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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Language Power 蓝格子, 跑啊!

I read linguistics in school and after understanding more about brain development with regard to language, resolved from then on that I would want to raise bilingual child(ren) if when I have a family. Thus, in our household, the husband speaks in English and I would communicate with Faith in Mandarin .

Early childhood is the easiest time to learn multiple languages. Babies are born with billions of neurons (brain cells). They spend the first few years of life building trillions of synapses (connections) between those cells. For language especially, these first few years are the most “sensitive period” in their lives when they are primed to learn language. At 6 months, human babies are able to differentiate between any sounds that human beings make. But as children age, they begin to “prune” some of the synapses they’ve built. Connections that are important get reinforced, but things which they aren’t using in everyday life may get cut.

It is my desire that Faith grows up being an effective bilingual. While it is relatively easy communicating in simple Mandarin with her when she was an infant, I found it increasingly difficult to do so now as I would need more vocabulary in my daily conversation. What’s making it more complicated is the fact that I am also teaching her using English and I’m not sure if I am on the right track anymore.

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So, when a friend told me about this talk called ‘Language Power’ (蓝格子, 跑啊!), my interest was piqued. In the talk show, the speaker, Eeva Chang, would touch on the following (and here, I attempt to translate a few of them):

1。我会让你看见你是否有语言力量
(The participants will discover if they have language power)
2。你会体会到, 你的孩子或自己是否用了最好的方式与语言相处
(The participants will experience if they or their children are using the best method in language development)
3。我们会一起明白, 在新加坡学习语文真的如此痛苦吗
(The participants will understand if it is really that difficult to learn a language in Singapore)
4。你有机会听见自己 是如何在”运用”着自己的声音能量和语文能量。
5。你的家庭语言和学校语言到了几年级开始分道扬镳?
6。我们的社会是个语言视觉化的社会吗?
7。为什么语言视觉化可以让人的理解度大大提升?
8。新加坡的小学生最直白的心里话, 在那天会告诉你。
9。语言是遗传还是学习来的?
10。你知道,我们一直在违反语言学习的黄金定律吗?

The above are questions that I have been asking myself too and I thought it would be beneficial to hear her thoughts on them. If you don’t already know Eeva Chang, here is some information about her.

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After her university graduation, EEva was awarded the Golden Bell Award (Taiwanese Broadcasting Award’s highest accolade). She then left Taiwan to come to Singapore to fulfil her dreams. She has not left since.

The multi-talented EEva was also a winner at the ASEAN Literary Prose Awards and was also named the Best Producer at the Shanghai International Television Broadcasting Awards show. She was a Programme manager at 100.3FM as well as a presenter and programme producer at FM 95.8 and Rediffusion. I listened to her when I was a young kid and probably learnt Mandarin through that means.

On the education front, EEva was a professional trainer at MOE’s teachers training programme for 8 years. She started her own school EDUPLUS about 20 years ago and has since helped countless students in building their strong foundation in the Chinese language.

This event is the culmination of her years of experience as a Broadcaster and Educator.

Interested?

When: 20 Sept 2014, 3-5pm
Where: Resort World Theatre, Sentosa
Tickets: You may purchase your tickets from Sistic or call Rediffusion at 62888 3321 to save on the booking fee!

You can also look out for more information on her facebook page.