Tag Archives: #bilingualism

A child who reads will be an adult who thinks

B is reading! Actually reading.

I knew this moment would come, but I was still quite surprised when it did.  His delight at putting letters and sounds together to read books (and in many cases, new words) is totally infectious.  And so addictive, he’s even neglected his “first love” – vehicles that is, not his mommy!  He still enjoys reading about them though, like this simple early readers series below.

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Books about vehicles were the ones that B started “reading” on his own

Lately, he wants to read when he wakes, on the road, while eating, after school, before sleeping so besides lugging books around, we also play mommy’s “crack the code” game. All you need is a paper and pen, get them to decipher word sequences (e.g. TO, TOP, STOP; GO, GOD, DOG; WOO (our family name), WOOD, GOOD, FOOD, COOK, etc.), and if there’s time, especially those long family dinners out, ask them to make a story or draw a picture from all of that!

Best of all, this happened naturally.  No pressure, no expectations. It’s been a fun journey to get to this point, yet I feel like we’re just at the end of the beginning. What we did was to start young (B had his first library card at 7 weeks!), surround him with books (we borrow more than we buy), highlight print in our daily environment, talk and read regularly together.  I then followed his lead, introducing things at his own pace with help from our “village” of hands-on caregivers, a must-have for working moms. The grandparents who are avid library goers, and nursery teachers who reinforced phonics via  Letterland, were open to suggestions beyond the “curriculum” – which lists reading as a 5 year old target. I also remember this book about language development that influenced my views with its easy yet systematic approach in the early years: From awareness, to recognition, from sight reading by memory, to pretend reading while tracking words, and finally, actual reading.

His breakthrough in English reading has also motivated us in Chinese.  I want B to grow up effectively multilingual – but that hasn’t been as easy because we can’t replicate the basics at home: I’m not as comfortable reading and improvising in Chinese, no one else at home uses it regularly, and frankly, recognising Chinese characters relies heavily on memorisation. But since deciphering words gets B motivated lately, we’ve revived his interest using level-appropriate bilingual or hanyupinyin material.  His Chinese is in the 0-3 year toddler range, unlike his English proficiency – a great reminder how important immersion is, and also how we need to customise and be flexible with our kids!

We repurpose Chinese flash cards as a game:

We look for interactive story and activity books that come with stickers, puzzles, tracing and number games.  Some good ones can be found at Popular or through Flip For Joy:

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Unfortunately with Chinese, there’s no easy “code to crack” so I’ve turned to enrichment for further immersion beyond his exposure in school and our limited time at home.  There’s been slow though steady improvement, and we’re exploring new options this year.  I’ll probably write more on this once we’ve experienced what works best. Meanwhile, as Chinese self-discovery doesn’t come so naturally for us, we try to build on words he’s learnt already or books he’s reading, like this early readers book series which has a page with hanyupinyin at the back for banana-mamas like me :/

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And so our language journey continues. Along the way, we relish how reading unlocks his imagination and gets him thinking in new ways. For example: One of the first books we lap-read together when he was a baby was Herve Tullet’s “Press Here.”  It’s since been a springboard to introduce colours, actions, Chinese, board games and even inspired his recent Art Jam at school.

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Books are made of endless possibilities. Read on!

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Special Review and Offer: Bibinogs Free Trial and 50% Off Registration

I’ve always believed immersion is the best way to learn languages (ideally at home too) or else, a solid bilingual learning environment works too. We’re not quite ready to leave B alone in a new all-Chinese class, so when I found out about BibinogsMandarin Tots class, a 1.5 hour Mandarin immersion accompanied program for 18 to 30 month olds, we gave it shot, had a good trial and decided to join them for a term.  As I shared recently, my flexi work schedule enables me to join him in the afternoons and follow up at home too, and I didn’t want an overly academic, rote-learning drop off class (as Chengzhu’s N1 Language Learners and Berries turned out to be) to kill his interest in Chinese before it’s had a chance to grow  :0

At 28 months, B is quite the singing chatterbox in English but he clams up in an all-Chinese environment. The more you “tekan” the less he’ll cooperate – he’ll even refuse to speak or say jibberish though he understands you (and talks) well enough. So I’ve been quite amazed at how Bibinogs has brought my little clam out of his Chinese shell!

Here’s what we like about Bibinogs:

1. Individual yet non-threatening attention: So far, there’s been no more than 8 students per 2 teachers in a comfortably sized classroom, ensuring a high teacher to student ratio. All teachers go out of their way to patiently engage everyone, try different methods of drawing out responses from the kids, help parents manage and/or distract them as needed, make individual observations and take feedback. This personal, in-your-own time approach is bearing fruit. B would eventually volunteer answers, repeat and use correct phrases, esp. if bribed with food or stickers 🙂  He was even comfortable enough to spontaneously sing 一闪一闪 (Twinkle twinkle little star) and 我的朋友在那里 (Where’s my friend?) in class!

嘀嗒嘀嗒下雨啦!
嘀嗒嘀嗒下雨啦!

2. Interactive theme-based fun: Terms are based around themes, which in turn, are split into multiple new words per week. Each class reinforces the vocabulary with an action rhyme, song(s), art and craft, with occasional games, storybooks, drama or puppetry. Chinese number and character recognition are cleverly integrated with hands-on manipulatives, flash cards, 儿歌 (nursery rhymes),  magnetised strokes and whiteboards as visual aids. Every session has a good mix of familiar and new songs to allow everyone to learn them yet not get bored. Specific songs are adapted with individual greetings (friends names, caregivers, teachers) for intros and farewells. There’s actually so much going on that I’ve never “checked the clock” and yet, enough emphasis is placed to help retention – without excessive drilling, thankfully. I’ve heard B randomly repeating parts of the week’s songs, new rhyme and/or  vocabulary outside of class, so something must have stuck with my ants-in-his-pants boy 😉

Stars and moon mobile craft (now decorating the class)
Their stars and moon mobile craft decorating the class

3.  Phonics makes a difference: Their proprietary Baby Mandarin program deserves special mention as all the kids are remarkably attentive and responsive when it’s time for 幼儿拼音 (Hanyu Pinyin) at the end of each class. Hearing the main vocal sounds (e.g. “姐姐喝水, h h h” with corresponding actions) provides a missing verbal link for those who live in non-Chinese speaking environments. How can you expect anyone to just repeat word after word in a “new” language, if they’re not confident or comfortable pronouncing them in the first place? The Bibinogs approach recognises the value of teaching Chinese phonics at an early age to bi/multilingual kids.

4. Best of both worlds with bilingual: Besides the full Mandarin immersion classes, Bibinogs also runs a fun, high energy parent-accompanied bilingual program for 6-30 month olds (1 hour in English, 15 mins in Mandarin following a similar, but condensed version). Babies and tots receive hands-on, multi-dimensional and engaging learning experiences: physical development through music, movement and games; fine motor skills through art, craft and sensory play; language, communication skills and learn about the world around them through dramatization, story-telling, puppetry, action rhymes, poems and songs. They are also introduced to phonics and word blending through Jungle Friends.

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Learning “M” while making and mixing baby dough

5. Something just for you: Bibinogs offers a variety of programs from 6 months to 6 years.  English, Mandarin immersion or bilingual, accompanied or drop-off, enrichment or preschool, and even short term/holiday classes. There’s no fixed number of days in a week to commit to, e.g. you can enroll for 1, 2 or 3 days per week for enrichment classes, depending on your situation. Many parents would also appreciate the flexibility of having a certain number of make up classes which are allowed with advance notice, no MC required. Lastly, with multiple locations: Kings Arcade (preschool only), Serene Center, UE Square and Siglap (enrichment classes), Bibinogs makes it real easy to find a class, time and location that suits you.

A typical classroom
A typical classroom

This is a sponsored review.