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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Reaching The Tipping Point For Chinese: Part II

In an earlier post, I wrote about working with Little Boy to memorize Chinese Compositions using (1) digital audio files made by Grandma, (2) glossary lists prepared by Grandma. Here are some encouraging interim results after having memorized 15 compositions. Meantime, I was also encouraged by learning that Chinese students in China also memorize important literary works, and Lee Wei Ling (Mr Lee Kuan Yew's daughter) who is effectively bilingual, also memorized important Chinese literary works. And she enjoyed it.
So, got hope. Heh!

15 very long Chinese Compositions is actually a lot to memorize given that when he started off, he knew only about half the words in one composition. He was so brave. It took him 7 hours to memorize the first composition but he stuck with it. It got easier and faster by the time the 5th composition came around. By the 15th composition, he could do it in 2 and a half hours.
I was so proud of him... for his determination and persistence.
We started this experiment in the last week of November, and proceeded at a rate of 3 compositions a week for 5 weeks. Then, Little Boy took 1 week off at X'mas and New Year to play, play and play.

Little Boy also wrote one Chinese Picture Essay a week over the 5 weeks. Grandma noted that the quality of his Chinese Picture Essays improved from week to week on 2 points
  • He was using very nice "cheng yu" (Chinese descriptive proverbs).
  • The structure of his Chinese Picture Essay became tighter and more coherent.
To get a sense of the amount of content he was learning, I asked Little Boy to rate upon 10 the amount he was learning (a day) by memorising high quality Chinese Compositions in contrast to the amount he had learnt on each day of last year's Chinese Composition Day Camp. He thought for a bit and said 2/10 for Day Camp and 8/10 for memorising.
That too was encouraging. It was important to keep evaluating this process because it takes so much effort. I was anxious to know if it had any chance of working.
School has started for Little Boy and he has been attending Higher Chinese classes regularly. He bounced into the car in Week 1 and reported that he found reading and understanding in Higher Chinese class much easier... and that this made Higher Chinese quite a bit less boring than it used to be.
That was good.
In Week 2, Little Boy climbed pensively into the car and explained that merely reciting was not pushing the learning far enough because he wouldn't be able to write the words he could recognise. This meant that he was slow at writing in Higher Chinese class. I was really pleased that he had had the sense to evaluate his own study process and suggest an improvement. I praised him for his wisdom at requesting to consolidate some of the more useful and evocative words... and learn to write them.
So, Little Boy set to work. He consolidated what I termed "yummy vocabulary", and gave himself "ting xie" (spelling) by using hanyu pinyin. It was a long effort. There were so many words in each composition to learn. And since Chinese words cannot be spelled using phonics, each word is a picture that must be committed to memory. I tried to make the task easier by limiting him to 5 phrases from each one of the 15 compositions he had memorized.
He still found it tough... because "Mommy, every word is useful" he said.
"I know, but you don't have to learn them all", I responded. "Learn some and others you will learn when you encounter them again later, in other compositions. It's only Chinese. I don't wish you to die learning it" I added.
"But... but... it's hard to choose" he said.
"No buts... You have to choose" I decided.
And so it was that Little Boy completed the consolidation of the lists. He felt very proud of himself. We still don't know if all this will translate into good grades at the next Chinese exam but we will continue to hope. Whatever it is, this whole process has shown me the temper of the steel in my son.


My SINFONIA said...

That was how I used to learn Higher Chinese too. This might be called rote learning but rote learning is aka immersion. One day, all the hard work will somehow be integrated and all will be worth it. A tradesperson must first learn all about his tools before he can create magic with them. Ah Boy, 加油!

petunialee said...

Sinfonia - I hadn't quite thought of it that way. Tradesperson and his tools. But I am really very warmed by your comment because both Little Boy and I are looking at each other and asking "Does this look like it'll work."

Your comment is very comforting.

My SINFONIA said...

You are welcome. My Chinese was not too good and I just had to do it this way to make some headway. But maybe Ah Boy can consider switching to reading some Chinese novels for relaxation? Enjoy your Chinese :)

petunialee said...

Sinfonia - Yup! I need to get him to tipping point first though. Right now, I 've started him on a popular children's series. Previously, he wasn't interested in reading because he could not understand every 3rd word. With the artificial immersion, this has improved and he is happier reading in Chinese for fun. It's hard to enjoy what you are reading if you dunno too many words. I hope that by mid- year, he can transit to more reading and less memory work.

Anonymous said...

Rote learning does work and is used in many cultures...that's how I learned the multiplication tables in grammar school. I'm so impressed by you and Little Boy and the accomplishments you achieve. My mother taught me to spell correctly...without her I would not have had the love of English words that I have today.

petunialee said...

Theanne - thanks for being so encouraging! This thing does look like it'll work!

Hearty Bakes said...

Hi Petunia, I chanced upon your blog and have been following your journey to tipping point in learning Chinese with your boy. Kudos to you! It takes lots planning, patience and handwork for both of you and I must say, well done! Your postings are very encouraging and it actually motivates me. If i may put ot, you made us see hope :)
Coming from a English speaking family, my boys did badly for their Chinese. I actually did almost similar by getting my boy to memorize comp before his PSLE years ago. You are so right about this is certainly not for the faint heart. The journey was a stressful one as I only took over coaching him beginning of P6, hence the short of time. He managed to pass & score an A. I certainly do not want to repeat the same for my P4 boy, thus I'm starting earlier this round. Your posts came handy and it really helps me to relook into the method and how I can fine tune to suit.
I'm getting my boy to concentrate on Chinese this holi as he has no problem with the rest of the subjects. It took him 1 whole week to memorize, recite and recall the whole compo to me. Looking at this speed, probably we will only completes a few by end of holi. I'm amazed by your boy's speed. How did he achieved 15? Well done for both of u!
I thank you for your sharing. Let's 加油! All the best!

petunialee said...

Hearty Bakes - Thanks so very much for your warm comment. You mayn't wanna compare the timing at the start of this. The age of the child matters... his current level of vocabulary... his ability to focus. What I did was that I followed Little Boy's timing, with a natural reward at the end. Once he had completed one, he had the rest of the day to play. This motivated him to work fast so that he could maximise playtime.

Now that we are doing Write-Memorize, he couldn't complete in one day. It's been a week and we are still re-writing the same 2100 word compo. So, I structured the reward differently. I told him that he would get TWO WHOLE play days if he could Memorize-Write FIVE compos. This way, there is something to look forwards to at the end of the painful journey.

I am heartened by your reflex to use my sharing to finetune your process. I'm always a bit worried that people follow the steps too closely without adapting to the child's age and the specific likes/dislikes and the specific characteristics of the family environment.

Thanks a lot for your note!! Let's all Potatoes work hard together and ensure that our kids EXCEL in Chinese. Not just an A... an A*.

petunialee said...

And a lifelong ease and confidence with the Chinese language.