FIONA GOODALL/East and Bays Courier
LESSON TIME: Teacher Lomi Lou explains the different animals to the children.
Learning your ABCs is a thing of the past for a group of Chinese preschoolers.
Ditching conventional educational methods, toddlers at the Shuang Xing playgroup in Mission Bay learn how to play, dance and speak, all in Mandarin.
The aim is to have full immersion by the time children reach primary school.
Founder Raewyn Ho says many children lose their language when living as a minority culture.
"It's difficult to get recent immigrants to come because they think their language is strong, so they put their children in primary school because they want them to speak English.
"But this is how they lose it," she says.
"When they get to my generation, they would be totally Kiwi. It's hard to retain it because the parents are Kiwi so it?s like a lost language and lost culture."
She says the group is a first for New Zealand and is an important way for immigrant and New Zealand Chinese children to reconnect and maintain links to their culture, strengthening their Chinese identity.
As a third generation Chinese New Zealander, Ms Ho was 21 before she learned to speak Mandarin after realising how pivotal language is to culture.
She is now a Mandarin specialist who trains teachers to teach Chinese.
Although the playgroup has only been running for a month, there are Taiwanese, Chinese and Malay teachers, and Ms Ho says they are trying to set it up as a kindergarten.
She sees the bilingual playgroup as a stepping stone to a full bilingual early childhood centre, which will merge both New Zealand Chinese and immigrant communities together.
From there, she hopes to establish an immersion primary school.
"We want to approach a primary school and see if they can introduce a bilingual class where everything is taught in Chinese.
"After a year, 20 percent would be taught in English and 80 percent in Chinese, then the next year it might be 30-70 percent, or they might speak Chinese on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and English on Tuesday and Thursday.
"That's how they get to speak both languages and become bilingual," she says.
She says it takes five to seven years of formal language to become fluent.
Jianlian Liang, an Auckland University language teacher, says children aged two to five years can accept two to five languages at a time and learn them well.
Children who are bilingual have better cognitive and intellectual ability, and have communication advantages.
The New Zealand government's draft curriculum has identified learning languages as a priority for promoting cross-cultural schools.
The playgroups, for children aged two and a half to five years, are at the Girl Guide Hall, Patteson Ave, on Mondays and Saturdays from 9am to 11.30am.
By JUSTINE GLUCINA - East And Bays Courier Friday, 29 June 2007