Learning Chinese – 3 things that parents must know to help your children

Learning Chinese in Singapore seems to be more difficult than anywhere else. Well, I am not really comparing with learning Chinese in Japan, Korea, etc. However, in an environment or country where Chinese is a mother tongue to majority, why is this subject so hated by many children and their parents.

I wonder why.

It has probably to do with parents here speaking lesser Chinese and more English at home to their children. Hence, compared to China where Chinese is spoken daily, every minute, every second, we speak a mix of English and Chinese and use simple Chinese words and limited vocabulary.

While my kids do not have much of a problem with this subject for now, I should not get complacent. I was told by Eeva Chang (张美香), (the educator and principal of Eduplus who is also engaged by MOE as a trainer for 8 years to teach all school Chinese teachers in Singapore), that children will face a drop of marks in Chinese once in Primary 3 and once in Primary 5. At least an 8-12 marks down.


Eeva shared 3 things we should all know towards tackling Chinese with all parents at her free seminar last month.

1. Family Language vs School Language

Family language is the words and vocabulary you use at home when you talk to your children.
School language is the words and vocabulary taught in schools and used in course books.

Why do children face a drop in marks at Primary 3 and again in Primary 5?

That is because at Primary 1 and 2, the Chinese words we use when we speak to our children are simple words and at the same standard as what is taught in their school course books. But when it comes to Primary 3 onwards, we do not keep up with the higher level of Chinese taught in schools and still use simple Chinese words at home. No wonder our children struggle as they are not exposed to more difficult Chinese words! A language is caught hearing and not memorizing.

At Primary 1 and 2, they learn
这里是游乐场. (This is a playground.)

At Primary 3 and 4, they learn
我喜欢这个游乐场, 因为我喜欢和我的朋友一起溜滑梯, 荡秋千, 在旋转盘玩乐.
(This playground has slides, swings, and merry-go-round. I love to go to this playground because I enjoy playing with my friends.)

At Primary 5 and 6, they learn
我喜欢到游乐场游玩. 每当我坐上秋千, 我感觉我的烦恼都被荡到九霄云外. 那轻柔的微风舒缓了我的心灵.每当我站上旋转盘, 我仿佛被转回到我快乐的童年时光, 也回想起父母面带笑容地推着我转. 每当我溜下滑梯, 总会开心一笑.
(I love to go to the playground. It never fails to cheer me up. I love the squeaky sound that comes from each push of the swing and feel carefree as the gentle breeze calms my soul. Whenever I am on the merry-go-round, I feel that I am taken back to my childhood days with images of my parents happily pushing the rail as I spun round and round. I love the slide. I have never slide down without a smile on my face.)

The above sentences are my humble standard of Chinese and English. They are meant to demonstrate the leap in Chinese standard requirement of students as they progress to Primary 6 and up. Even though I may write in flowery language here, I may not use them when I speak to the children. And this is exactly the problem! We speak too simplified Chinese to the kids!

So, as you can see from here, at Primary 3 and 4 level, the Chinese words and sentences that are used in the course books are a leap from the basic level in Primary 1 and 2. At Primary 5 and 6, the students are expected to use more adjectives in longer and more sentences. One way that we can find out the level of Chinese taught in schools is to read our children’s Chinese course books.

It is time to speak and use big words when we talk to the kids. Never worry that they will not understand. For when you use it frequent enough, they will pick them up eventually. Just like experts tell us never to use baby language with babies. It is the same here. When the children come across Chinese sight words that are not familiar, they are able to make a guess if they can recognize one word in between here and there because they have heard such combination of words into idioms or phrases from you.

Hence, raise your Chinese standard when you speak to your children.

One thing I would like to ask Eeva and did not have the chance to do so that day, is,”How about parents who are not able to speak higher levels of Chinese?” I am sure she has the answer because she shared with us that her daughter is multi-lingual but Eeva is not, and she taught her daughter these same ways to learning a language and she excels.

2. The Golden Rule 黄金定律

听 – 说 – 认 – 读 – 写 – 运用
Listen – Speak – Recognize – Read – Write – Use

If you look at this sequence of the golden rule of learning a language, you will realize that LISTENING plays the most important part in mastering a language. Just like learning music, you listen first before you know how to sing that note. So, you listen to a word before you know how to speak and then recognize it on paper. After that, you can then write and use it appropriately.
Eeva said: 学好华文是以嘴巴来修炼的,不是靠啃书的。To excel in learning Chinese, we should use our mouth to master it and not depend on memorizing books. How true this is!

3. Visualization 语言视觉化

When I say the word “flower”, what image comes to your mind?

When Eeva posed this question to the audience and asked us to do an action to represent this word, everyone of us has almost the same action. We joined our wrists and cupped our hands into a blossoming flower. But Eeva shared that there are more than one way to visualize a flower. One example she demonstrated was when she closed her eyes and smelled an imaginary flower.

Why is visualization important?

We need to be able to visualize in order to describe a word, a scenario, an event, a thing.
Bring your kids everywhere and experience nature and explore life. If your children have never swam in the sea, they may never know that seawater is salty. If you are capable of visualizing a word, it will be the first step towards building up your vocabulary and hence Chinese words will never be too difficult to understand and learn.

I am totally convinced that what Eeva taught here are needed to help our children to excel in Chinese. Although this is not a sponsored post and I have to pay for the tickets myself, I would highly recommend Eeva’s first big scale talk show “Language Power” on 20 September to anyone who is keen to help his/her children to love Chinese and excel in this subject. You will most likely find what she teaches you very useful to help your children.

I am sure everyone of us at her free seminar can feel her sincerity in trying to help our Singapore children to manage this monster subject. She has seen so much struggles in our children and genuinely wants to help our next generation that she has offered to give a public talk show without taking a single cent. So, we wonder why pay $58, $78, $98 tickets then? Well, It goes to rental at an atas place decided by the event company and paying for other bits of arrangement like staff and all to hold this event. Believe it or not, but I know she is sincere.

Details on Eeva Chang’s talk Language Power 蓝格子, 跑啊!:

Language Power

EEva strongly believes that language starts from the process of listening. The difference between the language learned in school and the language practised at home determines the standard of a child’s basic foundation for the language. In this show, she will use a variety of engaging interactive processes to illustrate Singaporean’s attitude and aptitude to language learning.

The Chinese title of the show 蓝格子, 跑啊! is a fun way of phonetically channeling the term “Language Power”. 蓝格子also refers to the familiar blue squares that fill the pages of a school exercise book. EEva hopes that by imparting the correct perspective to the fundamentals of the Chinese language to parents, they can then help their children in their first steps towards mastering the Chinese language.

When: 20 Sept 2014, 3-5pm
Where: Resort World Theatre, Sentosa
Registration: Click here or call Rediffusion at 62888 3321 and they will waive off the sistic booking fee!

More on EEva Chang:
After her university graduation, EEva was awarded the Golden Bell Award (Taiwanese Broadcasting Award’s highest accolade). She then left Taiwan to come to Singapore to fulfil her dreams. She has not left since.

The multi-talented EEva was also a winner at the ASEAN Literary Prose Awards and was also named the Best Producer at the Shanghai International Television Broadcasting Awards show. She was a Programme manager at 100.3FM as well as a presenter and programme producer at FM 95.8 and Rediffusion.

On the education front, EEva was a professional trainer at MOE’s teachers training programme for 8 years. She started her own school EDUPLUS about 20 years ago and has since helped countless students in building their strong foundation in the Chinese language.

This event is the culmination of her years of experience as a Broadcaster and Educator.

It promises to be an enriching experience done in the Engaging-Entertaining-Vivacious-Authoritative style that personifies the one and only EEva Chang!


才华洋溢的她不但曾是亚细安文学奖散文推荐奖的得主,得过上海国际广播电视最佳制作人大奖,也曾是100.3FM 节目部经理,95.8FM,以及丽的呼声的著名主持人及资深节目制作人。



16 thoughts on “Learning Chinese – 3 things that parents must know to help your children

  1. When Mr. T was little, I made a point of never lowering down my language, or only using the easy words or the abbreviated words, because you are right, using the big words helps their brains figure it out and retain it!

    Having said that – we only speak one primary language, so don’t listen to me – I think that if I spoke two different ones on a frequent basis, I’d use small words for one of them!

    • I think you are right regarding speaking 2 languages will differentiate a stronger language over the other. I would say over here we recognize the difficulty mastering 2 languages at the same time. Not many people can do both well. And when the language concerned is Chinese, in my opinion, is the most difficult language to learn, it adds on the challenge to learn it. However, we are not aiming for master of both, the first step is really to not hate it and the language will be easier if you have no negative feelings towards it.

      You are wise to not lower your language to Mr T since young. Even using abbreviated words should be avoided. I should always remember this 🙂

  2. Gosh, I would love my children to go to a Chinese speaking school. I will be looking for one when we make the big move back to California, San Diego. Currently, we live in Melbourne, Australia. Living here and traveling with my kids all over Asia pacific, has brought to my attention, what a strength it would be to be able to speak a foreign language such as Chinese. I wish that I knew a language well enough to be able to speak to my children in it at home. I learned french in school but have not put it use at all in my travels. Being from America though, I can see that that it also might be of a great advantage to speak Spanish. Although, I think that there is a larger percentage of people that can speak Spanish there and it is there second language that they grew up with at home.

    As for witnessing my friends that are bilingual raising there children while only speaking Spanish at home. I think that there children where slower to developing there language skills at first. But now, they have caught up. Unfortunately, the parents speak Spanish to them and they respond in English currently. LOL

    • Thanks for leaving your thoughts! It’s interesting to know how others view a second language. I would say if you are in Asia Pacific, Chinese is widely spoken. In America, Spanish is more spoken for sure. What is your reason to send your children to learn Chinese? Do you foresee it to be useful when they grow up and travel the world? I think so. Learning another language that is spoken widely will be good especially Chinese, since China is the emerging market.

      I laughed when I read about what you wrote on the kids speaking English back to their Spanish speaking parents. It’s the case here as well. If the dominant language is English, and spoken in schools, kids who are not so fluent in the second language will tend to switch. It sure sounds funny to an outsider observing the conversation 🙂

      • Yes, I foresee Chinese being useful for my kids growing up in this time of age. I agree with not making a language seem negative. My French teacher in high school completely turned me off the language.

        Yes, it is funny to hear my friend speak spanish and the kids speaking back to her in English. Although, it helps me to learn a little Spanish when they do that.

  3. Made me laugh a little when I saw the theme for the post because just last week we had a parents night at the daycare. The staff had invited a specialist on raising kids multilingual to talk to us (as about 75% of the children are at least bilingual there). In short she said parents need to 1) use proper language (as in no baby words but the correct ones) 2) use full and describing sentences (“please put the transparent glass behind the white round plate…”) to teach children vocabulary 3) read read and read. Theatre is good too. 4) create stories and use the imagination together. Any of this sound familiar to you, just adjusted to younger children?! 🙂

    • Very good tips! Thanks for sharing them 🙂
      I am trying not to use baby words and using proper sentences with all the kids. Creating stories just remind me that I need to do that more often with my toddler. I used to invent stories together with the elder 2 during bedtime. They loved it. I would have to remember not to mix 2 languages in a sentence though. It’s so easy to mix and probably that’s the problem that cause learning multi-languages challenging too.

      Talking about theatre. That’s a new idea for me. I am glad we have many theatre for children here. These are certainly better than movies I feel.

  4. I think point 1 is so difficult. I think we just find it very funny to speak in flowery languages in day to day setting. Guess is a SG culture. We are use to short and sharp. But thanks for sharing the post. I must now think of a way to speak more “cheem” to my kids and expose them to more Chinese books with beautiful flowery wordings…

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