Bilingual Education: How does it work?

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Established Chinese curriculum-1

The Chinese language is increasingly being recognised as a life skill and an essential communication tool. Many parents now want their children to be effectively bilingual in both English and Mandarin. We all know the benefits of being bilingual, but getting started and sustaining the interest level in a second language, particularly Mandarin, can be daunting. How do we raise children who are truly bilingual, and how do we choose a curriculum that works for our children? We find out more from Ms. Zhao Beiyan, Director of the Mandarin Department in EtonHouse International School Broadrick.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Q. What is the most effective way for students to learn Mandarin?

1) Create a language-rich environment
The learning environment is critical in the language learning process. One of the reasons why the Mandarin Immersion approach is so effective is because it allows students to spend a prolonged period of time in a language-rich learning environment. Being immersed in a language-rich environment with audiovisual stimuli and extended contact with the language allows students to pick up the language effectively. Students learn the language not by rote learning but by applying and using the language across disciplines and in meaningful contexts.

2) Broaden perspectives and promote diversity of thought
There are differences between languages in word orders, grammar and linguistics, etc. Students are used to speaking their mother tongue and thinking in their native language. To help students master Chinese as a second language fluently, we need to broaden their minds and inspire diverse ways of thinking. Language is the carrier of thoughts and reflects the deep culture and philosophy behind it. Not only do we need to enable language proficiency, we need to constantly instil in students new perspectives to understand the world.

3) Keep on practising
There is no shortcut to success. To achieve language proficiency and be able to use any language fluently, regular practice is of great importance. It is more effective to develop students’ listening and reading skills first before going on to enhance their speaking and writing skills thereafter.

Q. What should parents consider when choosing a bilingual curriculum?
Consider the teaching methods the school uses. They should help a student enhance thinking skills and build on their life skills. The curriculum should, therefore, be practical, hands-on and relevant to daily life, and include diverse content that is meaningful to students.

A truly bilingual curriculum should not be a simple superposition of two languages but also an integration of both cultures. It is important that the school provides ample multicultural activities to expose students to different cultures and help them develop a meaningful cross-cultural appreciation and understanding.
A favourable teacher-student ratio will allow teachers to foster a nurturing and caring environment, and support students’ thinking and learning with personalised guidance.

Q. Will it be stressful for my child to pick up the complexity of the Chinese language? What should I do if my child rejects learning the language?
The pressure of picking up a second language and mastering it is inevitable. However, we can turn stress into positive motivation. Always remember that it takes patience and adopting a step-by-step approach to learn a language effectively. You can cultivate a child’s interest and feed on their curiosity through observation. Use various means (e.g. animation, music, manual, etc.) to trigger children's curiosity and stimulate their desire to learn. This allows them to explore independently, form positive associations and build their self-confidence.

Q. How can a parent who doesn't understand Chinese support their child’s learning journey?
Parents can actively support their child in their Chinese learning even if they do not understand the language. They can show enthusiasm and support their child in their learning journey by:

  • Encouraging children to participate in different Chinese cultural activities or performances 
  • Building on their confidence by paying attention to their development. Parents can give affirmation, encouragement and praise and let children gain a sense of achievement and self-confidence in learning the language.
  • Using technology. Use digital tools to enrich their learning in a fun way. There are many useful digital learning tools that may spark their interest in the language. 
  • Learn together with their children. Parents can be their children’s learning partner by creating a Chinese learning environment at home, such as listening to Chinese stories together, listening to Chinese songs, watching Chinese shows etc. 

Home-school partnership is important in the learning journey. Parents can be encouraging by showing a keen interest in their children's progress and communicating frequently and proactively with teachers.

Q. How can parents effectively raise a truly bilingual child?

  1. Choose a school with a positive learning environment and supportive community. It would be ideal if the bilingual curriculum is delivered in a smaller group where personalised guidance can make a big difference in laying the foundation for learning Chinese.

  2. Sign your child up for Chinese after-school classes or enrichment programmes focusing on developing their interests.

  3. Singapore’s bilingual environment provides a great environment for learning Chinese and many opportunities to use the language. Encourage your child to practice Chinese outside the classroom by applying the language in daily life. 

  4. Be sensitive to your child's learning journey and empathetic to their difficulties in learning the language. Be encouraging and positive about the experience.

  5. Encourage your child to adopt a positive attitude towards taking the YCT tests (Youth Chinese Test- an international standardised test of Chinese language proficiency). The YCT test allows students to realise that they can achieve a higher standard of learning and continue to accept new challenges.

EtonHouse International School at Broadrick offers an Immersive Bilingual Programme that incorporates the IB philosophy. Book a tour to learn more.
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