getting ready for school

Why, Chinese, Why?

I finally succumbed to my tiger mom instincts and enrolled the kids in one of those preparatory Chinese classes. I thought it’d be good to expose them to an environment of Mandarin-speaking people and they’d get to sing some happy Chinese songs or learn some rhymey Chinese rhymes, dance around a little bit, that sort of thing.

The first week in, Truett came home with a list for 听写. Ok, so maybe they’re diving head first into the deep end but it can’t be so bad, right? Probably a few easy words like 人 or 天.


I took a look at the list and the first word was 跳舞. Really? 舞 has like 14 strokes, or ten thousand. I have difficulty just looking at 舞, it makes my head hurt. I’ve seen entire paragraphs in Sanskrit that looked easier to replicate than 舞.

Being the diligent and responsible parent that I am, I sat down with Truett and got him to write 跳舞 5 times. It took him 20 minutes. And then 5 more times. That took even longer.

At which point, he was grabbing his head and looking downright miserable so I covered up the word and told him to try writing it out from memory.

“Just try your best,” I said. “It’s ok if you get it wrong.”

He came up with an elaborate drawing of what looked like a rocket spaceship exploding into a house. Pretty close.

That 听写, he came home with 0 for 3 and he drew a sad face next to his piece of paper. My heart broke into a thousand tiny pieces because my little boy was trying so hard but he was made to feel like a failure by stupid Chinese words. I wanted to sucker punch the Chinese language in the face for being such an ass. I thought of pulling him out of the class to let him enjoy what was left of his pre-Primary carefree life. But the husband said maybe we should just let him soak in the environment of Chineseness for that 100 minutes every week. Even if he failed every 听写, so be it.

I took out the piece of 听写 paper with the big fat 0, cancelled out the sad face and drew a GINORMOUS HAPPY ONE. I drew the happiest face I could draw and told him that this guy was happy because he tried his best and that was something to be happy about. And then I drew a whole bunch of other happy faces because all these people were so damn proud of Mr Happy Face here.

This week was round 2 of 听写. His 3 words were 运动, 电脑 and 巴刹. After 3 days of practice, he could write 运动 entirely from memory, half of 电脑 and 巴刹 still looked like a bunch of random lines.

But it was progress. I’d take 1.5 of 3.

I’ve known it since I was a kid, that the Chinese language was designed to destroy me slowly and in the most painful way possible. I thought I escaped relatively unscathed after taking my final Chinese paper 14 years ago but here it is again, back to torment me. I think this calls for a dramatic sigh.

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  • Reply Sandra February 28, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Hey Daphne, try Berries for learning Chinese. it’s not so stressful over there as it is fun learning.

    • Reply Daphne February 28, 2014 at 4:03 pm

      Thanks Sandra! Actually we did put them in berries for a semester but we had a bit of difficulty with the staff at the Tampines branch who were quite rude and not very helpful so we stopped berries and put them at this new place called tian hsia instead.

      We weren’t expecting 听写 either but other than that, the kids are ok with the classes.

  • Reply Sandra February 28, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Just to continue, I’m a CL teacher and I believe that the kids should love the language then they will have the motivation to learn. Kept doin the 听写 thingy might just put them off and made them hate CL even more. Anyway, it is just a concern as I often feel very sad when I heard kids saying they hate CL. :)

    • Reply Daphne February 28, 2014 at 4:04 pm

      I agree! That’s why we’re taking it easy with the 听写. I mean, if he can learn the words, it’d be great for his confidence but if not, we won’t make a big deal of it.

  • Reply Polly February 28, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    I feel you Daphne. My kids come from an english speaking background and are having difficulty adjusting to chinese too. My 4.5yo is learning chinese in kindy and we plan to send him to a chinese school next time and seeing how I dont read/write chinese, it’s gonna be interesting to say the least.

    But am sure we mothers will survive this. Somehow.

    • Reply Daphne February 28, 2014 at 4:06 pm

      You’re right! we will survive this heh.

  • Reply MA February 28, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    My two kids ( N2 & K2) love berries too. No 听写 so far and they always look forward to class. Give it a try.

    • Reply Daphne February 28, 2014 at 4:07 pm

      Thanks MA! We’ll monitor this class for now and if it’s not helping, we might try another berries branch. :)

  • Reply Sandra February 28, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Hi Daphne,

    Actually when u mentioned tingxie, I’m already suspecting it’s tian hsia. They r more academic. Try the berries at Orchard. It might be better. :)

    • Reply Daphne March 3, 2014 at 4:46 pm

      Yeah we’ve certainly discovered the academic part! We’re considering giving berries another shot, but probably somewhere east, orchard is a bit too far.

      • Reply Ashley Evelyn November 12, 2016 at 12:01 pm

        Can ask if you did put back your child to Berries? I am also considering Berries for my gal now :)

        • Reply Daphne November 26, 2016 at 10:34 am

          We didn’t! Decided to go with a private tutor instead :)

          • Lydia November 6, 2017 at 8:59 pm

            Any recommendation for Chinese tutor ?

  • Reply Sinming February 28, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Hi, I am so sorry the school was not aware of how hurtful it can be to give zeros. That was an old way of doing things that can certainly discourage learning (especially when learning Chinese was an option these days). Check out my website and read more articles. I am Chinese. I am a mother. I am an educator. I am a researcher. I specialize in what you just went through! :-) I have two happy children who still love Chinese and are competent. But it wasn’t through the traditional method! It was through the home.

    • Reply Daphne March 3, 2014 at 4:47 pm

      Thanks for the link, will definitely check it out!

  • Reply shirley February 28, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    Interestingly…. I grew up in a Chinese speaking family and I remembered feeling so depressed when I went primary school. I secretly wished that I had more ‘ang mo’ type kind of parents as I felt I was behind everyone else in school in my English language. :P

    I am sure Truett will get better in the language soon :)

    • Reply Daphne March 3, 2014 at 4:48 pm

      LOL your English sounds pretty sharp. Seriously, I had no idea you grew up in a Chinese speaking family! Guess that’s an advantage there. :)

  • Reply Bun Bun Makeup Tips March 1, 2014 at 3:32 am

    Bo bian la! He’ll find them really useful one day! 跳舞 is really difficult for pre-primary standard though. I remember hating to write 舞 very much as well. Specifically remember this word coz I had to fit that many strokes into one tiny box. 习字 was my least favorite activity in the world OMG. >.<" Ironically, I grew up to be a dancer. Haha
    Bun Bun Makeup Tips´s last post ..Tutorial: How To Fix Broken Urban Decay Vice 2 Palette Eyeshadows + Tamping Technique!

    • Reply Daphne March 3, 2014 at 4:48 pm

      Hahahah 习字! That brings back very traumatic memories heh.

  • Reply Min March 1, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    I know others have mentioned this, but the minute I read your blog, I thought of Berries, which my kids (K2 and N2) absolutely love!!! They enjoy the songs, the cute toys given at lessons etc.. We used to go to the Bishan branch and now the hougang branch. Have never encountered any rude staff! Maybe try another branch if it is convenient for you? :) loving the language is critical! :)

    • Reply Daphne March 3, 2014 at 4:51 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation! With all the reviews on berries, we’re definitely considering swapping them back next semester to give berries another shot. But you’re right, probably at a different branch. :)

  • Reply JY March 3, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    I am suprised at your encounter at Berries Tampines. My gal has been attending the Berries at Tampines (NTUC building) for the past 3 years and she love the classes there. Maybe your encounter was a one-off thing? I have dealt with the staff there, so far they have been very nice and helpful.

    • Reply Daphne March 3, 2014 at 5:04 pm

      The one we tried was the berries at Tampines Mart. And it was mostly due to their bizarre system of not allowing make up classes for missed lessons on public holidays. We were told to conduct the lesson at home with the aid of online materials(??!) even though there were other available classes running that week. I mean, that was the whole point of sending them to classes in the first place – if I was capable of conducting the lessons at home, I’d be downloading materials off the internet and the classes would be redundant.

      We tried requesting for them to attend a make up class on one of the other days but they refused even though there were available slots. And then we tried explaining the situation but they got all snarky about it so that was the end of that.

      We might check out the one at Tampines NTUC branch instead.

  • Reply Bee March 3, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    When I was young, a Chinese teacher helped us to see patterns in characters which made learning so much more fun. Like 尖 (sharp), means something smaller on top (小)and bigger at the bottom (大). I don’t know if that’s how the characters really came about but having stories/reasons behind each character, just made it more interesting and easier to remember. So try to make up some stories perhaps? Could be fun for mums too heh.

    • Reply Daphne March 3, 2014 at 5:06 pm

      Exactly!! That was probably one of the reasons I managed to survive all those years of learning Chinese. The language is fascinating and actually quite fun if taught in an engaging manner. Hopefully the kids will discover the fun side of it and it’ll be far less painful for everyone involved!

  • Reply Sue March 5, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    I found this website has a lot of Chinese words turned into cute pictures that my child likes. Wow, you gave a good description of how high standard the Chinese enrichment class is. My child is currently in Pri 1. She will only start her ting xie after March holidays. Most of it is ting xie in han yu pin yin. So not so stressed yet. We tried to enrol in Berries somehow too packed in the weekends and cannot even make it to waiting list. I maybe tried to enrol too late. My child school afternoon session, also cannot make it to weekday evening class because come home too late.

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