Monday, August 3, 2009

When is the best time for our children to start learning?

Being a Malaysian Chinese, we are encouraged to learn three languages including Bahasa Melayu, Mandarin and English though Mandarin is not compulsory subject.

Many parents in the old days chose to put their children in Malay school or English school in order to avoid Mandarin. The situation however has changed today.

In deciding what is best for our children, the major consideration is always whether our children are able to cope with the multi-lingual education system in Malaysia? How do we prepare our children to survive through the entire course of study “safely”?

The common problem our children faced today is the feeling of “lost”.

The “lostness” is accumulated day by day until they do not know how to rectify or how to restart.

Besides, they are too young to identify the problem and explain to parents why they can’t perform well in examinations.

“How come this one so easy and you can’t even get it right?”

“This one you already learned in school, how come you still can’t do it?”

“I told you already the other day, why you still make the same mistake?”

This would be the usual comments we made when we examined their marked papers from school. We made a conclusion simply that: “You didn’t pay attention in class!”

The children become even more frustrated! But how to pay attention when they cannot understand what the teacher is talking about?

Situation like this most of the time is due to the language itself. Just like deficiency in vitamins makes us sick, deficiency in language makes us ‘lost’.

Therefore, I believe very strongly in building a good foundation from young so that at any moment throughout their school life, they always have a “bird eye view”.

For as long as they have sufficient language basic and enough vocabulary to start off, they will have better understanding and able to absorb new knowledge more efficiently. With that, it is quite natural that they will be able to perform at average in the class if not above.

For my girl, I was quite lucky that I made the right choice in enrolling my girl to Vital Years ( She was 3 and half years old at that time.

Vital Years is an English program that teaches children to read. All Vital Years children enjoy reading and they speak good English. They are very confident children too. The fee is RM350 per month for a 5 daily class of 3 hours per session. Today, my girl will not be able to cope in international school if it had not been that. I must say that God is somewhere guiding me to make the right decision at that point.

English is done. The next on my priority list will be Mandarin.

Everybody said Mandarin is the most difficult subject to learn. Common problems we face are like our children do not like Mandarin. They refuse to speak Mandarin. They don’t like going to Mandarin classes.

For my girl, she was brought up in a Mandarin speaking environment. Unfortunately, she doesn’t enjoy learning Mandarin initially because Mandarin is much more complicated language to learn as compared to English.

I started teaching her using flashcards I made on my own when she was 3. You can check out under 轻轻松松学华语 in my blog how to make the flashcards and how to teach them. It is important to introduce Mandarin to our children at early age. The resistance gets stronger as they grow older especially when they do not speak the language from young.
To achieve good result, don’t start our children with any school text books or exercise books until they have some basics.

I find that Singapore’s text books are one of the very well drafted text books in the market -- very organized with step-by-step guide and interesting stories. China’s text books are good but a bit too comprehensive. Malaysia’s text books are somehow very ‘serious’ and can be difficult to understand at times.

The other option is to enroll them to Chinese enrichment programs. One of the effective programs I tried is Bao Bei 宝贝 ( Unfortunately, this good program is only available in Selangor at the moment. I only send my girl to 宝贝during summer holiday break. This year is the 2nd time I am doing it. The fee is RM380 per month for a 5 daily of 1.5hours per session. I can see amazing results.

Done with two languages, one more to go!

Among the three languages, Bahasa Melayu is the easiest to learn I must say. It doesn’t have complicated grammar like English. Phonics is very straightforward.

The only unfortunate thing is the limited reading material available in the market. So far, there is no enrichment program in the market that provides significant results too. I had difficulties teaching my daughter from the start until I decided to draft my own material to teach her. Again I adopted the “bird eye view” concept because it is really no point to start them on any writing exercises when they do not possess sufficient vocabulary.

I started teaching my daughter using my homemade material since July 2008.

My girl has smoothly embarked onto Singapore Primary 2A text books in April 2009 (as I said, Singapore text books are much more organized than others) and she will be completing Primary 2B text book by mid Aug 2009.

4 ½ months to complete the whole year’s syallabus.
No sweat and no stress at all!

I am in the midst of putting together some teaching material in my blog. Please check out under “Mari Belajar Bahasa Melayu Bersama” for this homemade recipe.

Having prepare our children a good foundation from start, rest assured that they will be able to survive and flourish throughout their entire school life “safely”.

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