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.