Related Posts with Thumbnails

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Reaching the Tipping Point in Chinese: Part III

You can access Reaching the Tipping Point in Chinese Parts 1&2 here and here. We've reached the tipping point I think.

I consider Tipping Point reached when Little Boy recognizes enough Chinese words to enable him to read books he enjoys at his age. Previously, he possessed so little vocabulary that he was constrained to reading books for toddlers. He hated to read in Chinese because the content of what he read was either too childish (since all he could understand were baby books)... or the language was so difficult that he couldn't get at the content. He would look pained every time I proposed a Chinese storybook. And I could not help him by reading to him because I dunno the language. Now, he reads competently.

So, I've decided to stop getting Little Boy to memorize Chinese model compositions. It is time to move on to reading for pleasure, and through that, learning without seeming to. Oddly, it is Little Boy who is not coping well with this transition. Memorizing chunks of text from a model composition gave him a feeling of progressing. When he recited each chunk to me, he felt that he had learnt something. The activity has a clear beginning and an end. "Mom, just reading has no structure. I don't get a sense of having achieved anything or going anywhere," he complained. Also, he liked the improvements that he had experienced and saw no reason to stop.

I saw many reasons to stop. Firstly, it is inordinately time consuming. Secondly, it looks so painful. Thirdly, Little Boy knew many phrases and words that he could say but could not write. He had lots to say but was verbally constipated.

We needed time to stop absorbing language and begin producing it. So, we've moved on from memorizing regularly to reading and writing regularly. Until I proposed writing regularly, Little Boy was still unhappy about not memorizing. Now he is happy because he again has an activity that has a clear start and an end. Having completed half a page of story writing, he can look at his work and feel a sense of achievement.

This is not surprising. Designing short activities with clear start and end is one of a basket of motivation strategies that build self-motivation for activities that aren't inherently enjoyable. This can be an especially effective strategy if people around make it a point to celebrate the end of each short burst of activity. Pleasure may be had by counting off each chunk like some people count the number of sheep they sheared even if sheep shearing is tedious. Even more pleasure can be had in counting the number of sheep sheared in record time, especially when sheep shearing is tedious.

Truly, Little Boy accomplished a feat in record time. In 5 months, he has memorized more than 24,000 words. In a way, this works like a sweetener for bitter coffee. Some activities are inherently sweet and enjoyable. Others are not. Activities that are naturally bitter can be sweetened by simply designing them to be short, with a clear start and end, so that they can be counted like trophies on a stick... or like shrunken enemies' heads strung along a Dayak Chieftain's belt.

No comments: