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Monday, May 17, 2010

Chinese is a Pain

Little Boy's experience with Chinese has been a painful one. The only person in the family who can help him with Chinese is Grandma. One would think that this would make the journey easier since Grandma has been tutoring Chinese for a living for at least 2 decades. Amongst the children she tutored were kids of various dignitaries and even big shots from the Ministry of Education at that time ... so very very reputable she was.

Was it a blessing? No.

Because she approached the tutoring of my children with an arrogance born of a proven track record. And when my children did poorly, it was because (1) they were lazy and (2) they were stupid and (3) their mother (i.e., that's me!) had a bad attitude that prejudiced them towards Chinese.

My children's days were filled with "ting xie" (Chinese spelling) and she gave them stacks and stacks of cards that she had painstakingly manufactured. They were asked to memorise those cards. Like many Chinese teachers steeped in Chinese values and morals, Grandma worked very hard... very very hard. And she made sure I saw her work hard too.

When the children's results were poor, she could look me in the eye and say that she had tried her best, and that such middling results were not her fault. And since it was not her fault, it was the children's fault. My heart bled as I watched my children's confidence shaken and their self-esteem battered by her subtle innuendos... a look there... a word here... a roll of the eyes... every lesson (that meant everyday).

The Daughter did rather well in primary school under this regime. Once she reached secondary she had developed such a phobia of the language that she stayed away from it as much as she could (and teenagers tend to do what they want... not what Grandma wants). The Daughter was a straight A student in a top class in a famous school, who failed Chinese every year. As for Little Boy, I had retire to my room on occasions when she reduced him to tears with her accusations (lazy and slow) couched in a variety of different terms and phrases.

Every time I gently raised the topic with her, I was told that I knew nothing of how to teach Chinese. I bore with this for 15 years. I witnessed the damage of such teaching strategies to The Daughter, but when I saw history repeat itself with Little Boy, I went to war.

I fairly yelled at her saying that she had already damaged one child, and that I would not let her damage another. I stated that if the methods worked and she was such a great teacher, why was The Daughter failing? A part of me grieved at the pain I was inflicting on Grandma because I punched Grandma's self-esteem to smithereens that day by denigrating her sense of professional worth. I finally told Grandma that henceforth, she was NOT to help Little Boy with Chinese. I would do it myself.

I sacked Grandma. It was a terrible moment for our family. This bilingual policy tore our family apart.


Blur Ting said...

Gee. I can imagine the turmoil and awkwardness. But it's your children's future afterall and you have proven that her old method doesn't work anymore.

Maybe your daughter will find the joy again when she is older. At one time YK wsa quite crazy over Chinese songs and he could memories and write all the lyrics to his favourite songs. But like all things, it was just a phase. Now he only listens to Lady gaga.

petunialee said...

Yeah... it was very painful for all of us. The Husband was caught in the awkward-in-between, and I tore myself apart with guilt. And I felt so sad for Grandma. But Grandma is a tough old bird. She bounced back real fast, adapted quickly... acknowledged the points I made. Sometimes you really wonder at the mettle of these old folks like Grandma and your parents. They sure have a b***** lot more determination than you and I.

Grandma coaches Little Boy again. But MY WAY now.

I used to teach French using pop songs too. The kids fell over themselves to come to class.

I taught English to the Normal stream too... using foreign language methods. Again, the kids fell over themselves to come to class.

For someone of proven intelligence (like you and your kids) there is no reason to suppose he/she would suddenly turn stupid faced with Chinese.

A straight A student everywhere else, should not be failing Chinese if it were taught right.

edith said...

You are indeed very brave (against grandma) but a mom needs to do what she sees right.

The self esteem is what matters in learning. I found out that once the child is no longer lost, the self esteem somehow shines and that makes learning so much more fun.