Is there such a thing as joyfully learning Chinese?

I went to a talk given by a bilingual Montessori school last Saturday. It was supposed to be about how to joyfully teach Chinese. I spoke with my friend afterward and she said that she didn’t think it helped. I mostly agreed with her. We were really looking for specifics; teach characters this way, introduce zhuyin that way! But they didn’t really go into that kind of detail. It was more of an explanation of how they teach Chinese at the school, which we felt were like “d’oh, of course!”

However, parents from a FB group I’m in are coincidentally discussing how they teach characters over the weekend and I realized that it IS different from how most people teach Chinese. So I’m going to write it down here for my reference before I forget.

I have to say, not having had kids who are grown means that I don’t know if one way is better than the other.

First they talked about how they don’t teach: No writing characters 5000 times like we learned it when we were in elementary school. They use a variety of tools for the children to practice. For example:

Creating a booklet of calligraphy zhuyin
A cabinet of chinese characters for the children to lookup when they want to write, sorted by zhuyin
Matching of English and chinese words. I did not like this activity but I can see why you may want to use it for non native speakers.
iPad game app that lets you practice chinese stroke order
Another iPad app to practice zhuyin
Initial sound boxes

They also talked about the way we learn, that we need to recall (test) with various time lengths in between. Hence they have the variety of activities.

The presenter of course talked about why you want to learn zhuyin and traditional characters. The zhuyin reasons are the same as mine. Except they added the fact that it allows you to introduce both zhuyin and the alphabet between 3-6.

They also talked about introducing 80 component characters by the time you finish kindergarten, which is different from how the local Chinese charter school teaches. The idea is that with these 80 characters you can use them to combine into more complex characters. Along with learning zhuyin it will allow you to begin writing once you start elementary.

Oh and lastly their ambitious plan is to introduce 750 characters by 3rd grade. That’s almost at grade level in Taiwan. To which I say not likely unless the child has been in preschool and knows 150 to 200 by the time they start elementary. It’s just too hard on top of learning English. But that’s just me speculating.

I’ve been mulling over the talk the last few days. What I got most out of the talk is the recall and testing. It jives with what I just realized last week. The Montessori materials provide a variety of ways to practice a concept, sometimes in a spiral learning pattern that spans years. There is no time or restriction which says we will cover this over one month and be done though most schools do have a curriculum/theme they follow. This means the child is free to revisit a concept again and again, which aids retention of what they’re learning.

Really GETTING this now means I’m not stressing so much thinking how is Thumper supposed to cover all the different math topics if she’s only doing 3-5 units of work a week? I know now to provide a variety of presentations and activities for her to work on over weeks and months and this is a better way for her to retain info rather than working on one skill/concept at a time only. Supposedly the “How We Learn” book that just came out covered this too.

I have my own ideas of how I will teach but they are similar in concept if not in implementation. Another post, another day.


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