Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Your Thoughts #5 - 华语,原来可以这样学!

I had a rocky start to introducing Dumpling to the Chinese language as she was about 15-16 odd months old. It was the first time I did a Chinese read-aloud for her. I still recall her look of shock as she mumbled to ask me what I was saying. It has never occurred to me that it would be hard introducing another language to Dumpling but at that moment,  I realised my folly. That also started my home support on Chinese learning.

Chinese, to me, is based on 听,说,认, 读, 写 。Before a child can speak it, the child needs to be able hear it constantly. Listening is fundamental as the child can then pick up vocabulary, pronunciation, etc.

Oracy is the next most important area as I believe that being proficient in Chinese is a life skill. To me, it is more than being able to read but to be able to have a language that is useful in our daily lives. The 'progress' for this, comes in various tiers; knowing what to say, how to say and having the confidence to use the language are 3 entirely different matters.

Dumpling has been attending Chinese Speech and Drama workshops during the holidays for the past 2 over years having done theatrical plays such as Alice in Variouslands, Little Red Riding Hood most recently, Hua Mu Lan.

I have the pleasure of knowing Daphne Low, founder of Apple Pie Language, from these workshops and I have learnt so much from her. Today, I am pleased to share a short chat that I had with Daphne on Apple Pie, her views on the language and tips to support this language at the homefront.

Me: I understand that Apple Pie started in 2003. Why made you decide to start a Chinese enrichment centre and naming it Apple Pie? Why is Chinese so close to your heart?
Daphne: Learning the Chinese language should be an enjoyable experience. I have the fondest memories of learning and communicating in this language from young with my family and friends and that's why Chinese is so close to my heart. Thinking of my early school years and personal experience reminds me of tucking and savouring one of my favorite desserts - Apple Pie. Sweet, warm and totally enjoyable. :)

With our students, I wish for them to have the same experience - where they will enjoy the learning process as much as we enjoy teaching them. And through the unique delivery of our programme, I would say that we’ve made a difference when we hear our students and their parents say ‘华语,原来可以这样学!’  Where there is a positive association with the language and that they see that Chinese can be learnt in a fun manner.

Me: It is very common these days to see young children reply and communicate mainly in English instead of Mandarin. What do you feel of such a phenomenon?
Daphne: Most Singaporeans are well educated and the common language used at home is English. Hence the first language that the child come into contact with will naturally be English and that will become his/her main language for communication. As there is a lack of providing a Mandarin speaking environment at home, the child does not have chance to practise the language hence, this becomes a vicious cycle as the child will not be able to pick up the language.

Me: Do you think Chinese is hard for children to acquire and why?
Daphne: Yes. As shared here, there are many factors that make Chinese very difficult to learn. For example the characters (Hanzi) used in the writing system seem to be archaic and obscure. Every word is a different symbol and it’s not phonetic so it gives you no clues as to how it is pronounced. The tone system also is a challenge because Mandarin has four tones. One other reason is, Mandarin has a large number of homophones. For example, the pronunciation “shì” is associated with over thirty distinct morphemes.

Me: What do you think is the biggest stumbling block for children to learn Chinese?
Daphne: A lack of fun and stress-free environment for children to practise the language.

Me: Do you have any tips to share for parents to support this development better?
Daphne: Here's are some recommendations:

1.       If you can, speak Mandarin to your child at home
This is important because learning and the usage of Mandarin should be beyond the classroom setting and where children are able to "see" it as a practical life skill. The more they use it, they better they become at it.
2.       Read Chinese story books to your child
Like the English language, reading is very important as it is through reading that children are exposed to vocabulary and good sentence structure. You can make it fun by reading with emotion and acting out various roles in the story.

3.       Enrol your child in a Speech and Drama class
Speech and Drama is one of the most fun experiences your children will ever have the pleasure of experiencing. Whether they are standing up on a stage, delivering a speech with quotes by Albert Einstein 100 years ago, or merely reading a passage from a book, they will begin to develop their language skills. Research has suggested that drama techniques provide an interesting way of motivating language learning in children.

These classes are fun and can assist in strengthening a child’s communication skills, to speak more persuasively, boost confidence in public speaking, build self esteem, learn leadership skills, increase ability to adapt and improvise, overcome shyness, become more assertive, build awareness of social skills, make friends and understand people. Adults are judged on how they express themselves and their style of speech every day. Drama classes are a perfect way for children to develop these skill

An extremely experienced teacher, Daphne Low has more than 10 years of Chinese Language teaching experience under her belt having taught pre-schoolers and primary school students.

Her forte lies in designing lively Chinese Speech and Drama lessons as well enrichment programs and she has conducted Chinese Enrichment Programmes at private schools such as Agape Student Care Centre and MOE schools such as Hwa Chong Institution and Rulang Primary School etc.

Presently as the founder of Apple Pie Language, she plays an instrumental role in the company as a Programme Designer, Teacher-trainer as well as the Marketing Director.

Daphne is passionate in achieving her greater vision of offering parents and children a nurturing and safe environment to bond, learn and develop through dramatic play.
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