Family Language Alive - Children Learning Chinese

Situation #4.8: I wish my child had more time learning Chinese. It takes a lot of time away from her regular studies…

October 2, 2010

4.8 Main Article

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Situation #4.8: I wish my child had more time learning Chinese. It takes a lot of time away from her regular studies.Reality: It is true that learning another language can pose more time on the regular studies. There is a solution to this: bilingual (or dual language) classes. When a child learns content while learning the language, the knowledge stays. It will be ideal if she can attend a school where the main curriculum is woven with both languages, but these are a rarity. Also, this method is much slower in achieving literacy if used as a standalone mechanism because of the high demand of character recognition as an essential prerequisite to beginning reading in Chinese. But these two strategies, purposeful content acquisition through reading, writing, speaking and listening, coupled with effective character recognition, formulate an ideal method in learning Chinese. The very last ingredient that completes the picture, and that will help one truly acquire the essence of the language, would be its artistic part—the way Chinese characters can be composed poetically, rhythmically, and meaningfully (see Situation #4.3).

Since the ancient canonical classic texts are rhythmically arranged sections of verses with embedded topical meanings composed by a high percentage of non-repeating characters (70% versus 10% in modern textbooks), they (or any similar curriculum of this kind) are truly an ideal combination of valuable content learning, efficient character recognition, and artistic essence.

Family support is of utmost importance in supporting this model. In a way, you should also maintain your language competence, especially if that is your child’s sole source of Chinese input. All that is discussed in this booklet is also applicable to you as well in view of language acquisition. Learning Chinese can become an essential, enjoyable and natural part of living for you and your child.

Considerations:

  • Where can I find a bilingual (or dual language) program that would help my child learn content in both Chinese and English? What would that look like?
  • How can I make effort to plan and weave Chinese into my child’s current academic content that is taught in English if I cannot find such a program?
  • What about the other two ingredients of the ideal teaching method: character recognition and artistic essence? What would that look like if those are also weaved into the dual-language content-based curriculum?
  • How can I expose my child to the ancient canonical classic texts? Are there versions that exist today that are more updated with current usages of words and context?
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4.7 Main Article

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Situation #4.7: Pinyin and flashcards are easy tools to use, but I am not sure whether they are effective.Reality: Pinyin (a romanization system that helps instruct Chinese characters by representing the sounds in alphabetic terms) can be easier to grasp, making a child more inclined to start learning and less likely to shun away from the first sight of characters. One thing you need to take notice, however, is whether there is confusion if your child is simultaneously learning the English phonetic alphabet at the same time. Pinyin may also help the child to read sooner since he can then put together the sounds and figure out the unrecognized Chinese characters during reading. With that said, pinyin can only help a child if he is orally proficient in the Mandarin dialect. The main disadvantage of pinyin, or any phonetic assistance, is that it takes away the urgency to recognize characters. Hence, a child may eventually lag far behind in character recognition and rely too heavily on pinyin alone. He may thus become less competent in reading text that consists solely of characters. Therefore, it is important to take notice and evaluate periodically that pinyin is used only as a guide to pronunciation and perhaps a stepping stone toward reading in characters, but never an end to itself. On another note, however, pinyin can be used in character typing on a computer, but it is not the only method.

Flashcards, as we refer to them, are a set of cards to teach Chinese characters. It usually includes a clear, large print of a Chinese character written on each card along with a picture that shows what it means. There is sometimes an English translation on the back or the front as well. These can easily be found in educational stores, especially in Asia. A Chinese character, however, is already a pictorial representation, often of its own meaning. Having a picture associated with the character may create unnecessary distractions and may, as a result, hinder the progress of character recognition. Showing only the Chinese characters is the most effective method. Actually, it can be quite enjoyable for the child because the composition of the characters is interesting and meaningful in itself.

Considerations:

  • How does my child’s curriculum utilize pinyin in the scaffolding of the Chinese characters?
  • Is a strategy evident where more and more characters are introduced and recognized, especially in reading?
  • What do I decide about the use of pinyin in light of my mission?
  • How do I make use of flashcards that have only the Chinese character(s) on the front (optionally some explanation, pictures or hints on the back)? How can I make simple games out of these cards (e.g. Memory, Go Fish)?
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June 18, 2017

Are You a Banana or an Egg? Language Shapes Our Cultural Identity

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Being overseas, we inevitably belong to multiple cultures simultaneously. It would be deceiving to think we actually can opt out from being Chinese and be completely American or British, as many native-born Chinese may at times want. Inarguably, language largely defines our identity. As the main article states, “one’s soul, mind, spirit and kinship to one another reside in the language.” Resistance to acknowledge one’s own identity can be counterproductive. Rather, embracing our various degrees of belonging in multiple cultures can be a blessing and open up opportunities otherwise not available. When a child actually becomes natural in switching languages when the situation calls, he has succeeded in serving the needs of others, accepting others as they are. Being truly bilingual is not solely academic. It is merely what life calls us to be. Language and culture go hand in hand. The talk of one without the other is as absurd as the use of one chopstick.

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January 26, 2017

Writing Chinese New Year Banners: Does Stroke Order Matter?

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Writing calligraphy banners in Chinese New Year has always been a popular tradition, even for young children. The mistakes of any stroke order and the strength (how hard the press and the release) of each stroke can, however, become more apparent when writing through this medium. How important is it to pressure this “order” into the teaching?

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As a child learns to tackle each Chinese character, there seems to be more than enough elements to remember. One needs to balance the time invested across the actual learning of the character versus this specific skill. And writing from the heart is always more important and meaningful than any skills acquired, because this part is what stays from a childhood into adulthood.

 

Chinese characters are not just a medium for communication. It is a pictorial art, a storytelling, and a way to express innerness. The way of holding the brush, the flow of how a character is written, the way a stroke starts and ends, the balance of sizes for each component against the available space, the control of pressure of each touch – ALL completes the character.

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A child is most certain to complain if you tell them all the necessary elements at once. You can start small. Modeling for him (or showing a video) on how it is done can be helpful. Write simple strokes first (i.e. vertical, horizontal, dot, hook, slants). Build from there. Then work on balancing sizes. Lots of practice is key. Do not forget this is more art than the actual learning of a character, but a picture is worth a thousand words, and so the imprint of the form of the character will stay.

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Golden rooster brings joyful news of early spring. The duo of rooster and horse shall never part. (My children are of the year of rooster and horse. The left verse is taken from online. They made up the second part to go with it.)

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