Cartoons to help master mother tongue

Fictional characters to feature in primary school textbooks from next year

Fourteen cartoon characters will debut in a new set of textbooks next year to help primary school children pick up their mother tongue language (MTL).

The new textbooks will feature fictional student characters like Adi (Malay), Kathir (Tamil) and Xiaole (Chinese), who are depicted as being the same age as the pupils - between the ages of seven and 12.

Each language text will have a main cast of characters from the related ethnic group but cartoon characters from the other races will make appearances in the different language textbooks.

Minister of State for Education Sim Ann, who announced the launch of the books, said they will be set in realistic contexts to encourage students to communicate confidently and effectively in real-life situations. "These characters will also help to highlight the learning objectives for each lesson and be role models in the use of the language."

Ms Sim Ann was speaking at the annual MTL Symposium at Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre yesterday. This is the third year the event is being held.

The new textbooks for Chinese, Malay and Tamil were put together based on the recommendations of the 2010 MTL Review Committee.

They have a greater focus on spoken and written interaction skills, and incorporate activity-based lessons to strengthen pupils' communication skills. They also include more digital resources such as games and animated videos.

The new curriculum will be introduced to Primary 1 pupils next year and rolled out progressively to the other primary school levels by 2020.

Teachers, parents and pupils who tested out the pilot materials said they are a step in the right direction.

Management support officer Ivy Tang, 38, whose seven-year-old son studies at Jing Shan Primary School, said: "My son came home singing a new Chinese song, which surprised me.

"Usually there's an emphasis on reading and writing. Now with the new curriculum, he seems to have developed a greater interest in learning the language."

Housewife Arulanandam Sangeetha, 30, said she noticed that her six-year-old daughter - who is in Punggol Primary - is expanding her vocabulary and using new words appropriately in conversations.

Jing Shan Primary's senior Chinese teacher Tan Chor Hoon, 55, said she welcomes the move to teach hanyu pinyin and Chinese characters from the beginning of the year.

Previously, teachers would teach hanyu pinyin in the first term before teaching pupils how to write Chinese words in the second term. This resulted in a "disjointed" understanding of the two aspects of the language, she said.

Ahmad Ibrahim Primary's Chinese teacher Jasmine Ooi, 31, said the new syllabus uses real-life examples that pupils can easily relate to.

"Primary 1 pupils often lose their things in school," she said. "This scenario is used in the texts to help pupils learn new vocabulary such as what the different stationery items are called and to string together sentences they can use during their everyday interactions."

Ms Sim Ann said parents play a vital role in helping children develop a positive attitude towards learning languages. To applause, she recited a Tamil saying, "Oor koodi theer elukka vaendum", which means, it takes many people to pull a chariot.

"Each and every one of us has a role to play in transmitting the love for our mother tongue languages to the next generation," she said.

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