This article is dedicated to students who find it hard to keep up with their Mother Tongue, Chinese.

ask any Chinese student about their satisfaction with their state of Chinese, and at least 1 in 2 will confess some sort of difficulty or vexation in learning the language

Students nowadays face many difficulties in studying Chinese, in ways that many Chinese-speaking parents or grandparents cannot understand. In a bid to push for global competitiveness and social cohesiveness, our government’s push to make English our lingua franca has created a generation of youth distant from the language that is often said to be closely-linked to their roots.

Fundamentally speaking, while we need to value our mother tongue as an integral part of our cultural identity, it is now also important to re-look at the significance of Chinese for pragmatic reasons. With China developing at a pace that calls for the attention of the world, a firm grasp of Chinese is now an essential skill that many employers highly seek after, especially in global industries.

Apart from that, in a vein that is more relatable for schooling teenagers, Chinese is a subject that closely affects one’s final school grades. Its presence is not only heavily-felt in national exams, but also in one’s University Admission Score (UAS).

But ask any Chinese student about their satisfaction with their state of Chinese, and at least 1 in 2 will confess some sort of difficulty or vexation in learning the language.

Our brains absorb the best through play, and pop culture is the best place to start.

Even those who come from Chinese-speaking households are not spared from this tidal wave of decline – once the compulsory Chinese syllabus ends and one enters university or the working world where English is the clear dominating language, Chinese becomes a rusty old sword that is hardly unsheathed.

In today’s society that ruthlessly rules out chances for us to converse in our Mother Tongues, how can we prevent this language from slipping through our fingers like sand?

How to Make It Work?

The writer’s key takeaway from years of juggling three languages is that learning Chinese is just like exercising, as with any other language.

Discipline and constancy is evidently key. The only problem is, how do we make this happen in our daily lives, when many of us are already swamped with homework from other subjects? Is this still possible if one’s family converses in a hundred percent English at home?

Here are three key lessons that the writer has gathered from experience and observation over the years, which have helped her to attain a strong grasp on the language.

#1. Exposure to Chinese Pop Culture

Instead of spending hundreds of dollars poring over Chinese assessment books or forcing yourself to cram in the list of compulsory 成语 two weeks before the exam, give yourself an easier time by learning through pop culture. This will serve as an easier entrance into the language.

This is especially suitable for those who do not speak Chinese regularly at home. For those who already speak the language at home, it should be even less difficult.

Download Chinese songs on your phone and sing along to music videos on YouTube with the lyrics on screen. If you don’t listen to music, watching Chinese TV shows (be it our familiar Channel 8 or Taiwanese/Mainland Chinese dramas) is a great way to absorb new vocabulary. To spice things up a little, you could even watch your favourite Korean dramas or American films in Chinese subtitles.

While this will not help you make an instantaneous leap into getting an A in that Chinese composition, it will at the very least help you smoothen your daily Chinese dialogue and improve your sentence structures.

Even though the change may not seem substantial in the short run, cumulatively, the impact cannot be underestimated. Our brains absorb the best through play, and pop culture is the best place to start.  

#2. Books and Media

Needless to say, reading is essential.

Start off with simple Chinese novels that can easily hook you in (though this does not mean that you should abandon your homework). It is not unreasonable to discipline yourself to pick up a Chinese novel every few weeks. Pick one that is appropriate for your ability, without being completely unchallenging.   

In addition to books, it is important to read the newspapers. Chinese newspapers are an incredible source of vocabulary and professional sentence structures that will do you big favours in improving议论文.

In fact, many schools do subscribe to Chinese newspapers for their students. What one can do at the very least is to read them before “donating” them away.

#3. Speak with friends and Write

Students with friends who can speak comfortably in Chinese should take advantage of that and converse with them in Chinese every now and then.

Speaking is the key to applying and solidifying what you have learnt. In fact, allowing friends to correct your mistakes is the quickest way to improve. Don’t be embarrassed, because your improvement will make it all worthwhile at the end of the day.

Concurrently, you can try penning your thoughts down in Chinese if you have the habit of writing dairy entries. This will help you to write more fluently in the long run.

Conclusion

Hopefully, the tips above will help students who are looking to improve their Chinese. Learning Chinese is a marathon, and not a sprint.

At the end of the day, mastering another language is like opening the doors to another world. The gains will be priceless. 

Here’s to the start of making learning Chinese a way of life.

Basecamp offers Primary School Chinese tuition taught by a MOE trained teacher. We make learning Chinese fun for our students and help them excel in their exams and the PSLE.