If you are a Singaporean Chinese parent, most likely your answer to this question will be: as much as he needs to pass/ace his exams.
While exams are a big part of why we learn subjects in Singapore, with the varied syllabus and curriculum you would find available in school (some go to international schools where they have yet another set of choices), the amount and depth of CHinese your child wants to learn actually depends very much on his own interests (that's not to say, of course, he is not constrained by some policy limitations).
What is more important for you and your child to consider is: how much does he need to know for future use?
For a start, such questions (as opposed to questions like: 'how much does the school require?') spur the mind to think longer-term, and to think self-motivation and initiative. It should be more of "how much do I want to learn", rather than "how much am I required to learn?" Once this first step of the game is set right, your child would already be more in control and more confident of his choices and aspirations.
So let's get into topic proper.
How much your child wants to learn, in terms of language, and in terms of culture and other technical fluency (for example, in the field of business, social sciences, etc.), would depend very much on his interests and inclinations, be it personal or career. It is really up to him how much he thinks is enough for him!
The first question to ask: what does he need this Chinese for?
Does your child need Chinese for leisure and/or for travel in Taiwan or Mainland China? Or does he need it to do business there? The answer would give a very different picture of the kind and level of Chinese he needs to learn to do what he wants to do.
If he just wants Chinese for daily use and leisure, or to connect better with his cultural roots, or to basically be good at communicating in this language with other Chinese communities, to open himself up to the Chinese-speaking world, he should probably be making it a point to speak and read more Chinese, watch and listen to more Chinese television and radio programmes, and yes - maybe make more visits to places that use Chinese predominantly and prominently to immerse himself!
If he wants it for more serious stuff like business, trade, career advancement in Greater China, or cultural research on Chinese culture, history, politics, etc., then a more technical understanding and grasp of the language definitely helps. He would also - if he is serious about this ability to communicate with China on such serious terms - need to be adept at the reading, writing, speaking, listening and overall decent using of the language, at a level higher than the so-called Higher Chinese standard in local Secondary schools.
If he is none of the above, and probably just wants to pass/ace Chinese to further his education, the leisure way mentioned above still helps to enhance his natural grasp of the language. And if nothing helps and he still needs to pass/ace his exams, then maybe a mentor/tutor who is qualified enough to help him improve might be needed.
Whichever purpose he needs Chinese for, however, there is no denying that the Chinese in school helps to give a decent grounding and foundation to his grasping of the language. After all, why waste such an affordable way to learn Chinese, especially when it is compulsory? Of course, what we are doing here - in consideration that not everyone excels equally in the Singapore school classroom - is to suggest ways to enhance his Chinese learning within and beyond that school classroom of his, so that he can also do better in that classroom itself!
The second question to ask: is he already at his desired level of proficiency?
He would probably be happy to note that while learning anything should always be an on-going process, he should pat himself on the back if he is already progressing well. The difficulty comes in assessing this proficiency of his – is he as good as he thinks he is?
To assess this, maybe he can try to listen to or read some Chinese material online to see if he can understand them well. His Chinese grades in school would definitely be another good indicator. A HSK exam (China-certified) could also help determine his standard in a professional way. If all else fails, he should consult a teacher or mentor to get the best personalised and accurate feedback and advice on his Chinese.
The third question to ask: how much is he willing to invest?
He should know that all learning takes motivation and patience. He cannot expect to have a one-month stint of tuition lessons or workshops, and be able to move from an F9 to an A1 in his Chinese subject.
As much as possible, he should start the learning process as young as possible. So it is good to identify very early on how much Chinese he needs, and how much assistance he needs – and to get the necessary guidance early and quickly.
The longer he prolongs or postpones the guidance, the more he feels he cannot make it anymore - and ironically at the same time - the more it requires greater time and effort on his part to learn what his peers probably already grasped. He would also need to work on his confidence and motivation all over again, in order to keep up his momentum.
It is therefore the ultimate aim of this article to remind one and all to not stinge on a heavier early investment in learning a child's mother tongue, so as to save on unnecessary time wastage later on. If he does it later, he would just need to expect to put in more effort to get the same results.
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