Learning language through music


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.



The Songs We Sang: Ruminations and After-thoughts《我们唱着的歌》观后感


谈到新谣,想必大家都会联想起梁文福、巫启贤、颜黎明等人。就在前几天,我有幸到 Golden Village 戏院观赏《我们唱着的歌》。在去看那部之前,我只是略略知道它是一部有关新谣的记录片。但是,就因为我本身热爱新谣,对新谣辉煌的历史更是十分的好奇,因此我非看不可!






Just a few nights ago, I managed to catch the docu-film “The Songs We Sang” in a Golden Village theatre. Prior to the movie, I had little knowledge of what to expect. I only knew that it is a movie about xinyao, aka Singapore folk songs. As I am myself intrigued by the xinyao music genre, I am thrilled to catch the show to satisfy my curiosity.

Although I was born in the 80’s, my memory remains more vivid throughout the 90’s. However, xinyao has since incepted in the late 70’s, thanks to the emergence of Chinese schools. Before popular songbirds like JJ Lin and Stefanie Sun became musical icons here, xinyao sprung from Chinese schools, a movement started by Chinese students in Nanyang University’s “Poetry Music Club”. What began as a get-together during recess and after-school breaks to jam and make some music with mere guitars and vocals strummed itself to popularity in the commercial market not so long after.

Having said that, it was not all smooth-sailing for xinyao. Before it became commercialised, It was met with challenges such as the evolving education landscape in Singapore; English was made the lingua franca here, a move after the British colonial rule. Many Chinese students had difficulty trying to switch to the new language, not to mention having to use it as their primary language across other subjects. Also notable in history was the merger between Nanyang University and University of Singapore to form the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 1980. Before xinyao caught up with overseas music markets, the challenges it faced were unthinkable.

Still, I’m glad that we have arrived at where we are today. Thanks to local veterans like Liang Wern Fook and Eric Moo, the ripples of xinyao could be felt through later movie/drama productions such as “That Girl in Pinafore” and MediaCorp’s “Crescendo”. I am heartened to know that such productions helped to reach to the younger crowds who probably had little inkling on what the genre is about.

Xinyao is an exemplary case study of perseverance. As an educator who embraces music, I see this as a splendid match between language and music. Hereby, I hope that xinyao could reach more audiences, and that the beauty of Chinese literature could spread on for many years to come!

The Songs We Sang is now showing exclusively at selected Golden Village theatres.