Is it possible for a child from a non-Chinese speaking family to do well in Chinese ?
The answer is YES. Look at the example of Victoria School’s Muhammad Amirul Haqim Ghazali who scored A1 for Chinese at O levels.
Amirul’s father said that : “As I was the sole breadwinner, I didn’t have the means to send him to any enrichment classes.” Amirul has proven that it is possible to do well in Chinese without tuition, enrichment, and parents who speak mandarin at home.
When I was in school, my parents were not able to help me with Chinese. I did not have Chinese tuition or assessment books. However, Chinese is the easiest subject for me, and I scored A in Chinese from PSLE to A levels. I certainly do not have a flair for languages, because I never did as well for English.
My good grade in Chinese is all thanks to :
1) A Chinese dictionary that I bought when I was in Primary Two. I learned Hanyu Pinyin in primary one, and this is an important skill for learning independently using the dictionary. About a year ago, I bought a very good dictionary for my kids : Learning Chinese independently
I am very happy that my P2 girl is now using this dictionary every day.
However, note that for parents who know Chinese, it is still best to teach Hanyu Pinyin after kids have learned hundreds of Chinese characters.
For kids who are from non-Chinese speaking families, they have no choice but to learn Hanyu Pinyin first, and it is a very useful tool for them.
2) Reading large number of Chinese picture books and novels in the National Library. I also saved my daily allowance to buy large number of comic books in Chinese. The most important factor when learning Chinese, is to develop a love for the language. For children, the best way to do this is by exposing them to fun and interesting story books. Our library has a large collection of wonderful Chinese books for children. Non-chinese speaking parents can bring their kids to the Chinese section of the library, and let them read whatever they like.
When I first started to read Chinese story books, I did not understand most of the words. But the pictures attracted me, and I was very keen to find out what the words mean so that I can understand the story. This is the most important factor that motivated me to learn Chinese.
3) Hong Kong TV series about swordsman/swordswoman. I was crazy about these series, it looked so cool to speak Mandarin while fighting off enemies with dazzling martial arts skills. There are also many series about fascinating stories from the history of China, and I was motivated to read more books in order to learn more about China.
Here is some advise about what NOT to do when learning Chinese :
1) DO NOT MAKE YOUR KIDS MEMORIZE CHINESE MODEL COMPOSITIONS.
An educational expert in China, author of the best selling “Hao mama sheng guo hao lao shi” (A good mother is better than a good teacher) book, wrote that the quality of these so-called model compositions are actually quite poor. She wrote that the publishers allowed parents to send in money to have their kids’ compositions published in the books. The compositions do not have interesting vocabulary or good content, and it is pointless to read them.
The author also wrote that reading model compositions alone is not sufficient, because there are not many words in these compositions. In order for kids to do very well, they should be reading many long novels of hundreds of thousands of words.
The author raised a daughter who is brilliant in her academic studies. She attributed her daughter’s success to reading large numbers of interesting Chinese novels.
2) DO NOT MAKE YOUR KIDS DO TOO MANY CHINESE ASSESSMENT BOOKS. It is fine to have some practice doing assessment books, but kids must spend the bulk of their time reading Chinese story books. Kids learn best from story books, not from asessment books.
3) Talk to anyone who is very good in Chinese to find out more about the correct ways of learning Chinese. Chinese is very different from English and other languages, people who do not know Chinese will not understand what is the most effective methods to learn the language. Note that not all private tutors are good, many are not qualified to teach Chinese. If parents can afford it, I would advise you to send your kids to well established Chinese enrichment classes which have been around for many years.
The above advise is mainly for parents who do not know Chinese.
For parents who have learned Chinese in school before, read my blog about how to make sure that your kids do well in Chinese : How to raise a bilingual child