How Hard is Reading Chinese?
“How do we help our children improve their Chinese language proficiency?” Most parents would probably advise their children to read more Chinese books and we agree too. However, the challenge lies in how we can encourage children to start reading.
Many parents want their children to master their mother tongue. This is evident from the bustling Chinese tuition centres on weekends. Reading is definitely the right way to go but how should parents go about helping their children select the appropriate reading materials? Here are some suggestions from our experience in promoting Chinese reading.
1. How to Start?
Start from attracting your children’s interest as this will not only elevate your children’s desire to read, it will help turn reading into a habit. Though reading preferences vary, most preschool children tend to gravitate towards stories and fairy tales. Genres like fantasy and sci-fi are the favourites among the teenagers. For them, books about history and philosophy can be added to their reading list at the appropriate time.
2. How to Choose a Good Book?
Despite the omnipresence of public libraries and bookstores, parents are actually faced with a shortage of good Chinese reading materials. Currently, most Chinese books are translated works from other languages and there are too few books with original content created specifically for the younger readers in mind. Furthermore, most of the available Chinese books place a strong emphasis on moral values, thus becoming textbook-like and fall short in the three important aspects of a good children’s book: interesting, imaginative and a child’s perspective. In the rush to pursue all the required educational objectives, many children have missed the chance to appreciate the finer details of a good classic book.
Besides, translated stories bear the inherent risk of losing the originality in the translation process, with the translator’s language proficiency of both languages creating some ambiguities. As such, we would suggest parents to choose books with original content created in Chinese.
Through reading, children can see and feel the world through the words. Whilst choosing the suitable books, you can also consider choosing a writer whose works will strike a chord with your children as reading through a series by the same writer can serve as a good basis to explore other books.
Choosing the right books is only the start of cultivating the reading habit in your children. Recommending a good book to your children may be your best ally in engaging their interest.
3. How to Have Fun in Reading?
Even if the right Chinese reading material is found, how do we encourage children to have fun reading it? If your children are put off by full pages of hanyu pinyin, or pages of Chinese characters without the phonetic aid of hanyu pinyin, or insistence of a book report, we might have just escalated their desire to stay away from the Chinese language. Tackle the learning process step by step, starting with reading the book, and celebrate every little success, such as finishing the book. After all, learning is a lifelong process.
Chou Sing Chu Foundation (CSCF) is the sponsor of the entire Chinese children’s book collection in the upcoming Tampines Regional Library opening in 2017. We are working with our partners to attract more Chinese readers and share the joys of reading. In addition, CSCF is holding a roving Chinese storytelling session in the public libraries around Singapore. We hope to see you there! Stay tuned with us.