English is, by far, the most important subject that children should be proficient in before they enter Primary One in Singapore. It is the primary medium of instruction for the majority of the subjects that children will enounter in the first 6 years of their formal education. Even SAP schools, which introduce Higher Chinese (Chinese as a First Language) to students from Primary One, use English to teach Math and other non-language subjects. In fact, the Primary School Math syllabus requires students to be conversant with nuances of the English language so as to answer questions effectively. It is not sufficient that students understand symbolic representations such as 10 – 2 = 8, but also different linguistic variations:
what is the difference of 10 and two?
what is two less than ten?
Ali has 10 apples in a basket. If he shares 2 apples with Jane, how many apples are left in the basket?
In general, schools do expect children to enter Primary One with the following proficiency:
Read (with articulatory and auditory phonetics) and write all 26 alphabets in capital and small letters
Know how to read and spell simple words (vocabulary)
Know how to construct simple English sentences (grammar)
This is because children are expected to cover the fundamentals of English reading and phonics when they are in Kindergarten. Unfortunately, while Kindergartens are registered with the Ministry of Education, the K1 and K2 syllabus are unregulated and left entirely to the private operators to decide on what and how the pre-schoolers should be taught. It is therefore unsurprising that children enter Primary One at varying levels of competency in English. Children who are less-prepared compared with their peers will be at a disadvantage unless they are bright and learn fast. It is for this reason that PCF (PAP Community Foundation) Kindergartens are so well attended because they are seen to offer a syllabus close to what MOE has in mind.
Understanding the Challenge
Primary One English includes the following topics:
Simple classification of verbs (eg. crawl, walk, run) and nouns (eg. bicycle, scooter, car, truck, bus)
Children are tested with multiple choice answers, eg:
An (umbrella, apple, orange) a day keeps the doctor away.
The baby is learning to (pedal, kick, step) his tricycle.
Grammar and Punctuation
Singularity and plurality
Present and past tense
To be + adjective (eg. I (am, is, are) clever!)
Past tense of To be (eg. You (am, was, were) a baby once.)
Subjective personal (I, you, it, he, she, we, they)
Objective personal (me, you, it, him, her, us, them)
Possessive personal (mine, yours, its, his, hers, ours, theirs)
Rerranging words to form a proper English sentence:
“you an share Would to like me with ice-cream” should be:
“Would you like to share an ice-cream with me?”
Fill in the blanks in a passage:
(Once, One, Last) upon a time, there (is, was, were) a little girl called Little Red Riding Hood. One day, (his, her, she) mother baked some cookies and asked Little Red Riding Hood to (bring, throw, give) them to her grandmother (who, which, where) lived (in, on) the deep forest.
Comprehension – written
Read a simple passage and write answers to up to 5 open questions. A number of the answers can be copied verbatim from the passage.
The answers must be complete and proper English sentences.
Comprehension – listening
Listen to a simple passage and respond to open questions.
Describe what you see in a picture in a few sentences
Oratory Show and Tell:
Formal tests involving:
Reading of a passage in the presence of the examiner
Discuss the events depicted in a picture with the examiner
Develop and present materials for a presentation to the class based on topics chosen by the teacher (eg. “My Best Friend”, “My Favorite Place”, “My Favorite Fable”, etc)
Students will be graded based on clarity of delivery and content.
For an example of the actual comprehension and picture composition exercises, check out this demo.
How to prepare your pre-school child for Primary school
If you are convinced that your child may have problems coping with the above in Primary One, then you have to take action while your child is still in pre-school. On average, most children are capable of following the plan below, as long as they are given the opportunity to learn:
1-2 years old
Visual recognition and pronounciation of all 26 alphabets
Verbalize simple sentences with nouns and verbs
3-4 years old (Nursery)
Understand phonetic sounds of all 26 alphabets
Write all 26 alphabets
Identify the starting letter of words
Spell simple short words
Read simple sentences
5-6 years old (Kindergarten)
Blend phonetic sounds of combinations of letters
Read simple books
Formulate and write simple English sentences
Verbalize answers to picture comprehension
The above are just guidelines and not definitive. Of course, the more effort parents put into the process, the faster their children can reach the upper levels of competency in English. I believe that any child can achieve what is outlined above as long as they are given the chance go through a proper learning regime. The more gifted or bright children will just learn faster and deeper.
The best academy is mummy’s and daddy’s laps. Nothing beats the simple activity of bedtime reading to children on a regular basis, which also enhance parent-child bonding. New parents are encouraged to learn how to teach their children English by attending talks or reading parenting books. As a rule of thumb, children should learn to read before they learn to write. Learning to read will first require children to be fully cognizant of the 26 English alphabets and their phonetic sounds. That should then be extended to phonetic sounds of combinations of letters – the goal being to let the children read aloud printed words by themselves without requiring them to actually understand the meaning of the words. In a separate process, the children’s vocabulary should be built up by exposing them to a wide variety of nouns (things) and verbs (actions). Finally, the fastest way for children learn grammar is through regular practice via conversations. It is imperative that parents and educators use proper English sentences to communicate with pre-schoolers, otherwise, it will be very difficult to correct children once they have gotten used to speaking English in a particular manner.
There are numerous tools available to parents in the form of books, DVDs and computer software in helping them learn and teach children in phonics and reading. Parents can also consider enrichment classes to supplement their children’s pre-school curriculum, and they range from phonics and encouraging early reading habits, to creative writing, and even speech and drama classes to improve presentation and spoken English. Do check out the following Kiasu Forum threads for ideas: