Saturday, February 07, 2015

chinese changes

We all do seem to be spending the most time on the Chinese subject these days. And it’s rather fascinating, so I’ll do a snapshot of what each kid is grappling with (lots of page pictures, every time its Chinese there are lots of pages!).


Her textbooks are completely different from what Day and Jo used in Primary 1.

* Lu's textbook, with a new title which roughly means "Happy Companions"

* Day and Jo's batch series of textbooks had and still do have the dull title "Primary School Chinese"

Lu is in the first batch to undergo a new curriculum for Chinese instruction in the primary schools, which strives to make learning the language an “enjoyable experience” so that the children will “continue to use it a living language after they leave school”. (quotes from the brochure)
I think the basis is that being able to speak the language comes first.

Big Two’s Primary 1 textbooks have been given away, so I can’t document it here, but textbook-wise, Lu’s book is clearly all about speaking. From Page 1, it assumes that the young ones are already all familiar with hanyu pinyin, so it features daily phrases and nursery rhymes with hanyu pinyin which the kids learn to recite. It’s more fun, in a sense, and Lu does enjoy it as she comes back singing away.


Day and Jo’s books focused on the learning of hanyu pinyin at the start (a, o, e, i, u) and then the writing of simple words.

Anyway. By now, I know that the bottomline is regardless of what happens in school, unless we speak more Mandarin at home or watch more Chinese TV, she will be just as clueless as Big Two.

And Lu is still terrified of the subject. Curriculum aside, it is ultimately the teacher who makes all the difference and she unfortunately has the same teacher who demoralized Day four years ago.

* My messy Lu

She also has a memory for Chinese words like a net (holey) and hates drills.


Some people are better at Mandarin than others and at the moment Jo, luckily, has gradually developed a greater facility for Mandarin than her siblings. She's no longer fearful even if she makes mistakes.

* Jo loves her drills although she gets very irritated with how her digging into the page leaves imprints on the other side which offend her aesthetic sense, but she says she can't lighten up

She enjoys the subject more, from the sound of it to its requirements – drilling, discipline, memory work, correctness in strokes. And while she is very shy in speaking the language in daily life, she can inherently string together a sentence in Chinese which is not awkward.

So demands are higher this year (hello, 作文!), but she is fine. Chinese tuition has also been a great help.

* Composition from tuition, which she did at home with a lot of help from Chinese dictionary handphone app Pleco (school hasn't actually started composition, but that's tuition for you)


It is a great leap forward this year because the PSLE is within sight.

Day, I think, is fairly typical of a child from an English-speaking family. He did well in Primary 1 to 3 (80s and 90s), and plunged to the 60s and 70s in Primary 4 onward.

Why? Because once the oral and composition components kicked in, his discomfort with the natural use of the language superceded his exam-smart ability to memorize contextual cues and words. I suppose Lulu's new curriculum is meant to address this?

(By the way, he’s taking Standard Chinese and not Higher Chinese which is even tougher.)

Based on Day’s progress alone, he faces three main challenges now:


I was told several times, by current teachers, that the “oral component in the PSLE has gone up to 50%”. I can’t find a record of this anywhere online and I find it hard to believe that oral could take up half the total, but I don’t doubt the general systemic shift toward speaking.

Now this is tough because, well, he doesn’t speak Mandarin except on Sundays when he goes to the in-laws. He now has to practise oral by reading and semi-memorizing descriptions of all sorts of situations, from a road accident to killer litter.



Same problem, the neural connections to string a Chinese sentence together properly are not quite there yet.


This was what shocked me the most, and it’s where Day fares the worst. According to his tutor, it’s an Achilles Heel for many children. Day has to do not one, but two comprehension passages, B being harder than A. The passages are tough (a lot of very small words). He needs the Pleco like he needs water.


But more than that, the questions are high-level, so they don’t just ask why the person did this, or what he did. It’s the sort of question where you cannot just lift the answer and worse, you actually need a certain level of maturity: What can you say about the character of the person? What moral value do you derive from the passage?

He needs vocabulary outside of what he learns in school, and a fine sense of right and wrong, to answer these questions.


He’s been given a list of character-describing words by his tuition teacher to learn (selfish, stingy, magnanimous etc), to help him tackle these sorts of questions.

Do I think the requirements are OTT?

Hell, yeah. I can’t do the work, especially the comprehensions. But that’s progress and that’s life. Looking past bad results, if I could ignore the zeroes, I’m glad he’s learning so much more than I did. God knows, I have interviewed (and probably been influenced by) enough old Chinese teachers who rant and rave about the dilution of their beloved language these days.

And thankfully, most importantly, I think he still likes Chinese and he's quite happy to put in the work to get better at it.


crabbycrab said...

jo's handwriting is impeccable! her Chinese teacher must love her to bits! i know, comprehension kills everyone. the passages are often not conclusive, which means kids have to draw their own conclusions, think of how they want to express that with their very limited Chinese vocab and lastly, write the characters accurately. impossible lah, for my kids!

Sher said...

her issue is, i hv to tell her to "uglify" if she wants to finish in time because she's dreadfully slow as a result.

compreh: can get at least half lah, i think. some of the questions still can "lift"!

Dee.. said...

Thanks for the heads-up. My girl is going to Pri 1 next year and I'm thinking of which schools in the East should I put her in. Lu's school standard is still not too high. Please tell me that if I go through half an hr of mandarin with her everyday, she will SURVIVE!

Sher said...

hey i didnt even go through any mandarin with lu!

Sandy said...

Wow.. Day and Jo's chinese handwritings are so neat! It has been a while since I set foot on your blog. oh my, your kids are big now and Lu is such a sweetie!