Learning language through music

 

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Learning language through music is both fun and engaging.

How do you keep students engaged in learning a language like Chinese? This is a common problem faced by many parents and teachers here in Singapore. I always tell parents that the fastest way to learn Chinese is to send their kids to China for a good 10 years. They will come back with better Chinese proficiency, and may even pick up a Chinese accent.

While this may be quite an extreme thing to do, I am only making a point here: Environment is a major factor when it comes to learning. There is a Chinese idiom that goes 耳濡目染, which means literally that both the “ears and eyes are influenced and engaged”. Environment has the ability to shape our learning experience. With regards to my earlier point about sending children to China, they may not be going there with a deliberate intention to learn Chinese. However, they are forced to be surrounded by a Chinese environment, to read Chinese billboards, signboards, food and instruction menus, travel directions, and listen to Chinese news once they switch on their television and radio. So here’s my question: How can their level of Chinese proficiency not improve at all? It’s almost impossible.

To put things back to reality, many kids in Singapore find it a chore to master the Chinese language, not to mention having to pore through dense paragraphs in their Chinese comprehension passages. That is why we always hear from them that they find learning language a “headache” to begin with.

For a start, many of these younger generation are brought up in English-speaking modern families, as many of their parents tend to be more English educated. Having said this, there is thus a lack of practice opportunity back at home. Even in schools, many of them tend to converse in English. The only way to tackle this, besides having to go to China, is to keep reading, speaking, listening, and writing. The more exposed one is to the Chinese medium, the better. While requiring kids to read the Chinese newspaper may seem like a paramount task, there are other means to learn. You could watch a Chinese movie for example, and learn through subtitles for understanding. Or you could listen to your favourite Mandarin pop song from Jay Chou and pay attention to the lyrics used.

Anson’s Bilingual Classroom aims to induce fun through learning the language. Elements of music, speech and drama are injected into my teaching pedagogy. With a strong passion for these fields, I seek to create constant engagement with the kids. I infuse song learning, for example, through children’s songs (儿歌) and influences like xinyao (新谣). These work particularly well with early learners of the Chinese language – both locals and foreigners alike.

My point is, language learning should be flexible. It should be “out of the box”. While many local schools require a syllabus, the only way to sustain this interest to be a lifelong one takes much more effort than memorising words off the school textbook.

And that is why I have a role to play here.

 

B for Boy. B for Believe.

Not so many years ago, I considered myself an avid writer. Especially when you had too much time on hand. Back in those days, I wrote a lot. I scribbled, I typed and I let my imagination run free. This is one from the small collection of short stories I wrote. It is more of a children’s story. And since it’s now the Christmas season, sharing this couldn’t be more apt. Writing short stories is a good way to encourage creativity. Let me know what you think in the comments below. 🙂

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Boy under barren Xmas tree. Sketch by Anson Ong.

A boy’s Christmas wish came true because of one strong word.

It was Christmas season in a small town in England. It was a season of joy and celebration. The town itself was filled with merry making and the festive mood was getting strong. The grounds of the town were already covered with heaps and layers of thick white snow while the roofs of the cottages were shimmering with milky white snow.

Dan, a homeless boy was shivering as he slept in a cold dark corner of a tunnel. Occasionally he would sneeze and cough as he tried to wrap himself warm. Dressed in a tattered and torn shirt, Dan was cold, lonely and miserable. His family was poor. His dad used to work as a carpenter while his mom sewed clothes to make a living. They led a humble yet fulfilling life. He was the only child. Back then, he would have gathered together with his parents at the small wooden table in their cottage every Christmas Day. He remembered how his mom would cook a bowl of congee for him and also give him a small cupcake as a Christmas gift. He could not be more satisfied and happy to be with his parents. However, he lost them in a war years ago and never got to see them again. He was left all alone and abandoned.

As he was dirty and rugged, the town people advised their children not to go near him. Even the children themselves teased him whenever they saw him, making his life more miserable. He survived on leftovers and those that were dumped in the bins. It was a hard life. Yet, not all people in town were bad. There were a few good souls who would offer him food every now and then. He got to know an old man, Henry, a beggar who lived beside him in the tunnel, and got acquainted to him when he first moved there. Henry looked after him like his own child and shared food with him. Dan depended on him and looked upon him as his own father.

“Son, wake up..” Henry called as he nudged him.

Dan slowly opened his eyes as puffs of vapor came out from his mouth and nose. He turned around and looked at Henry.

“It’s Christmas son, you wouldn’t want to miss this great day would ya?”

Dan smiled and slowly sat up as he stared into the sky which was already velvet dark and dotted with twinkling little stars.

“So sonny, what’s your wish for Christmas?” Henry asked as he rubbed his hands to keep himself warm.

Dan looked up into the sky again. Staring into the myriads of stars, he thought he saw his dad and mom smiling and waving at him.

“I.. I would like my dad and mom back. I miss them..” Dan spoke slowly as tears began to fill his eyes.

“Oh, silly young man, do not cry. Boys don’t cry. You are going to be a man soon.” Henry said as he took him into his own arms and wrapped them around him to keep him warm. “Very soon sonny, you will grow up.”

Back in his workplace, Mr. Santa Clause was reading through the wish list. Squinting through his thinly framed glasses, he scanned through the wishes. Jan Hermione, 11 wants a barbie doll, Kathy Woodsman, 13 wants a new ipod, John Witherspoon, 14 wants a racing toy car… As he pored through the list of wishes, he stopped at a particular one that stood out like a sore thumb. Dan Stewart, 12, wants his dad and mom back. He paused for a while, closed his eyes and flipped through his mind for the whereabouts of Dan Stewart’s parents. Shortly, he opened his eyes and smiled.

Back in town, children were singing carols, holding candles on their hands as they walked through the snow. Christmas trees were erected in almost every household and families gathered to have their Christmas feasts. Dan took a walk around the town and was cheered to see the bright decorations on the cottages. As he walked, a little girl walked towards him and handed him a lollypop. Dan smiled and said “Thanks”.

“Danny, wake up..” he heard a familiar voice.

Dan rubbed his eyes and his vision soon became clear. He could not believe his eyes. His mother was right before him, smiling at him. Her hair was combed back into a bun, neat like how she would always look. He turned his head to survey the place. It was unmistakable – he was in the old cottage he had lived.

“Mom!” He cried.

“Why boy, it’s Christmas. You wouldn’t want to miss this day would you?” His mother smiled at him again, giving him a reassuring look this time. “Come out, I have a surprise for you.” She said as she walked out of the room to the living room, her voice sounded like warm honey down a parched throat.

Puzzled, he walked out of his room and was again shocked to see his dad sitting at the wooden table waiting for him. On the table were 3 bowls of congees. Right beside his bowl, he saw a cupcake.

“Merry Christmas son.”

Tears flowed down Dan’s cheeks. He could not believe what was happening.

“Thank you Santa, thanks for making my wish come true. I do believe in miracles now.” He muttered under his breath as he took his seat.

It felt like the best Christmas in a long while.

 

Anson is based in Singapore and can be contacted at 97887232 or email at anzzon@gmail.com for further enquiries.