Family Language Alive - Children Learning Chinese

Situation #3.1: We are already doing a great thing by sending our child to Chinese language school. I just don’t understand why he is so unhappy going there…

October 2, 2010

3.1 Main Article

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Situation #3.1: We are already doing a great thing by sending our child to Chinese language school. I just don’t understand why he is so unhappy going there.Reality: Chinese schools do provide an environment for families with similar backgrounds to come together to share the burden and beliefs of their children learning the home language. And these schools do help the children become somewhat literate in the language. However, they do impose certain restrictions that are not favorable toward language learning.First, the schools are usually held in addition to children’s normal school hours, some in the afternoons and others on the weekends. The children are not only already tired from the school days in the week, but also may regard Chinese school as an extra nuisance to have to go to that their other friends do not need to take part in, no matter how noble the reasons are on why they should learn the language.Second, once the children start going to Chinese schools, many parents start to shift the sole responsibility of teaching Chinese over to the staff. They sometimes forget to continue to speak to their children in Chinese at home, or to encourage them enough by offering them opportunities to speak at different real-life settings. Expecting their children to learn a language in school for only a few hours a week with little practice outside of class will not yield wholesome results. What is even more disturbing to find is that most schools hold the same view. Even knowing that their students do not use Chinese outside of class, they do not offer any plans to assist the parents in understanding the importance of this part of language acquisition.Bilingual schools can help in some way if Chinese is incorporated smoothly into the main school curriculum, allowing it to earn the same status as English. In this case, children would not view Chinese learning as much of a foreign and extra burden, but as part of their everyday learning. However, even bilingual schools may have the same situation where students often do not speak Chinese outside of school. Parents feel unaware of or helpless when their children refuse to use Chinese with them, or may have thought that this is the norm.
Therefore, attendance at Chinese school can only be an aid to help your child acquire the home language. It cannot substitute a regular home exposure of the language. Without family support, in the end, your child would get at most a slight knowledge of language, though hopefully not having been instilled with a negative attitude along with it. This is especially true when the Chinese curriculum does not go beyond an elementary level.

Considerations:

  • What is the attitude and understanding of my Chinese school toward language maintenance and acquisition?
  • Has the school offered training for my family to maintain Chinese in the home environment?
  • What action does the school take in regard to teaching students with very different levels of Chinese competence in the same classroom? How does that influence my child’s learning?
  • How similar or different is my mission for my child learning Chinese compared to those of the other families at the school?
  • In regard to my goal for my child in acquiring Chinese, is the program competent? What makes it more or less than what I have expected?
  • What is my child’s attitude toward going to Chinese school? Have I talked with him extensively about this subject? Was the comment merely indifference (“I don’t know…” and shrugging his shoulder may indicate a lack of interest, which may not be as positive)?
  • Have I noticed how my child learns in other areas? Is it through visual cues, music, games and activities, or others? Is the Chinese school curriculum tailored to how my child learns? Did I ever ask my child how he might like to learn Chinese?
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January 30, 2015

Learning Chinese the Child’s Way

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Every child is different! Each remembers things via different cues. Some are kinesthetic and some are visual. There was once a character presented raw many a time to a child, but she never memorized it. The character was 實. Even when we pointed out that the middle was like a fruit (e.g. an acorn, as in 果實); but because we were not using this vocabulary as much in casual Cantonese conversation, that was not particularly helpful.

It frustrated the teacher as much as the child. Finally, a light bulb came up. Using what was available at hand, the teacher tied a used sock with two metallic twist ties that came with those clear plastic bags, and made the sock very tight. In conversational Cantonese, the word 實 also means solid and pulling tight. Ever since then, the child has never forgotten what the character is, just because she sees that sock in the middle of the character!

The principles learned:

  • Know how the child learns (e.g. kinesthetic, visual, audio). Even if you know it is visual, is it pictures, patterns, or colors that click with the child?
  • Make use of what the child already knows in his own daily conversational Chinese and objects he is familiar with. Draw from existing and prior knowledge.
  • Make it fun and memorable. Who would forget the look and smell of your papa’s old sock! Have fun touching it (visual and kinesthetic) and making it “tight”!
  • That is why you who know your child can best supplement what he is learning from others. Because your lesson can tailor to his individual needs.

*Notice that at times, the simplified version of a character (e.g. 实 for 實) may miss the visual cues that can be useful in drawing literal meanings. Hence, it is a decision you should make when you are deciding which version to teach. Please refer to Situation #4.4: I am not sure whether my child should study simplified characters or traditional characters.

 

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