In Singapore, you would rarely hear people speak the Mother Tongue, especially in children. Children often use English to communicate, and if they do speak the Mother Tongue, it’s only in school or in broken phrases.
It is not surprising that this is the trend in the country, especially because English is the global language. Tourists who come to the country also use English rather than other languages practised in Singapore.
The government has been introducing several changes in Singapore’s curriculum to protect the Mother Tongue from disuse. But at home, what can you do to help your children practice the Mother Tongue?
Here are several activities you can do to motivate your bilingual children to practice, so they don’t struggle when they reach P1:
Activities For Toddlers (3 to 6 years old)
1. Encourage talking to one another in the language and use the language yourself to show that you practice the language as well.
2. Tell stories using your family photos and talk about the things in the photo.
3. Use hand-puppets and give them a backstory to give your child so they understand why the character only talks using the Mother Tongue.
4. Play ‘I Spy’ to add to their vocabulary. Start by playing at home and when you are out of the house. If you can’t think of other words to use, time to flip those dictionaries.
5. Play role-playing games with your child. Let them think of the story and teach them new words so they can develop each scene.
6. Look for things that your child likes and do it while speaking the Mother Tongue. For example, if your child likes to play with a pet, you can find toys that look like a pet that can speak out in Mother Language.
7. Inspire your child to join in discussions every day and ask them to speak in the language. If you want to ask them to expand what they said, help them through “Why” questions?
8. Call their grandparents or relatives speaking only in the Mother Tongue through video calls.
9. Bring your toddlers into playgroups which have other kids practising the Mother Tongue. This will motivate your own child to practice the language.
Activities for Primary Schoolers (7 to 12 years old)
1. Introduce to your child ‘Mother-Tongue-only’ days where they cannot use English or another language to talk. You can add incentives to inspire them to take part. And of course, you will need to do your part by speaking only in Mother Tongue.
2. Get your other children to teach each other to speak in the Mother Tongue. You can give incentives to get your older children to agree in tutoring.
3. Take them to areas where the Mother Tongue is always used. This will encourage them to practice the language, as well as learn more new words.
4. Ask your child to take the teacher’s role and discuss the language with you. Listen to them and help them if they need help explaining.
5. Engage in treasure hunts where the child has to read a map written in the Mother Tongue. If you included hints and reading it to them, make sure to tell your child that they can only ask in the Mother Tongue.
6. Use board games that come with instructions written in the Mother Tongue and play it with your kids. You can ask their grandparents to get these board games for your children.
7. Sing songs that your child sang at school and do it in the Mother Tongue. Some kids love it when their parents become their teachers and become inspired to learn more.
8. Let the child conduct their own Skype call as they talk in the language. This will let the child practice on their own and not have to worry that you are monitoring them.
Activities for Teens (13 to 19 years old)
1. Introduce them to films that are in the Mother Tongue and discuss it with them.
2. Inspire them to travel, especially to areas where the Mother Tongue is practised. You can recommend where they can go, like in the areas where your relatives are living.
3. Sign them up to summer camps where these teens can learn the language well. Summer camps will ask their campers to speak the language to help them practice, as well as explain why learning the language is good.
4. Sign them up for language courses where the Mother Tongue is in focus. Review these courses with your child and see if the teaching style for the language course will work for them. You can also inspire your child to ask during these classes why they need to learn the language. Some language courses will allow students to be immersed to other students practising the language.
5. Practice the language at home and the cultures surrounding it. This will inspire your teen that you are proud of your heritage and bolster their interest to practice the language as well.
6. Look into their hobbies like online gaming and see how the Mother Tongue can be applied. Introduce people who share the same interests as your child and let them talk using the mother language.
7. Write using the Mother Tongue when sending them a text. This will teach them how the word is used and how to use it in their statements.
Being bilingual is ok; but, we must not forget that our Mother Tongue must be respected and practised even if English is commonly used.
With these activities above, we are sure that your children will be inspired to practice the language again and become proficient. There are simple activities you can do at home as we mentioned above and you can learn and practice together.
While raising bilingual children, a great way to improve your child’s mother tongue is to get them a private tutor. The learning experience of an intimate 1-1 session at home is very different from learning in a classroom, and it can bring out the shyness and feeling of inferiority in your child, helping them to learn their best. SmileTutor offers various Mother Tongue tuition programmes: Chinese Tuition, Malay Tuition, Tamil Tuition, and Hindi Tuition
As your child becomes proficient with the language, we can be reassured that the language will not die out. It will also give them a chance to be proud of their heritage and transfer that love to future generations.
For more creative activities to get your child to be motivated to speak in their Mother Tongues, here are some tips: