Giving kids a head start

Star Chen (far left) has been attending English cram school since she was three. Now, she goes for classes four times a week after school, spending up to 12 hours a week learning English.
Star Chen (eft) has been attending English cram school since she was three. Now, she goes for classes four times a week after school, spending up to 12 hours a week learning English.PHOTO: COURTESY OF SHARON PENG

They started learning English at a late age and find it hard even now to hold a conversation in the language for more than 15 minutes.

Entrepreneur Sharon Peng and her husband were thus determined to start their two children young when it comes to learning English.

The couple enrolled them in the Happy Marian chain of English cram schools when they were three, giving them a head start over their peers, most of whom start learning English only at age nine in school.

Today, Ian, 11, and Star, nine, are not only acing their English tests in school but also giving their classmates a helping hand.

"They have become like default junior teaching assistants, helping their classmates with schoolwork and research. They also lead the class in discussions because they can speak eloquently," said Ms Peng, 41.

Both still go for classes four times a week after school, spending up to 12 hours a week learning English. They learn not only grammar and sentence structure, but also to express themselves confidently in group activities and excursions.

Ms Peng is one of many parents here who spend as much as NT$400,000 (S$18,400) a year to send their children to some 4,100 private cram schools in Taiwan, or hire tutors to ensure their command of English is up to scratch.

"Whether it's books, magazines or the Internet, everything is in English. Exposing the children to the English language when they are young allows them to access more sources of information to build their knowledge and communication skills," said Ms Peng.

Her two children wrote in English for a recent project, to raise money for needy children in Africa through an appeal on Facebook. They canvassed for donations from all around the world by selling homemade cookies and pizzas, raising NT$50,000 within a month.

Ian, whose favourite movie is Big Hero 6, said of English: "It allows us to do a lot more and read more books, and I don't have to rely on subtitles when I watch English-language movies or TV shows."

Their command of English also comes in handy when the Pengs go on holiday to countries where Mandarin is not the lingua franca.

"I just leave it to my son and daughter to chat up the locals or the tour guides, who will give us a better deal or tell us the better restaurants and interesting places that tourists don't usually go to," said Ms Peng.

Jermyn Chow

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2017, with the headline 'Giving kids a head start'. Print Edition | Subscribe