Sunday, May 1, 2016

About teaching Chinese...after 8 years part 1: The Legend of the Condor Heroes

It as been a long long time since my last posting. A few of you asked me why didn't I continue...well...nothing drastic...I supposed the reasons or motivations that prompted me to write at the first place are no longer there.

One of reason I started blogging was because blogging helped me to put my thought into words. It helped me to review and evaluate my actions and helped me to organize and set my future goal. After a few years of homeschooling, I kind of find the "groove" or my own rhythm in doing things and thus no longer needing to blog.

Recently, I found I have the need to blog again. This time it is specifically about homeschooling Chinese.

I have always been struggling with teaching Den Chinese. Something that I would not have guess at the beginning.

Let me give you some background about my self. I grew up in a Chinese Speaking environment. Mandarin is my mother tongue, my first language and still my strongest language. I was educated in a Chinese school all the way from primary to secondary school. I love the language and wish Den will be able to appreciate it too. I thought with my skill in the language I should not have problem in teaching her Chinese. I was so wrong.

However, my dear hubby doesn't speak Mandarin. So we choose to use English as her first language. Later on we decided to homeschooling her with Sonlight. With that, English has became her main language.

I started teaching her Chinese formally since she was 3 years old. I used many ways and different materials. However as any languages, you need the exposure. You need the environment to speak and listen. Thus, she progressed very slowly. She was not motivated to learn it.

After many trial and error, we settled with Basic Chinese 500 (基础汉字500). It is published by a Hong Kong publisher. Targeted on kids who don't grow up in a Chinese speaking environment. We started Basic Chinese 500 Level one when she was 6 years old. We are still at Level Five (last level) this year (she is 11 years old now). She can read about 200-300 words. But she won't say a sentence in Mandarin unless she was forced to.

It is very difficult to find books that are interesting and yet at her reading level. I used to let her watched only Mandarin cartoon. Again, it is getting difficult to find Mandarin cartoon that I approved of and will interest her.

Finally, I make a decision about two months ago. I decided Im going lure her with Chinese culture instead. There are many unique books/movie that I have never introduce to her because her language level is too low. I decided since what I have been doing has not been a great success anyway, lets try a new approach. Im no longer going to read to her or let her watch movie that at her language level but with inferior/immature content. Let introduce her to things that are uniquely Chinese. Forget about the language level. I want her to appreciate the beauty of Chinese language and culture and thus hopefully motivate her to want to learn Chinese.

I decided to introduce her to Louis Cha's The Legend of the Condor Heroes (金庸的射雕英雄传)It is a WuXia novel (武侠小说). A concept that is uniquely Chinese. Even the genre's name cannot be translated into English. I read it when I was 10 years old and fallen in love with Chinese language since. However, many of my former school mates cant even understand it until they were 16-18 years old. It is a very difficult jump for Den. To make a comparison: imagine introduce Shakespeare in original language to a 7 years old.

I know I need to get her hooked to the story first before she will want to listen to me read. So I choose to introduce her to a 50 episodes TV series (2008 version, found in Youtube. Honestly, there is nothing to shout about this particular version but it will fit my purpose. Shall explain later). We watched the first few episodes and she was hooked.

The watching process at the beginning was rather "painful". A 40min episode, sometime would take us 1.5 hours to 2 hours to go through. I have to keep pausing to translate and explain certain words and culture and concept. Every night, after watching, I get bad headache.

To help her figured out who is who and what are their relationship, I spent an afternoon making up a character map for her:





But it is worth it for many reasons:

1. She bag me to study Chinese with her (hahaha!) aka watching the series.

2. The 1.5-2 hours per episode has improved to about 1 hour-ish per episode now (we are at episode 35). This proved that her understanding of the language has improved.

3. I purposely told her some of the story line that is in the original novel but not included in the TV series. She bag me to read to her. I did and will continue. The book is way too difficult for her, so I cant read the whole books to her, instead I choose to read those parts that is not told in the TV series.

4. The series come with Chinese subtitle. She is picking up some words naturally while watching the series. At the same time I let her practice writing some of the character name.

5. This open her eye up for a world that she has not seen - the fictional world of WuXia, many unique Chinese concepts. With such a complicated story line, she suddenly realized Harry Potter's plot is like child's play.

I plan to let her rewatch after we are done with the 50 episodes. But this time, I will let her watch it with English subtitle (can be found in Youtube as well, see why I choose this version?). I choose not to let her watch with the English sub first time round because I think it will forced her to listen instead of relying on subtitle.

Honestly, I am not sure how well this will turn out. The only thing I can say is, this is the first time in her life she is excited about something in Chinese.

After the rewatching, I am seriously contemplating in watching Nirvana In Fire (琅琊榜)with her. That will be another long story. Shall continue in part 2.