The BBC is teaching toddlers how to speak Chinese in a new ‘flagship’ show on its toddler channel CBeebies.
The idea of introducing two-year-olds to languages other than English has drawn both applause and bemusement. The Lingo Show (‘lingo’ is British slang for language) says that it:
[o]ffers your child the opportunity to learn words in new languages – and practise saying them out loud – whilst joining in fun, interactive activities with Lingo and his bug friends. As well as exploring the different languages on offer, your child is also extending their cultural knowledge and understanding of the world around them.
The show’s website offers activities for parents to engage in with their kids.
The TV show has host bug Lingo send Mandarin bug Wei, Spanish bug Queso and French bug Jargonaise off into the real world to choose everyday objects and props to include in their grand finale, The Big Bug Show.
Each episode focuses on one language, introducing children to six key words, plus examples of everyday vocabulary like “hello. “thank you” and “well done.” There are opportunities for children to develop both speaking and listening skills as they are encouraged to repeat words with the bugs, voiced by native speakers of the target language.
Producers describe Mandarin as one of three “priority” languages, alongside French and Spanish.
Dr Frances Weightman, a senior lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Leeds, told the Daily Telegraph that pre-school children would not find Mandarin difficult to learn.
“There are certain qualities to Mandarin which make it a very good language to teach young children,” she said. “It’s tonal, so it lends itself very well to imitation and nursery rhymes, singing, that kind of thing.
“Also, Mandarin has short sounds — the numbers up to 10 have single syllables, for example — so the words are much shorter than French words.
“People talk a lot about the Chinese education system and rote memorisation, but for younger children repetition works quite well. And teaching it so young takes the exoticism out of a language that is so very different from English.”
Not everyone is happy, though. On parentdish, Heidi Scrimgeour writes:
To me, teaching four year olds to count in Mandarin smacks of Tiger Parenting, the phrase coined by Chinese mother and author Amy Chau whose book about the merits of strict Chinese parenting methods, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, caused a furore last year.
What’s more, we’re told that more and more children are starting primary school lacking basic life skills such as the ability to get dressed or use the toilet, and leave school unable to spell or perform simple maths without the aid of a calculator.
If that’s all true, shouldn’t we be investing time and money in educational programmes which address the more pressing matter of the very real gaps in children’s learning?
What do you think?
Photo credit: Website screengrab