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Friday, December 10, 2010

Reaching the Tipping Point for Chinese

In this round of end-of year exams, Little Boy scored 90 and above for every subject except Chinese, where he scored only 79. We are desperate. Little Boy went and asked the Girl Who Scored Full Marks for Chinese Compo her secret. She said, "I memorise tons of Chinese Compositions."

Okaaaaaaay! Whatever works eh? We're gonna lick this Chinese... and lick it good.

We went off to Beijing and brought home 4 compendiums of 1000 Chinese Compositions. There are the 2009 collections and the 2010 collections of China's best compositions from their PSLE-equivalent exams. At least, that is what I think they are. Whatever it is, the quality of writing is excellent and the compositions are a pleasure to read.

I can't read Chinese but I respond well to good quality language when it is read to me. These essays are beautiful. Full of music in the prose and so evocative in the images they conjure up. Grandma comes by every now and then, and reads the essays into a digital voice file on Little Boy's computer.

Armed with a glossary prepared by Grandma of all the difficult words in the composition (comprising both pronunciations and meanings), Little Boy memorises each essay in turn whilst listening to Grandma's recording. The aim is to expose Little Boy to a high volume of spoken and written Chinese prose. Each day, Little Boy encounters beautifully written Chinese words upon Chinese words... and once he has encountered enough of these words, we hope to reach a tipping point. The tipping point where he has enough vocabulary to pick up more vocabulary in the same way that a large snowball quickly picks up more snow as it rolls down the hill. We hope to reach a force of momentum. Once the tipping point is reached, we hope that Chinese will become as effortless as English has always been for Little Boy. Volume matters.

When he can recognise enough Chinese characters to read without hindrance, he will read more fluently... be able to guess meanings of expressions he does not know... and he will get greater enjoyment from the experience. I hope!!

I so hope!!

I cannot give Little Boy a Chinese speaking environment at home, but with modern technology, I can ensure he is immersed in high quality Chinese day in and day out. This is Chinese Boot Camp Petunia style.

Little Boy seems to enjoy the process. He feels good when he can manage to recite the text, and he feels superior to his Mom, when he can translate and help me understand the text that he has just recited. And since he has inherited my sensitivity to good language, he is also responding well to the high quality prose he is reciting.

When he began, he could only manage 3 sentences at a time. Now, he is faster. He can do 6 sentences at a time. We hope to stretch the envelope of possibilities. Maybe, the day will come when he can recite one whole essay at a time.

I hope this works. I do hope it works.

The psychological explanations for Potato Chinese™ works can be found here (build cognitive infrastructure) and here (transiting from reciting to writing). You can buy a set of Potato Chinese™ materials here.


lucy said...

hey, u shld market yr grandma's taped readings to help other putonhua wannabes on their way!

petunialee said...

Lucy - Thanks for the idea. I already have the recordings and the text. I can just pop a couple up here for parents of Primary 4 kids to mess around with.

My SINFONIA said...

I thought that might work with French too ... so I am going to get all the French movies and play it all day!

petunialee said...

Sinfonia - I pretty much learnt French that way too. Songs and TV.

pinkpeeps said...

Rather amazing work.. your son is indeed blessed to have such a mother. Do you mind sharing what's the title of those Beijing compo books? (you could scan the covers..?)

petunialee said...

pinkpeeps - Ya gotta wait a bit. Grandma has the books at the moment. She needs to prepare them for recording.