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.

THANK A FORMER TEACHER

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.

LEAD BY EXAMPLE

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. 

LIVE UP TO YOUR POTENTIAL

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.

SUMMARY

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?

WHY IS CHINA CRACKING DOWN ON THE PRIVATE EDUCATION MARKET?

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.

TWO-TEACHER SYSTEM

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.

A MISSION TO HELP THE NEXT GENERATION OF CHILDREN

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.

CHINESE ENRICHMENT TENDS TO BE CHEAPER

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)

CHINESE ENRICHMENT DOES HAVE ITS PROBLEMS

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.

THE BENEFITS OF BILINGUALISM

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.

Feature Spotlight: Multiplayer Classroom

In this short post, we introduce a collaborative learning feature for our online students to promote a more social learning experience.

As parents, the announcement of a second Phase 2HA sparked a sense of Déjà vu – yet another month of juggling different home-based learning while dealing with our own Zoom meetings and/or household tasks. Not to mention most of us need to get our children to pay attention in online classes compared to physical classes where we can simply drop off and pick them up later.

From a teacher’s perspective, online classes also present unique challenges – it’s harder to determine how well each student has understood concepts vs a physical class where a teacher is walking around and constantly peeking at each child’s worksheet while they are doing it.

At KidStartNow, we believe in the power of using technology to make learning engaging and effective, and we are pleased to introduce a collaborative feature to allow online students to learn together (primary school level).

During the lesson, teachers will ask students to login into the KidStartNow Portal to answer lesson-related short questions, and at the end of the quiz, students will be able to see how they fared relative to each other. This should take only a few minutes each lesson, and will also allow our teachers to gauge how well the class has understood key concepts and immediately remedy any knowledge gaps.

Please see a short video below to see how to use the portal (note: the “Multiplayer Classroom” feature is only available during lesson time).

  1. Login to http://learn.kidstartnow.com/ using your username and password. You can also click on “Forgot your Username or Password?” to reset your password.
  2. Click on “Multiplayer Classroom” on the top right hand corner.
  3. If your teacher has taken your attendance, you can click on “Enter” to access the classroom. If you get an error message, tell your teacher over Zoom.
  4. Once you enter the room, click the correct answer. Once you are done, wait for the teacher to proceed.

Questions answered during the online lesson are also automatically tracked by our AI-powered personalised engine. For instance, questions that your child answers incorrectly in class will be flagged for revision when your child revises at home by doing a pet battle, while questions your child answers incorrect during home revision are also analysed and sent to our teachers. This goal of this loop is to efficiently close any knowledge gaps and help your child improve quickly.

Thank you for reading, and please feel free to contact us at support@kidstartnow.com if you have any questions or if you would like to enquire about our classes.

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?

Three pronged revision approach

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 for learning Chinese

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 IS HARD

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.

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