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.
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 unofcial 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 difcult 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 difcult, 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 difcult 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 inuence your kids to think: ‘See, Mummy says it’s so difcult, 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.”