No. 1 Being patient
The first step is to understand the Chinese as a large and complex subject that will take years and years to fully learn. Think of learning Chinese more as running a marathon, not a sprint. When your child refuses to read Chinese books, or to speak Mandarin, you should try to understand your child’s reluctance instead of simply scolding him/her. Bear in mind that even the Chinese idioms (千里之行) tell us that progress is taken in small steps. Try complimenting your child for small achievements (eg. getting full marks for spelling exercises or 听写), and encourage him/her to keep trying harder.
No. 2 Reading Chinese Books Together
Reading is the single most effective way to help children become confident and fluent users of a language. However, the average Singaporean kid is not going to pick up Chinese books and start reading them automatically. A good method is to start reading Chinese books to your children during their bedtime reading sessions, if possible, to select books with interesting themes that they can relate to. Once your kids start to get used to reading Chinese books, and realize that it can actually be fun, they will start to pick up Chinese books on their own to read!
No. 3 Allowing them to watch Chinese Anime
It may seem counter-intuitive to allow your kids to watch cartoons when they should be studying, but allowing your kids to watch Chinese animation actually forces them to listen to the dialogue so they can understand what’s going on. There are many high quality animes being developed in China now, by companies such as Bili Bili and IQIYI, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find an anime with an acceptable theme. You can even allow your kids to watch Chinese cartoons as a way of rewarding your child for doing well in the exams.
No. 4 Making Chinese a part of your daily dialogue
Of course, this only works well if YOU (as the parent) are somewhat proficient in Chinese (which we assume you are). Many kids learn by example, and if they see you making an effort to speak proper Mandarin to them, they will think it means something important. You can have a certain time of the day, say dinnertime, where the whole family is allowed to communicate only in Chinese. Or you can also give anecdotes in chinese if you love telling your children stories. Either way, you as the parent will have a tremendous impact (much more than the school or tuition centre) on whether or not your child succeeds in the Chinese exams.
No. 5 Taking a holiday to a Chinese-speaking country
Ok, this is a little bit on the pricey side. But what better way to force your children to speak and read Chinese than to immerse them in the middle of a big Chinese city where no one speaks English! Your kids would have to learn to read menus in Chinese, to speak to people in Chinese, to order food in Chinese and ….. (you get the idea). And apart from enjoying themselves, your kids will realise the real-world importance of Chinese, that there’s a whole world out that there speaks mandarin. And hopefully that will encourage them to put in a little more effort when they’re back in Singapore studying for the Chinese exams.