7-year-old girl gives Chinese tuition, includes playtime in her lessons
Three times a week, Tan Xi En is parked in a room of a Housing Board flat in Ang Mo Kio, where pupils who are around her age are taught Chinese lessons.
The twist? The seven-year-old is the teacher.
Xi En conducts three classes a week, each lasting an hour. For now, she has four pupils and most take one-on-one lessons. She also helps her mother, a home-based Chinese-language tutor, in her classes twice a week.
“Sometimes it feels easy, sometimes it does not,” said Xi En. “At times, I’ll feel tired, but I see it as one of my responsibilities and a mission I want to complete.”
“I like to teach… and I’m happy that more people get to learn Chinese.”
Xi En’s teaching journey began when she was just two, when she started helping her mother Avelyn Tan in the latter’s lessons for children at primary and pre-school levels.
Xi En would, for instance, read out aloud from storybooks and help collect assignments before she graduated to bigger tasks such as assessing the work done and preparing lesson materials.
She and her mother realised she enjoyed helping children learn Chinese, and they decided to let the child run her own class.
In January, Xi En started offering Chinese lessons while she herself is homeschooled by her parents, who are both educators and also have a 16-month-old son.
“When she was younger, she would totter over to try to mimic whatever I was doing when I was teaching,” said Ms Tan, 35.
“We decided to involve her. It seemed fun and meaningful, Xi En will get to learn new skills and I will get a new assistant too.”
Each class Xi En conducts is different, as it is often customised to suit the pupils’ interests. For instance, one of her pupils likes playing chess, so Xi En teaches him Chinese related to chess terms.
There are common features in each class too. Every class will involve reading aloud from storybooks, practising conversations and going through cartoon videos she has assigned to watch as homework during the previous class.
At first, Xi En wanted to teach only two pupils, but 20 people signed up for her class, said Ms Tan. Xi En increased her intake to four instead. They are charged up to $30 an hour each.
Her love for the language stems from Ms Tan, who started teaching Xi En Chinese when she was two years old. By the age of three, Xi En could understand the language up to the Primary 6 level, Ms Tan said.
Now, Xi En borrows about 60 books from the library every six weeks, and enjoys reading Chinese history books from the adult section. She recently finished a 400-page biography of Tang dynasty empress Wu Zetian, said Ms Tan.
In 2022, Xi En won an award at the National Primary School Chinese Storytelling Competition for finishing in the top 15 of the 70 participants. The contest allowed participants to hone their storytelling skills and cultivate their interest in the Chinese language.
Parents of Xi En’s pupils say they engaged her in the hope that she can be a role model for the children and ignite their passion for the language.
Ms Nancy Lim said she has always wanted to find someone who is more like a friend to her 10-year-old son and can converse with him in Mandarin.
“I hope this allows him to know that the language is beautiful and there are peers around him who speak this language well,” added the 46-year-old part-time music teacher, who also homeschools her son.
While Ms Lim also teaches her son Chinese at home in skills such as spelling and writing, she said: “It’s just rote learning, and there’s not much enjoyment and motivation to do it other than to pass his tests. That hardly helps a child to pick up the language.”
Some parents also find Xi En’s method of teaching effective, with the inclusion of playtime.
Ms Josephine Kwok, who is in her 40s, said that instead of using a conventional classroom setting, Xi En sometimes teaches her six-year-old daughter while playing with dolls.
At times, they will even go to the playground and learn the related vocabulary.
“Although it’s a one-hour journey to the class, my daughter does not dread going for it,” noted Ms Kwok, a housewife.
“Maybe, to her, she does not see it as tuition but more like a play date, except that she is actually learning.”
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