This interview below was previously published on Wongtutor in June 2016, which is now dysfunctional. The interview questions and answers, however, are still relevant to shed some light on my teaching philosophy. 🙂
I went to read your blog and Facebook posts. It gave me a fresh take on tuition. Your tuition stands out from others, because it is different from other tuition centres, in a refreshing way.
I have seen many tutors advertising using the same old techniques (“I am a top student”, “I teach techniques” etc), but not many focused on making learning fun and interesting.
I realized you like to use music to help make learning Chinese interesting. This is something very, very few people use. Most people just go to the student’s house, do some assessment practices, that’s all. Do you encourage people to use music more often for tutoring?
Of course! Music and language has one thing in common: They are all about expression. If you are talking about languages, infusing music learning into classes is definitely useful. Not only is it interactive and engaging, learning a pop song from Jay Chou for example, could mean hours of poring through lyrical patterns, word choice, and even rhythmic sense! Not confined to just language alone, I have seen a clip online of a teacher who teaches Physics concepts by rapping. Music and rhythm creates impression, and these are especially useful to build memory and word recall. But of course, you cannot expect that from every tutor, as not all come with musical backgrounds. I started learning the piano since I was 5 years old and went on to achieve a ABRSM grade 7 in my piano practical before deciding to ditch the scores once and for all and focus on improvisation. Years later, I am happy to be able to appreciate good music and to write my own songs. 🙂
I am actually one of the “jia gan dangs” you mentioned haha. What do you think is the real reason Singaporeans speak broken Chinese, and how do you think we can solve this problem?
Well, this is actually a pretty obvious trend. More and more younger Singaporeans come from English-speaking family backgrounds, with parents who are English-educated and tend to converse more in English at home. I come from a Chinese speaking family and have been speaking Mandarin since young (not to mention listening to Hokkien from my folks). When your parents speak to you in English at home, and you continue spending a large amount of your time in school exchanging English tongues with your peers, there is no way you could speak perfect Mandarin. The best way to solve this problem is to go live in China for a good 10 years! I guarantee that you would come back with a fat Chinese vocabulary bank. But of course, this may be a ludicrous idea for many. A better alternative is to mingle with friends from China, Taiwan, or anywhere with Chinese as their native tongue. I believe it is not hard to find such friends if you look close enough! They are everywhere in town! Other ways I would recommend is to keep yourself entertained by watching good Chinese dramas, movies and variety shows in Chinese. There is already a plethora of on TV and online. I know it is futile to coerce you (the ‘jia gan dang’ clans) to read the Chinese papers or flip pages off a Chinese novel every day, so I am providing a very good substitution here! 😛 The whole idea is to immerse yourself in Chinese as much as possible.
What is the biggest mistake that tutors often make?
If you mean language tutors, it would be to rely solely on assessment books to teach. I wouldn’t say there aren’t good assessment books out there in the market, but sometimes, teaching language requires personal style (and substance). *puffs an invisible cigarette in one hand* === ~~~
What is the biggest mistake that parents or students often make?
For parents, it is to rely on the tutor to do everything. While we tutors should definitely do our jobs as we are getting paid, parents can help to guide their children along whenever the tutor is not around. There should be some form of independent learning here. My personal practice is to give a debrief to every parent (usually the mum if she’s at home) after each lesson. I think it is imperative that they understand what their child is learning, and what could be done to improve.
What’s your most fun/memorable experience as a tutor?
I have been teaching at an international school for a while now. Currently, I’m taking summer programmes as a teacher, and I’m involved in teaching Chinese to Thai students and English to students from China. One of my most fun experiences was to teach a class of Thai kids sing a favourite song of mine – 虫儿飞. I came up with all the hand gestures and even had a personal pianist (got one of the students to help) to produce our personal “MV”! You can have a look at https://youtu.be/x9odgQnNI1Y
Any comments for readers?