It’s no secret that both C and I are terrible in Chinese. C was born in Malaysia, so his second language is actually Malay, instead of Chinese. As for me, even though I studied Higher Chinese in both primary and secondary school, I wouldn’t dare to say that I am fluent in the language.
Even though we do have Chinese books and flash cards, I confess that I haven’t been all that diligent in using them with Noah. I’m a lot more comfortable speaking to him in English, and tend to read a lot more English than Chinese books to him. I’ve been getting pretty concerned that Noah seems oblivious to people speaking to him in Mandarin, so when Julia Gabriel Centre invited us to attend their Bilingual PlayClub trial class, I was more than happy to check it out.
As we were entering the classroom, I was impressed by how warm and friendly the four teachers were. After a quick check of Noah’s hands and feet for blisters, he was allowed to join the other kids playing on the mat. He was very intrigued by the toys and books there, and played happily with the others. When it was time for class to start, the teachers sang the Clean Up Song in both English and Chinese, and the children automatically helped to put away the toys.
Playing before the class began
Everyone settled into a large semi-circle, and one of the Chinese teachers brought out a mail-box filled with the children’s name cards. As she called each child, they went to her, took the card, waved to everyone, and said, “你 好! (Hello!)”
There were three different craft activities that day, two of which were based on the letter ‘C’. One was explained by a Chinese teacher, and the other was explained by an English teacher. I thought it was a good idea, as even if the children could not understand Mandarin (like Noah), they could still figure out what was going on, by watching the teachers.
The Chinese teacher explaining the first craft activity
Listening to the English teacher
Working on his ketupat craft
Making his 贝壳 (seashells) craft
Busy decorating his clam
His ‘masterpieces’ on the drying rack
Story time was in English, so Noah had no problems paying attention to it. The teacher reading it was very expressive and animated, so the kids were all very focused on the story.
Love the huge book!
The Chinese teacher then brought the children out of the classroom, on a quest to find seashells. I was really amused by how excited the little ones were, and how they eagerly helped her to pick up the seashells they eventually found, strewn on the mat in their classroom.
For snack time, the kids sat at little tables, and I was pleased that Noah made an attempt to at least try everything on his plate, although he ended up feeding most of it to me instead. Many of the kids had really healthy appetites, and asked for multiple helpings!
Each time we walked past the indoor play area, Noah would ask to play in there, so when it was finally time for them to head over there, he was one happy kid. He spent ages at the “fishing corner”, then moved on to the ride-ons, and finally, onto the playset, where he refused to go down the slide, and only wanted to “drive”. I had a hard time convincing him to return to the classroom with the rest of his classmates!
To end the session, the teachers led the children in a lively sing-along session, filled with actions. I liked that both English and Chinese songs were sung, and the kids all had a great time dancing around to the music.
The Bilingual PlayClub is a two-hour weekly class, which seems like a great way to expose children to the Chinese language, especially for those who don’t have parents or caregivers who can speak the language. The fact that the lessons are conducted in both English and Chinese helps to create a non-intimidating environment for children who are more familiar with the English language, as they are still able to understand what’s going on, for at least part of the class. During my brief chat with the English teacher at the playground, she highlighted the importance of modeling the right attitude towards both languages, which is something I noticed from the behaviour of all four teachers. The English teachers would listen attentively while the Chinese teachers spoke, and vice versa, but what impressed me the most was that all four of them would sing in both languages, showing the children that there is no “designated” language for each of them.
For more information on the Bilingual PlayClub, you can contact the Julia Gabriel Centre directly, visit the website, or sign up for a trial class, to experience it firsthand.
Julia Gabriel Centre
Address: #04-00 Forum, 583 Orchard Road, Singapore 238884
Tel: 6733 4322
*We were invited to attend the Bilingual PlayClub trial class. All photos and opinions are my own.
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