Tanglin's unique approach to teaching Chinese in the Infant School

Tanglin's unique approach to teaching Chinese in the Infant School
Tanglin's unique approach to teaching Chinese in the Infant School

Many schools that provide Chinese instruction offer it as a separate academic curriculum subject rather than integrated with the children's real-life experiences. Tanglin's approach is different. At Tanglin Infant School, Chinese is just one part of a broad and balanced curriculum, taught using an interactive approach in a way that links to their everyday experiences, both within and outside of school, making language learning both enjoyable and purposeful. Some schools may offer more hours of Chinese language instruction, but our focus is on the exceptional quality of teaching and learning, and the resulting outcomes. The programme is bespoke to the needs of our children, even down to personalised resources or tasks designed by the team to appeal to the children's specific interests and experiences.

While many schools focus on the reading, memorisation and writing of characters at an early stage, Tanglin Infant School has an oral proficiency focus to encourage children to experience the joy of learning languages and the confidence to use them to communicate. Parents often comment on how much their children enjoy learning Chinese and are impressed by how eager they are to communicate.

According to research studies, music is one of the most engaging and effective tools for learning a new language, and singing can help children to grasp better pronunciation than speaking in the early stages. Therefore, we begin teaching Chinese in Nursery through music and movement. Additionally, the "Chinese Linguist-in-Residence" programme is another highlight of our provision in the Early Years, enhancing confidence in our early language learners. An experienced Chinese teacher visits each classroom daily, spontaneously conversing with children based on their learning environment and interests at that time. We have found that through these increased opportunities to use the Chinese language in spontaneous play-based settings, children are afforded more exposure to excellent modelled language in an applied way, learning to respond within a multitude of contexts. This helps to embed the learned vocabulary in the long-term memory and increases their confidence to take risks and try, even if they are unsure of the correct pronunciation.

From Reception to Year 2, music and movement continue to be used wherever appropriate, carried out through thematic learning rather than traditional content studies, an approach which creates a more meaningful context. 'My school', 'My family' and 'I live in Singapore' are three carefully selected themes that integrate all of the conventional content, for example numbers, colours, common daily items and family members, into a more interesting and interactive way of language learning. This is taught through a Gesture Response Teaching approach, which involves using both oral and action cues to facilitate the children's understanding and embed in the long-term memory.

We also make the best use of precious classroom time. A great deal of listening comprehension activities are carried out prior to spoken expression, and the Year 2 children read patterned texts which allow them to consolidate their existing knowledge, increasing their confidence to read the characters they have been introduced to. The bespoke texts are created by our Chinese team, and focus on a range of iterative, interesting and easily comprehensible target vocabulary which is appropriate to the children's lives and experiences. We have received very positive feedback from parents regarding the children's pride in being able to read these Chinese stories to their family at home.

Research studies show that the most 100 common words make up 50% of all speech. Hence, the most 200 frequently encountered, simplified Chinese characters are introduced across Key Stage 1 for both native and near native speakers through the Advanced Reading Programme. Those children who are capable of mastering the reading of Chinese characters and are fluent in daily conversation then move naturally onto writing.

By the time the children enter the Junior school, they are excited about their ability to communicate in Mandarin, curious to learn more and eager to apply it in real-life situations, the bedrock of life-long language learners.