact form below or call 6481-1932 / 9820-7272 to sign up for a trial class today!

How to Improve in Chinese Comprehension (Part I): Read Widely

Writing

This is part 1 of a three part series – check out part 2 and part 3 here.

Does your child struggle with Chinese reading comprehension (阅读理解) in primary school? Reading comprehension not only tests students’ ability in understanding the Chinese language, but also in applying it. Not surprisingly, students often see it as the most difficult section of the Chinese Paper 2 to do well in.

Stay with us for the next couple of blog posts to pick up some useful strategies, techniques and pro tips that you can use at home as you coach your child.

Read from young

Firstly, help your child interest in Chinese and build a strong foundation in it through cultivating a reading habit from young, even before they step into P1.

Yes, mastering comprehension starts with reading! As your child gets exposed to more Chinese books, he/she learns to recognise more words, know more vocabulary and become familiarised with common Chinese sentence structures (which differs from English ones). In turn, these help your child understand the comprehension passages that he/she reads.

Now, you might wonder, what kind of reading materials will suit your child?

Different books for different ages

Before preschool

Read picture books (绘本) if you have a very young child.

Picture books generally have a bigger illustration-to-text ratio. Some of them can carry so few words that you might wonder if they are worth reading or buying.

In actual fact, picture books can be read at different depths to suit children of different ages and levels of Chinese proficiency, even right up to upper primary levels. We will share more on how to get the most out of reading Chinese picture books in the next blog post, so stay tuned!

After preschool

Read graded readers (分级书) with your K1 or K2 child. These readers are designed to cater to different reading levels. The levels start from emergent/beginner through advanced/independent level, with increasing number of words.

As your child enters primary school and builds up wider vocabulary, gradually encourage him/her to progress to other bridging books (桥梁书), which are usually simple, short chapter books with smaller illustration-text ratio.

Hanyu Pinyin – with or without?

Do you get stumped over whether to choose books with or without hanyu pinyin (汉语拼音)?

The most important factor to consider in choosing books is still based on their content and value – whether the storylines are interesting, engaging, appealing to your child, encourage thinking and conversations, and teach good values. Then, prioritise those without hanyu pinyin over those with, wherever possible. Your child will get a lot more practice in having to recognise and remember Chinese words this way and not just rely on hanyu pinyin to read.

Invest in a dictionary to look up words if you need help in this area. Dictionary-checking is also a useful skill to teach your child.   

Textbooks are not boring

What if your child has not formed a regular Chinese reading habit by the time he/she enters P1? Get him/her into the habit of reading the MOE Chinese textbooks 欢乐伙伴 every week at home, at least three times weekly. This will help in revising and remembering what he/she has learnt in school.

xuele

Make it a fun activity by taking turns to read alternate lines or paragraphs with him/her, or do role-play. Reinforce by co-watching the animations with him/her, listening to the songs and doing the quizzes at 学乐网, MOE’s repository of digital resources that complements the 欢乐伙伴》 syllabus.

Magazines as supplementary reads

Another reading resource is the popular Chinese magazine 《好朋友》(for P1 to P2 students)/《知识画报》(for P3 to P4 students)/《知识报》(for P5 to P6 students), also written based on the 《欢乐伙伴》 syllabus. You can subscribe to it through your child’s school or via Etutor’s website 知识网.

Encourage your child to read the magazines at home after he/she has done the exercises in the magazines in school. You can also read the levelled e-readers with him/her and try the online quizzes, if the subscription includes digital resources.

Get serious with comics

Check out Chinese comics such as 《闹闹漫画乐园》, 《这一班日记》and《又是这一班》at the local libraries or bookstores. Written by local authors, these stories are full of local flavour and humour. As your child can easily identify with the characters, places and situations in the comics, they may be more willing to read them over more text-based Chinese books.

Animation storybooks for the digital generation

Explore animation storybooks such as the Boshi Panda 《熊猫博士》 series developed in-house by KidStartNow. You can access the storybooks via a monthly subscription. New titles are added every month.

boshi

Or, sign your child up for our preschool classes (N2 to K2) at KidStartNow and he/she will get to learn new vocabulary and sentence structures through these animation storybooks during lesson every week. These storybooks are a hit with our young students as they appeal to their natural curiosity and interest in magic, adventure and travel to sustain their interest from episode to episode, lesson to lesson.

That’s not all. As KidStartNow’s student, your child also gets online access to the animation storybook that is taught in class after each lesson is over. Co-watch the episode with him/her as revision. He/she can even earn digital coins in his/her individual ‘digital bank account’ when he/she answers the word recognition quizzes correctly. Say yay to no more nagging him/her to do revision at home!

More about ‘guided reading’ in Part 2

Now that you know the wide range of reading resources out there, keep your eyes peeled to our blog as we share how you can get the most out of reading with your child through ‘guided reading’ (导读) in our next post.

Share this blog post with your friends if you’ve found it useful.If you would like to find out more about KidStartNow’s animation storybook-based classes for N2 to K2 or our primary school classes, please fill up the form below or whatsapp us at 9820-7272 now!

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