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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reaching the Tipping Point for Chinese: Part 5

Petunia's Chinese Boot Camp has started again. Little Boy wakes up at 5.45am, jogs for 15 minutes, bathes, eats and starts work at 7am. This year, things are going MUCH faster. Last year in Nov 2010, Little Boy spent 7 hours a day to learn ONE Chinese model composition well enough to read it through fluently, without looking constipated.

This year... today... now... this week, guess what!! Little Boy can process FOUR Chinese model compositions by 11.30am every morning. He listens to it ONCE. He pops over to Grandma's side of the house and gets all the new Chinese characters explained ONCE THROUGH. He comes back home and can already read the whole FOUR compositions fluently to me AND explain all the words that I don't know.

Increasingly, I am beginning to feel very stupid. We both started out very incompetent in the language and even more incompetent at learning a language written in pictograms, and tonal in nature. There are homophones aplenty in Chinese. The same word, with the same tone can mean vastly different things depending on how it is written and the context (i.e., the other words around it). When he reads to me, I often confuse one word with another that sounds similar but is written differently. You see, I can't write Chinese. Next, I also confuse one word with another that sounds similar because my spoken Chinese is so rudimentary that I simply cannot decipher meaning from the context of all the other spoken Chinese words.

Little Boy, however, has accumulated a large store of Chinese characters. He can recognise them quickly. He is more sensitive to the small differences in shape and design of the characters he sees for the first time. He has also accumulated enough contextual knowledge to guess the meanings of some words. Things are going so MUCH faster for him that I feel quite inadequate. He often has to slow down and explain words twice or thrice before I fully understand. And being a child, he is impatient, and so he rolls his eyes at me and says "Mom, I JUST read it to you."

But Mom, like the slow child that Little Boy WAS needs a few repetitions to get it. I might have to butt out altogether of Little Boy's Chinese because I might start to slow him down. When a kite properly takes flight, you can't follow it into the air.

It amuses me to see that even in learning Chinese, the rich get richer. The more he knows, the faster he learns. The faster he learns, the more he knows. And the gap between Little Boy (rich in Chinese) and I (the pauper) gets wider and wider. This is no different than the more money you have, the more you can invest. The more you can invest, the more money you have working for you. Thus, the more money you make.

Parents who want to see a picture of the 1000 China Compositions Compendium can click here.


Anonymous said...

Is it alright to say I'm proud of Little Boy and his Teacher (you)? That Little Boy has gone beyond your teaching and has now become the teacher is a credit to you. You made the investment, his ability to learn is your reward. I say 'well done' Petunia!

Blur Ting said...

It's their capcacity to learn at this age. The brain absorbs much faster while our cells are dying. I used to remember everyone's phone numbers, now I can't even remember SK's no matter how hard I try to memorise.

petunialee said...

Theanne - Thank you so much for the warm praise. I am really pleased at his progress. When we started last year, all had seemed so hopeless and I wasn't sure that it would work at all. Many many many people told me that this was the WRONG thing to do but I was so desperate to help Little Boy that I just went ahead and clutched at my straw. It turned out to be a thick rope leading somewhere nice.

petunialee said...

Ting - Yup... I think their capacity to absorb makes a bid difference to how they learn.