WHAT’S DI­ANA SER’S PET PEEVE ABOUT LEARN­ING MAN­DARIN?

Di­ana Ser be­lieves that is one of the keys to rais­ing a bilin­gual child. LYNN WEE finds out more about which strate­gies work for the celebrity mum’s three kids.

Young Parents (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

The celeb mum shares the keys to rais­ing a bilin­gual child.

While Di­ana Ser is well-known for her host­ing prow­ess, she has, in re­cent years, be­come an unofcial am­bas­sador for bilin­gual­ism. That’s thanks to her web­site, Crazy About Chi­nese, where she posts videos on how she uses every­day op­por­tu­ni­ties to teach her three chil­dren – Jake, 11, Christy, nine, and Jaymee, six – Man­darin.

YP caught up with the bub­bly mummy at the

Young Par­ents Mas­ter Class: Boost Your Kid’s English and Man­darin in May this year, and asked her to share her dos and dont’s in cre­at­ing a Man­darin-friendly en­vi­ron­ment at home.

Some kids just refuse to speak or learn Chi­nese. What’s your ad­vice for their des­per­ate par­ents?

“I think the prob­lem is that many par­ents leave it till it’s too late. If you start with a new­born or when your child is six months old, he won’t know how to refuse any­thing. He re­fuses only when he is un­com­fort­able, so this preschool pe­riod is re­ally im­por­tant. If he grows up with Man­darin the same way he grows up with English, he wouldn’t re­ject it.

“Of course, there are also par­ents who have tried, but the child just re­fuses to learn. I to­tally un­der­stand that – it’s an up­hill task. It’s not easy try­ing to get my three kids to love Man­darin, but I know that as long as I keep putting in ef­fort now, I will see the re­sults later.

“Jake and Christy do pretty de­cently in Man­darin in school, but that’s just the aca­demic part of it. I’m look­ing for­ward to later in life when there is ac­tual ap­pli­ca­tion, be­cause I’m sure it will help them.”

Would you say the best tip is to start young, and to keep try­ing?

“Once your kids reach pri­mary school, ev­ery­thing gets a lot tougher. When they en­ter the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, the stress of pro­duc­ing re­sults is in­tro­duced, and it’s so difcult to make it fun. It’s only when they are younger that there is more pos­i­tive as­so­ci­a­tion.

“Also, par­ents’ at­ti­tudes are al­most ev­ery­thing. I don’t know how of­ten I’ve heard par­ents say in front of their child: ‘Chi­nese is so difcult, I un­ked it all the time.’ And, to be hon­est, this an­noys me.

“A child is a blank can­vas, and ev­ery day, he is hear­ing Daddy and Mummy com­plain about how difcult Man­darin is, even when he has no con­cept of that. Your kid will adopt this at­ti­tude.

“As a par­ent, the very least you can do is say: ‘Wow, let’s do it to­gether’, and re­serve your com­ments be­tween you and your spouse, be­hind closed doors. Why? Be­cause such com­ments inuence your kids to think: ‘See, Mummy says it’s so difcult, it’s true, and I refuse to learn it.’ So, my best tip is to start them young, try to be pos­i­tive, and be in­volved when­ever pos­si­ble.”

Do you sched­ule a timetable for your kids to speak Man­darin at home, or does it come nat­u­rally?

“Un­for­tu­nately, it doesn’t come nat­u­rally. I wish I could say that, but I’ll catch my­self speak­ing in English, and in the next sen­tence, I’ll sud­denly in­tro­duce Man­darin.

“Be­ing Sin­ga­pore­ans, we just for­get. For us, it’s so much faster to com­mu­ni­cate in English. Some­times, I strug­gle with not know­ing how to say a cer­tain word or phrase in Man­darin, so I’ll check for the word on the spot.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about try­ing my best and, some­times, I even won­der if my best is good enough. But, I have to just keep do­ing it – even if it’s switch­ing from English to Man­darin amid sen­tences.

“So, my con­ver­sa­tion with my kids are in two lan­guages, with my kids re­ply­ing in English, while I con­tinue speak­ing in Man­darin. At least they are lis­ten­ing.”

You use mul­ti­me­dia plat­forms to teach your kids the lan­guage. How do you man­age their screen time?

“I think the prob­lem is that many par­ents leave it till it’s too late. If you start with a new­born or when your child is six months old, he won’t know how to refuse any­thing.”

“I man­age it with an iron st. (laughs) They don’t have free rein of de­vices, so it’s

not some­thing that they take for granted. They don’t have iPads, and they have only a dummy phone which I call them on to pick them up from school.

“They don’t have ac­cess to data, and they know that they are not sup­posed to turn on the TV with­out my per­mis­sion. TV time is from 7.30pm to 8pm, fol­lowed by bed­time. Af­ter a while, kids will fall into a rou­tine.

“When they want some­thing spe­cial (for ex­am­ple, ex­tra TV time), they will send the youngest one, Jaymee (pic­tured; be­cause she still acts very cute, and she thinks she can get away with it), to re­quest it.”

What are your top tips for cre­at­ing a Man­darin-friendly home?

“Firstly, as­so­ciate Man­darin with some­thing that’s pos­i­tive and fun – like play. For in­stance, one day, I saw Jaymee play­ing with drink coast­ers.

“So, I sat with her for 10 min­utes, and taught her about shapes and move­ment in Man­darin. We even had a lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion, where I drew a start­ing line, and we each took a coaster and rolled them to see which rolled the far­thest – and she loved it. It’s about look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties to in­tro­duce Man­darin.

“Se­condly, iden­tify key fam­ily mem­bers, who can speak Man­darin, to help you. In my fam­ily, there’s my fa­ther-in-law, who is bilin­gual, and very sup­port­ive.

“My kids love their grand­fa­ther, and I can tell them that even though Gong Gong went to school in Eng­land, he does busi­ness with Chi­nese peo­ple, and can speak Man­darin very well!

“Thirdly, make it a part of their rou­tine. Be­cause, if they as­so­ciate Man­darin only with school lessons like

ting xie (spell­ing) and mo xie (mem­o­rised spell­ing), learn­ing will be a mis­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Fi­nally, look for friends and play op­por­tu­ni­ties. I told my hus­band (ac­tor-turned­banker James Lye) that we should post­pone trips to pri­mar­ily English-speak­ing coun­tries. If we don’t visit places where peo­ple ac­tu­ally speak Man­darin, the chil­dren are go­ing to think that it’s point­less to learn the lan­guage since no­body uses it.

“We took them to Tai­wan for a hol­i­day, and they had great fun! For a week, they were in a place where peo­ple only spoke Man­darin. Back home, even at the hawker cen­tres we fre­quent, I’ll tell the hawk­ers to speak to my kids in Man­darin (and they are usu­ally very co­op­er­a­tive), so that my chil­dren have to or­der food and con­verse in the lan­guage.”

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