Thursday, March 2, 2017

helping Renzo with his Chinese...

Last week, Renzo had a Chinese mock test in school, which we were completely unaware of, and he wasn't prepared for it either but he aced his paper somehow. I wouldn't say we were very surprised at his result, because he did well for his Chinese during P1 anyway, although he always thinks Chinese is his weakest subject since it's a language he doesn't use at home.

We didn't send Renzo for any enrichment lessons although we are fully aware that he might have struggles with his Chinese in school. Instead, we made sure to make Chinese revision as higher priority and incorporate it into Renzo's daily routine after school.

I know you might have heard this a thousand times from Chinese teachers or your other friends with kids who absolutely hate learning Chinese, that in order to learn Chinese well, you need to use the language at home! Well I am not saying that's not right, but how many have seen significant improvement just by switching the primary language from English to Chinese at home? Personally I think learning Chinese involves a lot more efforts than just that, and there are many other good tips that actually help to reinforce what they've learned in school.

Tip #1 朗读课文
Reading aloud is the foundation for literacy development. While the sacrifices to read aloud are few, the benefits are many. I still remember when I was young, my dad always says he expects to hear 朗朗的读书声 from our room everyday when he's back from work. Kids get to hear their own voice when they read aloud, it helps to increase their attention span. Renzo is asked to read his textbook daily for at least 10 to 20 minutes. He always covers hanyupinyin with his hand because he's not supposed to rely on hanyupinyin to read since Primary 1 Term 3.

You might think their textbook is simple and getting them to read something out of the school syllabus is more useful. Well yes it definitely helps if they read a wide range of books. But when it comes to tests, most of the questions are actually based on their textbook, at least for lower primary.

Tip #2 掌握生字
The child who comes to school with a large vocabulary does better than the child who comes to school with little familiarity with words and a low vocabulary. Primary School kids all have this set of flashcards called 字宝宝, which they use occasionally during Chinese lessons. We bought another set for Renzo so that we could play with the cards before bedtime. Words which he could not read are left on the wall till he can recognize them. And we encourage him to form a sentence with the words each time, so he knows how to use them, not just how to read them.

At the back of their Chinese textbook, there's a list called 生字表, where they have all the 识读字 and 识写字 listed. You might find it simple but trust me, they need to master the list and you can't just rely on their weekly or bi-weekly 听写 in school, because most kids forget more than half of the words on their 听写 list, right after they've been tested. So make sure to go through the list and test your child on it regularly.

Tip #3 诗词背诵
Poetry recitation is literary work where ideas and feelings, accentuated with the use of distinctive style and rhythm is delivered through a public speaking activity with a focus on rhythm, alliteration some repetitions. Renzo doesn't have a strong foundation in Chinese, and we failed to expose him well in Chinese Poetry since young. So it is really tough work here, but for a start, I am getting him to copy Chinese Poetry only. It doesn't matter that he couldn't analyze or understand it, I just want him to slowly feel as if he's submerged himself in a hot spring, and experience the irrational joy or sadness in it.

Of course you can't really expect much result from poetry recitation as kids need a long period of time to accumulate such knowledge. But by the time they are in upper primary or secondary, they will benefit and composition will get easier for them.

Tip #4 勤做笔记
I've asked Renzo to note down all his mistakes from his past worksheets / test papers for all his subjects. But for Chinese, I am doing the job for now because I need to summarize the test questions and put things into different categories, which he's not sure about how to do it yet. I find it extremely important to understand the format of his test paper, so he could focus on the areas which he's not strong at.

For example, under the section 填写汉字, he's required to write the Chinese words based on hanyupinyin. Although he's tested on only 2 questions, it's harder than most other sections in my personal opinion because these are open ended questions, not multiple choices which he can even attempt to make a wild guess. And this is exactly why I said they need to master their 生字表 because if they can't remember how to write the word, they have no choice but to lose marks under this section.

And another example: 词语搭配. This is the section I go through with Renzo many times. Because in Chinese language, you can easily mix and match different words with similar meanings and that's where the confusion comes in. Renzo knows 认真写字 and 认真回答 are both acceptable, but he needs to choose 不敢回答 because he can only use one phrase once, and 认真 has already been used to pair with 写字in the sample given. He has to choose 不敢 to pair with 回答 as there isn't any other more appropriate phrase to pair with 回答. Okay I must say such questions aren't easy and they need to get exposed to a large pool of vocabulary in order to pair the words freely and comfortably.

Of course learning a language is not just about preparing our kids for their tests. Chinese language is one that is extremely profound, and we need to have the passion, to appreciate and embrace the culture in order to master it well.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Father Forgets that you are but my baby...

Thanks to my 4-5 hours sleep a day body, I find myself looking out the window from my seat, staring down at the clouds below while everyone else in my row were nodding away, deep in their sleep. My business flights on planes without in-flight entertainment (no thanks to Tiger Air) oftentimes gives me those moment of solitude outside of my house when I can quiet down and reflect on myself.

Just hours ago, I had picked up a book from the bookstore. It is the international best-seller, "How to Win Friends & Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. I used to own it about a decade ago, but gave it to a close colleague of mine as a farewell gift when our careers parted ways.

So here I was, rekindling the love I had for this book... perhaps the only book I voluntarily read from cover to cover more than once. Seventeen pages in... and already I was emotionally shaken by the book. It was a piece by W. Livingston Larned, which back then didn't mean much to me, but now, pens down my guilt.

W. Livingston Larned

Listen, son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guilty I came to your bedside.

There are the things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.

At breakfast I found fault too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, " Goodbye, Daddy!" and I frowned, and said in reply, "Hold your shoulders back!"

Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive-and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, from a father!

Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. "What it is you want?" I snapped. You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither.

And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs. Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me?

The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding-this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.

And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!

It is feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: "He is nothing but a boy-a little boy!"

I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother's arm, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.

I am guilty for all the negatives pointed out and as Larned puts, I have been measuring Renzo by my yardstick, an adult standard. Renzo's youthful innocence and his ability to love me shows through in almost exactly how it is worded, with him creeping up to me after a lecture just to give me a great big hug both as an apology for not reaching my standard of him, and also as a relief to receive a hug back from me.

Have I forgotten that my proper manners were learned from mistakes?
Have I forgotten that my capacity for self control was acquired not long ago?
Have I forgotten that my independence was built up from failed experiences?

I focused my gaze back at the runway that we were fast approaching and decided to write this post before I headed for bed because although Daddy is a 2-hour flight away from you, Renzo, Daddy misses you and wishes for your forgiveness.

Remain the boy who's fits of laughter bellows down our halls and remain the boy who finds joys in the silliest of things, because then, and only then, can you learn about yourself and define your own yardstick, one which measures your life, not anyone else's.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Striking "Reading" off Renzo's list of things-to-master

As the final week of the year approaches, sitting here in my bedroom with the kids sound asleep in their's, the overwhelming feeling starts to creep onto me. The very fact that my Renzo is no longer the newbie primary school kid and is well on his way to the second year of his formal education (not to say kindergarten wasn't formal but heck, there weren't grading of the sort that gets anxiety levels up). Actions and reactions that were pardonable shall henceforth be dealt with more severely as my expectations of him being a responsible member of society increases.

But in any case, I can now consider myself a proud parent of a kiddo who has conquered a graded exam in what I might come to consider as flying colors, topped with a congratulatory letter signed off by our minister to encourage the little guy to strive and least maintain his level of academic competence.

Having said that, somehow or other, I must admit that Renzo should get most of the credit as he is really quite an independent learner. For example, just a couple hours ago (as of writing this post) while I was reading the biography of Jack Ma (it is a great read by the way), Renzo was beside me reading his "Dragonworld" fantasy book out aloud. Distracting as he was, it allowed me to listen in on his reading skills and when he masterfully deepen his voice, liken to a medieval story-monger, and regurgitate mythical terms like "Snaggle-Toothed Mountain" and "Glacier Caves of the Antarctic Snow Dragon" gosh, I could hardly believe this was the very same kid of mine whom just a few years back was all giggle-filled when whizzing and tooting to the likes of Thomas train and friends.

With a figurative warm tear of happiness rolling down my cheek, I can safely pat Mummy Chan's back and say,"With all the worries that comes with parenting, at least independent reading is one that we can strike off the list."

Now where on this long list is 'reading'... hmmmm....
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