Known for her bilingual hosting abilities and having reaped the benefits of being fluent in both English and Mandarin, Diana Ser hopes that her children will follow in her footsteps and embrace both languages. To that end, she has started Crazy About Chinese, a platform that introduces fun ways to immerse children in a Mandarin environment. Here, she shares with Mummyfique how she came up with this idea.
Melissa Lwee-Ramsay: Please tell us more about Crazy About Chinese? What inspired you to set it up?
Diana Ser: I thought I did a lot for my two older kids when they were younger, such as sending them to Chinese playgroups, reading to them in Chinese, playing Chinese songs at home and in the car and even spoke to them in Mandarin (I try to, at least!)… but that was still not enough! They still don’t like Chinese now. But Jaymee, my third, gave me one more chance to try and do things differently.
‘Crazy About Chinese’ is a platform where I share articles and videos on my website at www.dianaser.com. Through this platform, I introduce different ways to immerse your child in a Mandarin environment, and of course, make it fun!
How do the articles and videos on Crazy About Chinese encourage and in turn help parents to teach their children about Chinese through daily activities?
Each video is only two to three minutes long. The short duration makes it bite-sized so that parents can easily ‘digest’ the content. For parents who are not that proficient in Chinese, I’ve also included learning aids, such as key words and hanyu pinyin with voice overs, to make it easier for them to copy. Some parents have also shared with me that their kids enjoy watching the videos too. I think it is wonderful that children see other children speaking Mandarin, so the language does not seem so alien to them.
Through this program, I hope to demonstrate that encouraging your child to learn Chinese is not that hard. I also share tips on my articles such as learning how to respect your child’s attention span and apps you can use to help translate words that you may not be familiar with.
You’re effectively bilingual. How has being fluent in both English and Mandarin benefited you in life and why do you think it’s important your children follow in your footsteps?
Being effectively bilingual has presented me with many opportunities in my career, having hosted both English and Chinese programmes on TV and radio, as well as at events. Currently I am also working on a Chinese series on child labour around the region with Channel U.
I think it’s important for my kids to connect with their Chinese roots — it’s part of their identity. But of course, we are Singaporeans first, and Chinese second. Moreover, it’s always good to know more than one language in such a globalised world. China’s economic and cultural prowess will only continue to grow.
You film a lot of the videos on Crazy About Chinese with your daughter Jaymee, how has that helped in terms of her Mandarin abilities?
Filming gives me even more opportunities to practise with her! Because we film mainly games and excursions, she gets to try different things and have fun. Also, as a result of what I do, I find myself making even more of an effort with her. For example, just before we leave the house for school in the morning, I can often squeeze in one Chinese book before we dart out the door.
How do you balance motherhood with a successful career?
To be fair, I had worked for some 13 years before motherhood so I don’t think I tried to balance both roles equally at the same time. As much as I loved my hosting and news reporting career, being there for my kids were (and are) my utmost priority. I continued taking up hosting assignments for corporate and government organisations’ events, so I would say I spend about half of my time as a stay home mom.
Motherhood is actually the biggest driving force behind my recent assignments. Last year, I hosted the evening drive time programme at Capital 95.8FM for three waves, and started ‘Crazy About Chinese’ in July – both initiatives are related to encouraging my kids to speak Mandarin!
Can you share some simple ways or activities parents can incorporate Chinese and the teaching of the language into their children’s daily lives?
Every single thing around you is a learning opportunity! Once I saw Jaymee fiddling around with a coaster, and I thought of having a “coaster race”. We spun coasters and competed to see who would reach the “finishing line” first. During this game, I taught her some different terms in Chinese – coaster (杯垫), spin (转动), starting line (起点) and finishing line (终点). It could even be as simple as that!
You can also play on your child’s likes and interests. For example, Jaymee really loves to eat watermelons. So I gave her a plastic knife and helped her cut the watermelon into different shapes. While doing that, we talked about shapes, colors, taste, even textures!
In five years, what do you hope Crazy About Chinese would have achieved?
This year, I will continue to grow the community online. I will also organise face to face events where our parents can come together to exchange ideas. For this, I’m working together with Times Bookstores. This is a rather exciting collaboration, and I’m really looking forward to meeting other daddies and mummies!
The opportunities are endless, so what I need to do is stay focused on my goal — and that is to journey with parents on nurturing more bilingual kids.