Hong Kong is a diverse society. According to the Census and Statistics Department (‘2016 Population By-census’, 2019), 584,000 ethnic minorities are living in Hong Kong, taking up 8% of the total Hong Kong population. Drawing from the Hong Kong Education Bureau cited in Wong et al. (2018), the number of non-native Chinese speaking students (NNCS) studying in kindergarten has increased around 25% in the past five years. The language barrier has long been an obstacle for non-native Chinese speaking children to integrate into Hong Kong society (Wong et al., 2014). Learning the Chinese language is essential to start from early years as referring to Betty & Pratt (2011), children from three to five years old are at the acquisition stage, the language environment provided will have a profound effect on children’s early literacy and language development. So, it is essential to establish a friendly environment for non-native Chinese speaking children to acquire Chinese language both in kindergarten and home.
In this new era of technology and internet advancement, drawing from Kong (2007), digital culture has increasingly become popular, to cope with everyday challenges in the future, learners in the twenty-first century should acquire information and communication technology skills. The advancement of technology has lead to the evolvement of e-learning (Kahiigi et al., 2008). As stated by Li, Lau & Dharmendran (2009), ‘E-learning is the delivery of a learning, training or education program by electronic means’. And referring to Haugland (2000), using computers in kindergarten can foster young children’s language, cognitive and social development. So, in the following essay, I will focus on discussing how e-Learning can foster non-native Chinese speaking young children to learn the Chinese language.
Foster non-native Chinese speaking young children in learning of Chinese language through e-Learning In the Hong Kong context, there are more obstacles encountered by non-native Chinese speaking children to learn Chinese than the native Chinese speaking children. As explained by Chung (2008), Chinese as a subject in Hong Kong include listening and speaking Cantonese; reading and writing Chinese written language. As Chinese is not their mother language, their family and community cannot provide Chinese language environment and so they lack acquisition chances before entering kindergarten in Hong Kong (Wong et al, 2014). As referring to the Census and Statistic Department (2016), ethnic minorities (non-native Chinese speaking) children poverty rate is 23.4%, which is almost two times higher than that of total Hong Kong children poverty rate (17.2%). The reason behind non-Chinese speaking children poverty problem is mainly due to their Chinese language proficiency. So, there is a need for us to improve their Chinese learning environment with technology in this twenty-first century.
Controversy on using electronic devices for teaching language in kindergarten has been fierce. Drawing from the research done by American Academy of Pediatrics (2011), watching television, using smartphones or tablets for children under two for more than two hours a day will hinder young children’s language development as they lack communication while using those devices. Moreover, merely reading electronic books every day will pose an adverse impact on children’s reading ability and interest (Rideout, Foehr & Roberts, 2005). Moreover, children will have difficulties in holding pens or pencil if there is excessive use of technology (Hill, 2018). However, with proper management and modification, it can be effective to enhance Chinese language proficiency among NNCS children. I will explain how technology can help non-native young children with arising interest in learning Chinese, building up listening and speaking skills, enriching vocabularies, help to recognize Chinese words and to prepare for writing.
Arising Non-Native Chinese Speaking Children’s Interest in Chinese
First of all, arising non-native Chinese speaking children’s interest in the Chinese language is crucial. According to Berry (2006), when facing cultural adjustment among immigrant families, some may adopt rejection, it means reject integrating host culture but stick to one’s home culture. In this case, families with non-native Chinese speaking children may stick to their own home culture, like Japan, Pakistan or Filipino culture, etc. Children speak and listen to their mother tongue language at home, they lack exposure to Cantonese. As stated by the Education Bureau (2015), non-native Chinese speaking children may not be able to adapt to the new environment in kindergarten due to the language barrier. They may become reluctant participants in kindergarten. With reference from Lawrence (1998), good illustration in books can help children to work out what is happening in the story. The importance of illustration is especially significant for younger children, to predict the story. Yet, we can add more than illustration to trigger non-native Chinese speaking children in Chinese! According to Pan & Zhang (2014), using electronic materials, like adding audio, animation, highlights of important messages, can highly enhance children’s interest in reading. Multimedia software’ light effect, sound and high level of interactions chances attract young children (Leung & Lam, 2009). So, with the advantage of multi-sensory stimulus, electronic books or materials can help to increase children’s interest in learning Chinese. Moreover, according to Zhou (2008), multimedia as one of the characteristics of technology, can attract young children and arise learning intention and interest. So, we may take advantage of technology, provide e-books with animations and soundtrack or cartoon teaching material for non-native Chinese speaking children to try with. With more than just Chinese wordings, messages can be more easily understood together with visual explaining and sound effects, lower down their resistance level towards this new language, Chinese.
After arousing children’s interest, drawing from the Supporting NCS students in Kindergartens to Learn Chinese Language Program by Oxfam (2015), it stated that the learning sequence of Chinese should begin with listening and speaking. And with reference to Wong et al (2014), non-native Chinese speaking children will be relative silence than the native Chinese speaking students. They tend to learn Cantonese through observing and listening (Wong et al., 2014). Kindergarten will play a vital role for students to speak and listen to Cantonese. The teacher may organize a computer corner and with reference to Henniger (2017), teachers should set up at least two chairs for each computer to let more than one child use the computer. Teachers can arrange local children with non-native Chinese speaking children to complete computer activities as pairs. From Bell, Urhahne, Schanze, & Ploetzner (2010), new and challenging digital learning culture with sharing and cooperation as the logic of practice, together with teacher support can enhance children’s self-determination and collaborative learning. According to Shifflet, Toledo & Mattoon (2012), the tendency of sharing opinions and communication increase when young children use tablets to construct learning activities. So, with exposure to real-life communication during the activities at the computer corner, non-native speaking children can have more chances to listen and respond with Cantonese in the classroom. Thereby preventing the problem of hindering language development due to no communication (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011). According to Haynes (2007), it is important for teachers to encourage children to express themselves, so as to step out the silent period of bilingual learning. Teacher’s role is vital when dealing with technology in early childhood. Besides choosing appropriate materials and proper guidance, teachers should encourage NNCS children to voice out, for instance asking them to describe his/her feelings or the content of the activities played. According to Clements & Sarama, (2003), the use of computers in the classroom can provide more social scenarios than other traditional activities for young children. Considering the unique characteristics of Cantonese, pitch, it is a difficult language characteristic for NCCS children to master (Wong et al., 2014). Teachers can use contrast to let children realize the critical features of the learning object. For instance, e-book or videos may be designed with sentences with the same pronunciation but with a different pitch that brings totally different meanings, for children to sense that changes in pitches have a different meaning in Cantonese.
The main benefit of starting off learning Chinese from learning and speaking for NNCS children is to facilitate them to construct mental lexicon (Tse, 2002). It refers to the vocabularies that children input to the brain through daily life experiences. So, after triggering their interest in learning Chinese and provided with more opportunities to listen and speak Cantonese, NCCS children already understand the pronunciation and meaning of those mental lexicons. Mental lexicons constructed from daily life, help children express themselves, facilitate communication and as a basis to recognize Chinese words and reading ability (Wong et al., 2014). To help NCCS children to enrich vocabularies, we can make use of mental lexicon characteristics. For instance, educational games on computers or tablets may include labeling objects with pronunciation given, generalizing things into a category and to provide a vocabulary web by grouping and linking different vocabularies with pronunciation and photographic explanation. With constructed vocabularies and corresponding grammatical features, the teacher can teach them the Chinese character as with reference to Leong as cited in Tse et al. (2000), recognizing words refers to the phonological process, orthographic process and semantic process. (Wong et al., 2014).2 For NNCS children, using a system efficient component literacy (高效部件識字）proposed by Tse (2002) will be effective for NNCS children to recognize Chinese letter the best (Cheung & Lam, 2015). The Chinese character is formed by limited component but according to Hsiao & Cottrell (2009), beginner tends to see Chinese character as a whole single symbol and meanwhile, people who speak Chinese as their mother tongue will split a Chinese character into a smaller component to recognize and comprehensive. So, for NNCS children, drawing from Aufshnaiter & Schwedes (1989), play-oriented instruction can make learners to have a deeper understanding and foster memorizing the teaching content. Hence, electronic games requesting young players, for instance, K.3 students to match and combine the components into a familiar Chinese character will help.
When young children had phonological orthographic and semantic processed in their mind, young children will enter the stage of literacy (Wong et al., 2014). According to Masataka (2014), children who use audiobook or animation reading materials every day can enhance their reading ability for a few months. As a result, E-books can also be used after arising children interest in learning Chinese. Rather than merely grabbing pencils and paper to copy the Chinese words, children can write on tablets with their fingers to learn proper stroke order of Chinese characteristics. According to Montessori’s theory as cited in Yim (2017), children aged 3.5 to 4.5 are at writing sensitive period. With writing applications or software, children may experience writing with new methods.
As Lawrence (1998) quoted Montessori theory that children learn best when they are participating in self-selected activities and with their own pace. Teachers can set up computer or tablets areas as a choice for children to pick and teachers can get instant feedback from the software, knowing children’s performance. Teachers can utilize the advantage of infinity trials available for children to complete the tasks once again, it can allow children to follow his/her own pattern, slow down or fasten up the speed (Lawrence, 1998). Moreover, to prevent addiction in electronic devices and preserve the natural activities in school, only limited time should be arranged for technology use in kindergarten.
In short, there are many advantages to integrating e-Learning in the early childhood sector. With reference to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (1996), computers should act as a supplement to assist learning. In other word, it is important for us to find a balance between using technology and real-life interactions and experiences to foster non-native Chinese speaking young children’s Chinese language proficiency. As stated in the”Guide to the Pre-primary Curriculum (2006), “Early childhood is the golden period for language learning.”, we should make good use of this period with the help of technology. Technology is not to replace high valued childhood activities like reading printed books, dramatic play, art, etc but to help non-native Chinese speaking children to equip themselves with better Chinese language proficiency to cope with their future learning in Hong Kong.
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