Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Learning Chinese

With so much talk going on about learning Chinese, I feel compelled to put in my two cents worth.

Even though I learned it as a second language for 14 years in school, I still suck at it today. I can hold a decent conversation in Mandarin but when it comes to reading, it takes me forever to read a small passage. I usually give up after the first line.

Mind you, I don't even dislike the language. I scored a B in Chinese for both my GCE O and A levels. I tune in to the Chinese radio stations while driving because I love listening to Chinese songs. I watch Chinese movies and understand the entire plot, just don't ask me to read the Chinese subtitles.

Everyone knows how much I love reading but when I'm faced with a page of Chinese words, my brain goes into auto-shutdown. It's not that I don't recognise the characters but it's just too tedious and time consuming to process the information.

I grew up in an English speaking household. My parents are quite admirable. They started learning Chinese language in their old age and are now more proficient than me. These days, they subscribe to both the English and Chinese newspapers.

Even at my worst, I am still better than both my kids. I tried to give them a good headstart in the language by engaging a tuition teacher from Beijing when they started kindergarten. The twice weekly sessions must have helped because they did very well in primary 1 and 2. I realised that they relied heavily on 'han yu pin yin' which is like romanised Chinese.

The tuition stopped when the teacher returned to China but another one took over. By the time they were in primary 3, they were struggling with Chinese characters (that's what you get for relying on han yu pin yin). Most of their friends were from English-speaking families. Nobody conversed in Mandarin, and even if they did, it was with a cute accent.

Their marks just went downhill from there. I've paid for Chinese tuition (until they were 14), bought loads of Chinese comics (like Romance of the Three Kingdoms), played DVDs and Chinese music... yet they can't master the language.

I can understand because even someone like me who loves Chinese music and Jay Chou, still find it such a drag to read an article in Chinese.

Therefore I believe, some people are just not good in learning languages. I rest my case.


petunialee said...

I don't think you are incapable. Native chinese-speaking tutors (from Beijing) and native chinese-speaking tutors who are born and bred Singaporeans, tend to teach the language with the assumption that the child speaks Chinese at home.

The teaching strategies are inappropriate for you and your boys.

It's more a teaching method issue I rather think, than an issue with your incapability... or that of your boys.

auntielucia said...

Kudos to your parents! They shld be examples held up to the general Singaporean Chinese population to emulate.

Mebbe govt should go easy with the kids and start a positive campaign focusing on adults, esp grandparents n parents, instead. Give incentives to learn: trips to hip Chinese cities; work stints over there etc

GPS cell phone said...

我会说中文,呵呵~~lace wedding gowns

k@Ye_ said...

Something funny to share, my Sis has this fren who was growing up in US during his early teens due to his Father job assignment to US.

So when he is back in SG, he can't speak Mandarin, let alone write them well. Somehow, he got my sis to be his Chinese tutor for his A level. U know what my sis did to him? She got him to watch Huai Zhu Ge Ge n asked him to write down all the Chinese idioms & saying in inside the show!

The show has 3 seasons n each season is like at least more than 30 espiodes! In the end, this spurned his interest in Chinese n he got a scholarship to Uni of Beijing to study law but main motive is to learn the language!

So i think in his case, its the method being used to teach bah.

Blur Ting said...

Petunia - I guess in my case, I'm lazy to learn because I know I can always fall back on English. I do love listening to people speak in Chinese though. And I love how Chinese sayings and Idioms can summarise por describe something so nicely in just a few words. It is something we can't achieve using English language.

Blur Ting said...

Auntie Lucia - You always come up with the best ideas!

Blur Ting said...

GPS - I can speak Mandarin too!

Blur Ting said...

Kaye - Wow, creative way of teaching and interesting to the student too! Best of all, it works!

During my time, I know many people learned Cantonese by watching "Man in the Net". I didn't watch, hence my Cantonese sucks!

Amel said...

Well, some people who are talented in languages may learn new languages FAR more quickly than others. I also think it depends on how active you're using the language 'coz it has to be done in many ways: speaking, thinking, talking, listening, reading, and writing. If you're used to doing only two of them, then you will struggle doing the rest. And when it comes to a foreign language, it gets harder 'coz if you stop doing all of those for months or years, then you'll regress quickly.

When I was learning Finnish in the classroom, we did all of those, but now I've been lazy in writing (I got writing as the strongest mark in the National Finnish Test), so it's now getting rusty. Gotta kick myself again to write more Finnish when my training ends. :-D

Amel said...

Oh yeah, forgot to write here that I was more interested in learning English when I was a child 'coz I didn't have any interest in learning Chinese plus my parents couldn't afford to send me to two different language courses. So I followed my heart's desire he he...