Exposing junior to multiple languages via language immersion programmes offered by schools fuel their learning motivation.
WORDS TEO KUAN YEE
Kids at a young age learn languages easily compared to when they reach an older age. Being equipped with multiple languages also help bestow on junior social and cognitive benefits as well. Language exposure is a good way to cultivate in junior a desire to learn about other countries and cultures. Singapore being a cosmopolitan melting pot provides a stimulating backdrop for kids to pick up multiple languages.
Children who are in language immersion programmes become
skilled in speaking, writing, reading and listening in multiple languages
and can use their knowledge in specialised programmes in schools,
and later on as they progress, to their careers.
The good news is that many preschools here offer language immersion programmes. Students at Little Paddington Preschools as young as 18 months undertake bilingual learning.
Learning a Language
“Multiple researchers have proved that the first six years of a person’s life is the most effectual time for acquiring language skills. Adding on to our inquiry-based curriculum that focuses on “Construction of Knowledge” through projects and experiential learning, our Chinese educators structure and plan comprehensive Chinese lessons in a way that the children acquire these language skills more naturally,” explains Korey Yu, head curriculum developer, Little Paddington Preschools and Infant care.
The curriculum comprises Chinese science atelier, Chinese united nations atelier, Chinese exploratory learning, Chinese music and movement, and Chinese cultural education. These concrete experiences form the backbone for children to build their vocabulary and acquire the necessary skills in listening, speaking, reading, penmanship and writing in the Chinese Language.
How it’s done
In its specialised Chinese Science atelier, children do activities in scientific experiments and explorations in its laboratory setting with their Chinese teachers. Children in the Chinese United Nations atelier learn about four to five different countries through projects and activities while communicating in the Chinese language.
The lessons are taught in an engaging way with different teaching and interaction styles such as speech and drama, show and tell, Chinese calligraphy, Chinese Scrabble, Chinese traditional dance, poetry and learning about Chinese strokes and characters. A trained and experienced Chinese language educator is tagged to each class throughout the day and interacts with the children in native Chinese.
Posso Preschool at Big Box runs a bilingual immersion programme which is a core part of its curriculum for students when they join the school. A variety of activities like cookery, art and craft, children’s lab, speech and drama and math, is taught in Mandarin at different times of the day. Hence, children experience a range of activities using the second language to communicate ideas and get what they want, creating a natural desire to apply the language.
Explains its centre director, Jaime Tan, “We believe that children should experience language as a medium of communication rather than as a subject alone. For children to not develop a resistance to a language, the immersion has to be an organic process.”
“Use of a language in a diverse range of activities also ensures that their vocabulary is wider as words used in different activities expose them to different words not found in a typical Chinese language class,” adds Tan.
EtonHouse International Education Group offers a Mandarin Immersion Programme in their preschools for children from 18 months to six years of age (pre-nursery to kindergarten 2). For example, EtonHouse Pre-School located in Hwa Chong International School is a premise purposefully designed and allocated to deliver this immersive programme.
The main goals of the programme are two tiered – to develop a genuine love of learning Mandarin and proficiency in the language. Every level of EtonHouse’s Mandarin Immersion Programme is planned carefully with clear learning objectives, such as to develop listening and oral skills in the earlier years, to a stronger focus on reading and journaling when they reach kindergarten levels.
The aim is that by the time the children progress to formal schooling,
they will continue with a strong disposition to learn and appreciate
the beauty of the Mandarin language at a higher level.
Says Renee Sim, curriculum specialist, EtonHouse International Education Group: “We see Mandarin as a life skill for children. The ability to comprehend, communicate and apply the language naturally and spontaneously in their daily lives is what we aim for children to achieve.”
The Early Years
“Research has shown that the early years is a critical phase for children to develop language skills. Children pick up language through listening even before they begin displaying their ability to speak and this is especially important for Mandarin as it is a tonal language,” explains Sim.
EtonHouse believes that giving children a head start to learning Mandarin as early as pre-nursery has its advantages. In a setting highly immersed with Mandarin-speaking teachers, the learning of vocabulary and sentence structure are weaved into the children’s play and work, keeping it natural and meaningful as it relates to their daily experiences. “As children acquire the language naturally and develop fun and meaningful experiences related to the language, they will be less resistant to the language and start to develop a genuine appreciation for it,” adds Sim.
To build on children’s oral skills, its Mandarin books and stories reflect ‘everyday lives’ so that children can easily understand and relate to, and engage in conversations on relevant topics and concepts. For example, after reading a book about occupations, children are invited to select their favourite occupation for dramatisation. They will then research and create the props they need for the role play. In the process, Mandarin names of the props are also introduced for the children to extend their application of the language.
For parents who are keen to explore another language other than Mandarin, Las Lilas offers Spanish immersion programmes tailored for children as young as three years old, to teenagers. Its classes are made up of non-native children, in small groups of between three and eight students. Comprising five modules, the programme is scheduled in tandem with the term structure of the school system. Each module comprises 10 lessons of one or one and a half hours, depending on the age.
The programme’s focus is “activity based learning”, to teach the Spanish language through songs, drama, and games, which it considers the best way to learn a language at an early age. The Spanish language being used to conduct the lessons will enable children to get used to listening and understanding in Spanish.
For instance, a class structure for a group of three-year-old students will comprise of a “Hello Song, review of the previous lesson, the topic of the day with a song on the topic, vocabulary repetition, worksheet (paint or draw), games to practise the vocabulary, and “Goodbye” song. All its teachers are specialists in the Spanish language and are trained in child pedagogy.
It is important that parents show support and are encouraging to their child so that he will benefit from the immersion programme.
For instance, prepare your child and tell him that he is entering a class where he will learn Spanish. Stay positive, talk regularly with your child’s teachers, attend meetings and seek support and guidance from other parents in the programme. The initial adjustment period should be temporary, and soon your child will grow to love the language.