Updated: 3 days ago
In a multilingual society like Singapore, parents are often eager to give their children a head start in language learning. Mandarin, as one of the four official languages in Singapore, is a valuable skill for children to acquire. However, many parents may feel overwhelmed or unsure of how to support their child's Mandarin fluency, especially during the critical preschool years. In this article, we provide a guide for parents in Singapore to help them navigate the complexities of Mandarin language learning for young children.
Table of Contents
Mandarin Learning in Children Ages 0-2: Importance of Exposure and Stimuli
The brain of children ages 0-2 is rapidly developing and highly malleable. During this period, the brain is capable of forming new connections and rewiring itself based on the experiences and stimuli it is exposed to. This makes it an ideal time for Mandarin learning.
How babies and young children learn language?
Babies and young children learn language primarily through exposure to speech and other forms of language input from their environment. This is true for both their native language and for any additional languages they may be exposed to. Babies are born with the ability to distinguish between different speech sounds, and as they are exposed to their native language, they begin to recognize and differentiate between words and sounds.
How much exposure is required for Mandarin Fluency?
When it comes to learning a second language, the amount of exposure required varies depending on the child's age and the context in which they are learning. In general, younger children tend to have an easier time learning a second language than older children or adults. However, research has shown that even short exposure to a second language can have a positive effect on children's language learning abilities. In a study published in the Journal of Memory and Language, 17-month-old infants were exposed to a foreign language for only 12 sessions of 25 minutes each. After the sessions, the infants were able to recognize and distinguish between new foreign language sounds, suggesting that even short exposure can lead to language learning.
Exposure to language is important because it provides children with the input they need to develop their language skills. The more language input a child receives, the more opportunities they have to practise and refine their language skills. This is why consistent exposure to Mandarin language is crucial for children who are learning Mandarin.
Recommendations for parents: Connect with your Child
Talk or sing to your child, even if they can't reply yet. They are still absorbing language, which is crucial for their development.
Balancing Language Exposure and Emotional Connection in Children's Development
While exposing children to Mandarin is important for their language development, it's also important to remember that connecting emotionally with children is just as important, if not more so. Research has shown that positive emotional experiences between parents and children can have a long-lasting impact on children's well-being and development.
Therefore, it's important to note that parents should speak to their child in a way that feels natural to them. Forcing a parent to speak in a language that they are not comfortable with can actually hinder the child's Mandarin language development.
What if both parents are not fluent in Mandarin?
If both parents are not fluent in Mandarin, it may be more beneficial to incorporate dedicated Mandarin learning time during the day, such as reading Chinese books, watching Chinese cartoons, or practising vocabulary together. By incorporating the language in a way that is enjoyable and natural for both parent and child, children are more likely to develop a positive association with the language and feel motivated to learn more.
How to Use BrookieKids for Interactive Learning while Avoiding Screen Time
Avoid screen time for young children, instead use BrookieKids as a tool for you to interact with your child. BrookieKids' story-activities are centred around commonly found objects and appliances at home, thus providing visual cues for parents to retrieve conversation topics to kickstart speaking in Mandarin with your child.
Mandarin Learning in Children Ages 3-6: Understanding the Critical Stage and Best Practices for Exposure
Children between the ages of 3-6 are at a critical stage in their Mandarin language development. During this time, their brains are highly receptive to language input and are actively acquiring language skills.
How children aged 3 to 6 years' old learn languages?
Research has shown that children at this age learn languages through a combination of listening, observing, and imitation. They also rely on contextual cues and visual aids, such as pictures, to help them understand and remember new words and phrases.
They are still in the process of learning their first language, but they have a greater capacity to process and understand language than they did as infants. They are also beginning to develop cognitive skills that will help them understand the rules and structures of language.
How much exposure is required for Mandarin Fluency?
The amount of exposure required can vary depending on the child and their language learning abilities. However, research suggests that regular, consistent exposure is key to language acquisition. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exposure per day, but more is always better.
Exposure to Mandarin language is important because it allows children to develop their Mandarin language skills in a meaningful context. By providing children with opportunities to use and interact with the language, they are more likely to retain and internalize new words and grammar rules.
Additionally, exposure to a second language can provide children with a range of cognitive and social benefits, such as increased creativity and cultural awareness.
Recommendations for parents: Make it Meaningful
Starting your child's Mandarin language learning journey is never too late, even if they respond in English.
If your child is now attending school and primarily learning in English, incorporating real-life scenarios where knowing Chinese can be beneficial is helpful. For instance, you can point out instances where speaking Chinese can be advantageous, like communicating with friends or reading street signs. Additionally, exposing your child to Chinese culture through food, art, music, and movies can spark their curiosity and interest in learning the language.
When to Consider Chinese Enrichment Classes?
While we at BrookieKids personally prefer enrichment classes with a focus on building interests than on acamedics, there may come a point where you may feel you need additional support to help your child progress, especially if you are not fluent in Mandarin.
Consider sending your child to classes or courses that focus on other skills or talents and are conducted in Chinese or in both English and Chinese.
Screen Time Recommendation from Singapore Health Promotion Board
Regarding screen time, it is important to note that our Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends a maximum of one hour of screen time per day for children between the ages of 2 and 5 years old.
Immerse Your Child in Mandarin: Engaging Home Activities and Outdoor Playdates with BrookieKids
Bring the Mandarin language to life in your home with our engagingly created characters that interact with you and your child. Explore home appliances, hatch magical eggs, and play hide and seek - all in Mandarin! Here's Rachel's account of how she played Hide and Seek with her 3.5 yo ;) And don't forget to join us for our outdoor playdates to meet like-minded families and continue the Mandarin immersion beyond your home.
Other Mandarin Learning Resources Recommended by BrookieKids
Exhibition【SINGAPO 人】at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre
Unlocking the Full Potential of Young Children's Language Learning: The Importance of Active Engagement and Meaningful Interactions
While watching cartoons or listening to stories in the background may provide some exposure to a language, research has shown that it is not an effective way for young children to learn a language. This is because young children learn language through meaningful interactions and experiences, rather than passive exposure.
In order for language learning to be effective, children need to be actively engaged with the language and have opportunities to practise using it in meaningful contexts. This means that they need to have interactions with other people who speak the language and engage in activities that require them to use the language themselves.
Simply listening to stories or watching cartoons in the background may not provide children with the opportunities for meaningful interactions and practice that they need for language learning. However, incorporating these activities as part of a larger language learning program that includes interactions with fluent speakers and other language-rich experiences can be a helpful supplement to language learning.
You are your child's best language teacher!
With the right mindset, resources, and strategies, parents can help their children develop strong Mandarin skills and embrace the language and culture with confidence. By providing meaningful exposure and opportunities for practice, young children can achieve fluency and benefit from the countless advantages that come with being bilingual or multilingual in Singapore. Remember, you are not alone on this journey, and with the support of communities like BrookieKids, we can create a brighter future for our children in our multilingual society.