Reflections on Language Power 蓝格子, 跑啊!

I left the theatre with  a thankful heart.

Thankful that I had spent an afternoon attending a most inspiring talk about the power of language and to be wowed again by the beauty of the Chinese language. Yes, Chinese and I thought I had a most wonderful lesson in years conducted by the very eloquent and unassuming speaker, Eeva Chang.

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I have ‘known’ Eeva Chang since I was a young kid, having listened to the radio programmes on Rediffusion during those early years. It is perhaps how I started to learn to speak in Mandarin in the first place since our family only communicated in Cantonese during those days and right into our Primary School years. Being able to see Eeva on stage and listen to her speak in crisp, clear Mandarin is a real treat in itself.

Eeva started off by sharing about her background and illustrated how the power of language could change lives and society by drawing examples from renowned figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Jack Ma (Chairman, Alibaba Group), to name a few. Indeed her own life and success can be largely attributed to her language ability and … her voice. Thus she urged the audience to do that ONE thing upon reaching home – to do a recording of our voice and listen to it for our voice has a face to it and we can use our voice to make an impression on others. Our voice can determine or change our destiny and indeed it has, in Eeva’s own life.

The following are three points that spoke to me:

Language is not inherited but imitated

Eeva illustrated this point by getting the audience to match the language spoken by two children to that of their respective parents just by listening to the recording. It clearly shows that the child will learn to speak in a way that is similar to his parent(s) for he first learns the language by listening. Language is not inherited and having a good language environment is crucial for language acquisition. In her years of working with educators, Eeva observed that many children are afraid to speak in Mandarin but are more conversant and confident in English. She attributed that to the lack of a rich Chinese language environment in Singapore.

I concur with Eeva on that and as parents, I think we have to make extra effort in our speech if we want our child to learn to speak well. I have been speaking to Faith in Mandarin with the (hopefully) right intonation and I have friends who asked me why I have to speak in such a manner. The above is exactly the reason why I do that. As a language teacher myself, I know full well that the child imitates how the adults speak and we have to make effort in speaking properly. That definitely applies to English too. Speak to them in standard English for this will impact on their writing ability in future. They will learn Singlish in no time at all since our language environment fully supports Singlish. Don’t leave the job of speaking well to the teachers. It has to start with us, parents.

And, no baby talk please, for the younger ones. We are just NOT helping them by doing that.

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The importance of joyful learning 

This is nothing new to us, that learning takes place when children (or adults) find a topic interesting and will naturally be motivated to want to find out more information on their own accord. Interest is thus generated and children don’t have to be forced to learn. They will find that learning can be enjoyable and desirable results (be it tangible or intangible) can be achieved.

Makes sense?

But how often have we asked our children to learn something that we deem as beneficial but which they dislike? Self-assessment is required here, dear parents. An easier method is to ask your child how he feels about attending certain classes that you have planned for him. If he likes it, that’s great! If not, why?

Learning must result in application. If not, why do we have to learn? Similarly for children, they must see a need to apply their knowledge and skills before setting their mind on acquiring them. The ability to apply is an achievement for them!

Visualisation in language

What do the above mean? Simply put, it means getting the person to visualise an image(s) when we mention a word(s). A word has an image and meaning attached to it and the word comes alive to the person.

An example was given. Eeva asked a local girl how old she was and the little one replied, “Five years old.”

However, when she asked a Chinese girl the same question, the answer was, “I am six this year and I am going to school next year.”

This illustrates that the number 6 has a special meaning to the latter girl and it is not just a number to her. More often than not, when we teach words to the children, we fall short of getting them to understand and visualise the words so that the children could use them effectively. They are not just words on the cards or boards but they have an image and feeling attached to it.

Another example to illustrate the same point was given. In getting the child to construct a sentence using ‘good girl’,

#1 student wrote, ” The sister is a good girl.”
#2 student wrote, “My sister helps the old lady to cross the road. She is a good girl”

#2 student thus can visualise the words ‘good girl’ and that translates into his writing.

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I left the theatre feeling thankful that I was given this opportunity to hear her speak. It came at a time when I was on the brink of giving up speaking to Faith in Mandarin. I used to be strong in that language but because there is little need to use it once I entered tertiary education, I found myself getting weak in the Chinese language. So, communicating with Faith in Mandarin can be a difficult task at times when vocabulary is limited.

Still, the language does occupy a special place in my heart. I’m not sure about you but when I listen to certain Chinese songs or poems, I could feel a tug at my heart. And when I hear good Mandarin being spoken, my heart is lifted; it almost feels like you are listening to someone singing. I want Faith to acquire the Chinese language and to achieve that, it has to start with me.

Things that I want to improve on is the way that I communicate with her. I would need to explain more in detail of a certain word to her and not just, “This is xxx.” Visualisation is so important!

I would also need to mix less of English with Chinese (I have a tendency to do that!) and to start learning more Chinese words! Thankfully, I have friends who are passionate about having their children learn Chinese and having them come together during playdates is a good way to get them to communicate in Mandarin too! Another way is to listen to the Chinese radio stations so that both Faith and I could listen to good spoken Chinese.

Last words: A social entrepreneur with a passion for the Chinese language

This last bit is not about the talk but the speaker herself. I was moved by Eeva’s effort to continue to fight for the language which is her love. She bought over Rediffusion at a time when many thought that it was a dying radio station (at least I thought so) and revived it. Read more about the history here. She continued to exhort educators and parents to bring Chinese alive to the children through educational talks and shows. She did share that it was difficult to get sponsors for this talk show because many companies believed that not many would be interested in such a show and the inevitable question arose, “What is there for me (to benefit)?”

I sighed at such a remark.

Does money have to be tied to everything we do? Can it not be for passion or because the society can benefit from it? Businessmen would probably laugh at my naive remark above and that’s probably the reason why I am not a businesswoman in the first place. I think I will turn bankrupt in no time at all. But then again…. sigh!

I’m grateful then for the few companies that came forward to support her cause and I find myself doing likewise.

I’m actually interested to get Faith to attend any suitable courses organised by Eduplus, a school founded by Eeva. Alas, there is no such course for her because she is too young! Oh well, Faith has just got to wait and learn from her mother in the meantime.

Disclaimer: I was invited to the Eeva’s Language Power talk show in exchange for a blog review. No compensation was received and opinions are mine.

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2 thoughts on “Reflections on Language Power 蓝格子, 跑啊!

  1. Thank you for sharing! I was so interested to attend but wasn’t sure if Miss Ch 5 over here would be able to understand everything. I also think that the environment is very important, which is why we’ve been choosing to go on holidays in all-Chinese environments. I do speak colloquially with the kids though, so there are some lah lor, etc interjected. I’ve heard of kids who are spoken to in a very affected manner that they speak strangely and aren’t able to communicate with their peers (unless maybe they go to school in a western country?? Haha).
    My parents came from a time when they could choose Malay as a second language so naturally my Chinese sucks! At least now I have the opportunity to learn again, and sometimes my K2 boy is the one teaching ME!!! 🙂

    • Hey! Same here! I’m also choosing holidays in Chinese-speaking countries for the next few years! Think immersion!

      I think it’s inevitable that we speak colloquially cos it’s so part of us! When I mentioned standard English, I don’t mean speaking with a certain accent. It is just speaking with all the tenses in their rightful manner. We are often a tad lazy in our speech, like instead of saying, “What do you want?”, we say, “What you want?”
      Then you wonder why you see this type of writing in their composition or hear this kind of speech from students during oral examination. Arghhh…

      Maybe because I was in the teaching line and saw a lot of these phenomena (haha), so I make sure I speak properly with Faith. I try to…. 😉

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