Diana Ser: Mandarin helped me reel in my husband
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Former TV presenter and actress Diana Ser now has her own Mandarin edutainment series and she shares how she taught her daughter the language with it
Diana is best remembered as a broadcast journalist for Channel NewsAsia and as a TV host and actress for the Television Corporation of Singapore (TCS), now MediaCorp.
Teaching kids their Mother Tongue effectively is a common struggle for parents and they often turn to enrichment classes to fill the learning gaps. But ex-television presenter and actress Diana Ser had a different idea.
After more than 20 years in journalism and entertainment, the mother of three has launched an online edutainment series featuring her youngest child with former actor James Lye, four-year-old Jaymee Lye.
In the “Crazy About Chinese” webisodes — available for free on Diana’s website — Diana and Jaymee incorporate Mandarin-learning in real-life situations, from getting a haircut to playing with kittens.
Diana explains how she came up with “Crazy About Chinese”, and why learning Mandarin is important for Singaporeans.
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING RECENTLY?
Much of my time is dedicated to “Crazy About Chinese”. Other than getting a production crew and an editor on board, I handle everything else on my own including research, scripting, site recce and so forth — it’s pretty much a
I also publish articles related to learning, for young children.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START “CRAZY ABOUT CHINESE” WITH JAYMEE?
Mandarin was driving my kids and me nuts! I thought I did a lot for my two older kids to lay the foundation for learning Mandarin, such as sending them to playgroups and enrichment lessons.
But being Chinese is more than just a grade on a report card — it’s a culture and way of living. Jaymee gave me one more chance to try and do things differently.
HOW HAS IT HELPED JAYMEE?
Jaymee is more effectively bilingual and she feels more at home with Mandarin [now]. I believe that a child’s “golden period” for learning languages is from two to six years old.
At four years old, Jaymee falls within this spectrum and I’ve definitely seen an improvement over the past few months.
Diana’s new edutainment series sees her and her four-year-old daughter incorporating Mandarin-learning in daily life.
WERE THERE AMUSING INCIDENTS DURING FILMING?
During the Christmas episode where Jaymee decorated a Hansel and Gretel-themed tree, she refused to return the decorations because she loved them so much. I had a hard time prying the decorations away from her hands, and had to get the retail assistant to act as ‘security’ to get her to return the items.
Another time, she wanted to bring home a cat from the Cat Museum!
I was not ready to have a pet. She went all teary.
DID YOUR CHILDREN’S ATTITUDES TOWARDS LEARNING MANDARIN CHANGE?
Kids nowadays, including my own, do not feel that Mandarin is relevant and [are] reluctant to speak the language at home. But since I started filming, [my kids] expressed a little more interest.
My second child, Christy, had a guest appearance during the Christmas webisode and she was thrilled.
WHAT WAS YOUR OWN ATTITUDE TOWARDS LEARNING MANDARIN AS A CHILD?
I was quite a good student actually! If the teacher told us to memorise a certain number of idioms by that week, I would do it, no questions asked.
Memorising Chinese idioms was tough but interesting, as I also learned the stories behind them. My alma mater, St Nicholas Girls’, was originally a Chinese school, so Mandarin was a core part of my education.
HOW DID BEING BILINGUAL HELP YOU IN JOURNALISM?
Being [bilingual] helped me engage Mandarin-speaking newsmakers. I remember conducting an interview in Hokkien during my Channel NewsAsia days. My editor was very amused but I loved being able to get my story from a Hokkien-speaking old lady.
There was one [instance] that translated into something more. I was interviewing an acrobatic troupe from China and was switching between English and Mandarin. That got me the attention of one particular viewer — now my husband.
James was impressed! You could say Mandarin helped [me] to reel him in, haha.
After more than 20 years in journalism and entertainment, Diana Ser now runs online edutainment programme “Crazy About Chinese” with her four-year-old daughter with James Lye, Jaymee.
HOW DO YOU BALANCE TEACHING BOTH ENGLISH AND MANDARIN?
Gosh, it is hard! It takes so much discipline to remember to speak Mandarin to the kids. Of course, they do their best to hijack my mission by refusing to reply in Mandarin.
I hope that through “Crazy About Chinese”, I can be a buddy and cheerleader to other parents.
HOW DOES YOUR FAMILY SPEND TIME TOGETHER OVER THE WEEKEND?
Our weekends involve grandparent visits and church. During exam season, it’s revision! But all work and no play makes dull kids, so we try to give them as much outdoor time as possible at parks, pools and playgrounds.
We also watch a lot of movies… This is a great way to teach language as well.
WHAT OTHER PROJECTS CAN YOUR FANS SEE YOU IN?
Together with Times Bookstores, “Crazy About Chinese” will conduct workshops for parents and caregivers in 2016. More details will be coming up on our websites and social media sites.
By Pamela Chow
Catch “Crazy for Chinese” webisodes on www.dianaser.com.