In the first in­stal­ment of our new preschool se­ries, find out what you need to con­sider be­fore you en­rol your kid in a bilin­gual school.

Young Parents (Singapore) - - Contents -

Bet­ter fo­cus, think­ing skills and self-con­trol are some of the many perks of learn­ing more than one lan­guage. And that’s not all.

“We also know that bilin­gual chil­dren are able to bet­ter re­late to oth­ers from dif­fer­ent cul­tures and back­grounds, as well as dis­play greater em­pa­thy. These are vi­tal skills needed in to­day’s global mar­ket,” says Huang Ying, prin­ci­pal of Chengzhu Man­darin Kinder­garten.

But how do you raise a bilin­gual child if you speak only one lan­guage at home?

This is where school comes in. The ma­jor­ity of preschools in Sin­ga­pore pro­vide some ex­po­sure to a sec­ond lan­guage as part of its cur­ricu­lum, but an in­creas­ing num­ber of schools now of­fer im­mer­sion pro­grammes that al­low your child to learn in a Man­dar­in­rich en­vi­ron­ment.

How do these pro­grammes work, and what should you look out for when choos­ing a bilin­gual preschool for your lit­tle one? We ask the ex­perts.

Are all bilin­gual preschools the same?

Not all bilin­gual preschool pro­grammes are car­ried out the same way. Each school has its own ap­proach of in­cor­po­rat­ing the sec­ond lan­guage into its cur­ricu­lum.

“The key dif­fer­ence is in the amount of Chi­nese taught, not just the lan­guage, but also its cul­tural ap­pre­ci­a­tion,” says Brian Caswell, dean of re­search and pro­gramme devel­op­ment at Mind­champs.

Reg­u­lar bilin­gual preschools tend to place a stronger em­pha­sis on English and math­e­mat­ics, he shares. On the other hand, bilin­gual im­mer­sion pro­grammes

of­fer greater ex­po­sure to the Chi­nese lan­guage and cul­ture.

If your child is in a com­plete or 100-per-cent im­mer­sion pro­gramme, it means that his les­sons are fully de­liv­ered in Man­darin. In a par­tial im­mer­sion pro­gramme, les­sons and ac­tiv­i­ties are con­ducted in Man­darin at least half the time, ei­ther on al­ter­nate days or at se­lected times of the day.

Some schools may com­bine both bnglish and Man­darin in the class­room, so your child in­ter­acts with two teach­ers speak­ing dif­fer­ent lan­guages.

Which pro­gramme is the right fit for my child?

It de­pends on how much em­pha­sis you wish to place on the Man­darin com­po­nent of your child’s ed­u­ca­tion, Brian says.

Huang Ying of Chengzhu adds: “A preschool that pro­vides more ex­po­sure to the Chi­nese lan­guage than bnglish would be the ideal choice for par­ents who want their chil­dren to be bilin­gual, but speak lit­tle or no Man­darin at home.”

Con­sider the pros and cons of each ap­proach and see what makes sense for you. For ex­am­ple, some ed­u­ca­tion ex­perts ad­vo­cate hav­ing both bnglish and Chi­nese lan­guage teach­ers present dur­ing the child’s time at school.

“Hav­ing both bnglish and Chi­nese lan­guage teach­ers al­lows the child to be com­pe­tent in both lan­guages, and he ben­e­fits from ex­po­sure to dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives,” shares a spokesman for Mind­champs’ cur­ricu­lum and train­ing depart­ment.

Pa­tri­cia Koh, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Maple Bear Sin­ga­pore, be­lieves that hav­ing sep­a­rate classes for each lan­guage may be less ef­fec­tive as it “forces the child to speak dif­fer­ent lan­guages ac­cord­ing to a sched­ule or time of the day, which is not how lan­guage is nat­u­rally spo­ken on a day-to-day ba­sis”.

ln the other hand, hav­ing both lan­guage teach­ers in the same class may mean that chil­dren who are more fa­mil­iar with bnglish may in­ter­act more with the bnglish-speak­ing teacher, thus re­duc­ing in-depth ex­po­sure to Man­darin, Huang Ying adds.

Would hav­ing teach­ers who are na­tive speak­ers help my child learn the lan­guage faster?

Ac­cord­ing to the ex­perts, chil­dren gen­er­ally ben­efit most from teach­ers who are na­tive speak­ers and pos­sess an in-depth knowl­edge of the lan­guage, such as its gram­mar struc­ture and cul­ture.

“Teach­ers who are na­tive speak­ers will be able to bring cul­tural el­e­ments into the learn­ing process, help­ing chil­dren to un­der­stand how to use the lan­guage and why some words or sen­tences are used in a cer­tain man­ner. Thus, the learn­ing process is more fun and en­gag­ing,” shares Huang Ying.

Plus, chil­dren learn by mod­el­ling what they hear. The first step to learn­ing a lan­guage is lis­ten­ing, Brian says. For a child to mas­ter a lan­guage, par­tic­u­larly for a tonal lan­guage like Man­darin, it is im­por­tant to en­sure that what he hears is ac­cu­rate, he adds.

Will my kid get con­fused if he has to switch be­tween dif­fer­ent lan­guages?

aefi­nitely not, ex­perts say. In fact, re­search has shown that a child’s brain is “wired” to pick up lan­guages at an early age, which makes it eas­ier for chil­dren to mas­ter a lan­guage com­pared to adults, Pa­tri­cia shares.

“A young child’s mind is like an ex­tremely mal­leable blank slate, whereby in­for­ma­tion and habits are not yet men­tally en­trenched,” she says.

“ln the flip side, a child mas­ter­ing a sin­gle lan­guage first would make it harder to ac­quire a sec­ond or third lan­guage at a later age, as the gram­mat­i­cal struc­ture and rules (of the first lan­guage) are in­grained into his mind.”

When is the right age to start?

The crit­i­cal time to pick up dif­fer­ent lan­guages is from birth to six years old, shares An­ge­line Teo, ed­u­ca­tion spe­cial­ist at blfa Preschool.

oe­search has shown that even in­fants have an in­nate abil­ity to dis­tin­guish be­tween dif­fer­ent lan­guage sounds and tones, An­ge­line says. The greater ex­po­sure a child gets to a lan­guage, the more flu­ent he be­comes in it, Huang Ying adds.

“By ex­pos­ing your child to a Man­darin-rich en­vi­ron­ment, it will in­cul­cate in them a love for the lan­guage and its cul­ture,” says An­ge­line.

My kid dis­likes Man­darin. How can a bilin­gual preschool pro­gramme help?

To cul­ti­vate a child’s love of learn­ing, there is a sim­ple rule: oe­gard­less of the sub­ject, chil­dren love learn­ing only if it is done in a fun and en­gag­ing man­ner, Brian says.

“oe­search shows that young chil­dren are ex­pe­ri­en­tial learn­ers – they learn through ex­pe­ri­ence,” he adds.

Huang Ying shares that “lan­guage is caught, not taught”. “The best way for chil­dren to pick up a sec­ond lan­guage is to im­merse them in a fun en­vi­ron­ment where they play, lis­ten, in­ter­act with sto­ries, songs, games, po­ems or drama,” says Huang Ying.

That is why it is im­por­tant for par­ents to pay at­ten­tion to other el­e­ments, other than the amount of time your child is ex­posed to the lan­guage, when choos­ing a bilin­gual preschool.

Ac­cord­ing to the ex­perts, a good bilin­gual pro­gramme should in­clude cul­tural and arts ap­pre­ci­a­tion and ac­tiv­i­ties, as well as moral val­ues devel­op­ment, all of which make lan­guage mean­ing­ful.

“For ex­am­ple, Chi­nese po­etry, tea ap­pre­ci­a­tion, Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy and clay mod­el­ling or in­cor­po­rated as part of Mind­champs Chi­nese Preschool’s pro­gramme for a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of Chi­nese cul­ture,” says Brian.

What else should I look out for when choos­ing a school?

As with any preschool, the ex­perts ad­vise par­ents to take a look at its learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment: ao the chil­dren and adults seem happy and con­fi­dent there? ao the teach­ers look pro­fes­sional and give off pos­i­tive en­ergy?

Speak to the prin­ci­pal to get a bet­ter idea of how the pro­gramme is run and the school’s pol­icy, es­pe­cially on is­sues you may be con­cerned about.

“For ex­am­ple, what is the school’s pol­icy for picky eaters, how do teach­ers man­age cranky chil­dren, what is the dis­ci­pline pol­icy, or how of­ten do the chil­dren have free play­time? This way, you get a sense of whether the preschool shares your par­ent­ing val­ues,” says Huang Ying.

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