Language Power 蓝格子, 跑啊!

When Eeva first appeared on stage, the mood was light hearted and relaxed but she switched it into a solemn and grieving one in an instant, when she spoke emotionally about the Beslan School Massacre ( youtube video here about the incident, and interviews of the children here). She mentioned the date, 1 September 2004, and described the massacre as if she was there.

She didn’t show us any videos but she shared the response of a surviving boy who asked what he was thinking when the incident happened. He said he was waiting for Harry Porter to come and save them (3:19 in the video here). I can imagine the impact of what he had read about Harry Porter was on him. How immense it must have been, for him to have feverently hoped to be saved by Harry Porter in a time of life and death.

As I was holding on to my grieving heart, Eeva made me ponder about life and the things that can happen. Surely, you must know the Ellen Show, but do you know how Ellen’s career came about? At 21, she was walking on the streets when she saw bystanders crowd around something, she later discovered that they were crowding around an accident site and that the woman she loved dearly had died in that accident. Afterwards, Ellen wrote a monologue about mortality, performed it at her first stand-up job and that was the start of her career. Not exactly the kind of situation you expect to give raise to a stand up comedy career.

She next made me feel inspired, by recounting the story of how Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, learnt English. He created his own language learning environment by offering to guide foreigners for free around the West Lake in Handzhou, China. I learnt from Wikipedia that he eventually went on to became a lecturer teaching English at a local university. I am in awe of this person.

Next Eeva showed us a video of the famous speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, just a very short excerpt starting from 0:35 onwards in this video.

No special effects, no props. Just a single projector screen and herself, standing in attention under a pool of light. And she was capable of bringing us through a myriad of feelings in just a matter of minutes.

Is language powerful? It is.

As the show progressively moved on to discuss how to develop and harvest language power, I took notes and here are some parts that spoke to me.

Language is mastered by imitation

We were asked to match the voice of each child with a parent. Everyone got it right, easily. The right child speaks in almost the same way as the parent. This clearly demonstrates that children learn languages by imitation and an environment that is conducive to language learning is very important.

I was chatting with a few friends about our kids in general when language environment came up and I shared what I learnt. One of them commented that “It’s easy for people like you who are strong in Chinese / Mandarin to create a good learning environment, but not so for us who are not good in the language”. I agree, it is much more difficult in that case, especially if there is also a resistance to the language on the parents’ part. Even so, I believe that language can be imitated from a peer to peer environment or a teacher to student environment.

I’d also like to share one of my other friend’s story with you. It affirmed that a conducive environment for language learning might not need to include a proficient parent or two. My friend started to learn mandarin together with her boy, might as well she says, since her command of the language was so bad that she was at the same level as the child, or even worse. At the beginning, they would learn one word a day, beginning from very simple ones you used to describe their daily lives. Linking learning to living helped, she said. She soon found it necessary for them to learn multiple words at the same time in order to “cope” with their increasing need proficiency in the language, so that it would make sense in use. Not too long after, they started conversing in simple mandarin at times and before she knew it, they were pretty fluent in the language. And it was all self taught! I asked her if she ever felt that it was dreary or boring, especially at the beginning and she said no, it became like a little activity she shared with her little boy everyday, and because they were learning together, she feels that her boy probably felt must less stressed out than if she were very proficient in the language to start with. She said that the progression from zero to fluent was very natural, born more out of curiosity than the necessity to learn. That’s another way of creating a language environment. Pretty amazing isn’t it.

Never forget the purpose for learning

I have never seen the mascot of Starhub Channel 325, 小呼, before and when she went on stage, all I thought of it was cute, until I heard what she had to say, the most striking of which is this:

“快乐放在成功的前面” or “Put happiness before success”

also known as the “happiness advantage”.

As an adult, we have work commitments but more often than not, you work from Mondays to Fridays and take a break on weekends however, being a student (I’m presuming that she’s talking about primary school level and above) is a 24/7 “occupation”, they don’t shed that identity even on weekends, because the work load of a student nowadays requires it. In other words, we adults are likely to be part time workers but students nowadays are more likely to be full time students. How happy can a child be in this situation?

So what motivates?

Think about one thing in your life that you learnt without having anyone push you. For me it is singing. Nobody needed to push me but I paid good money to go learn during the weekends. Was it ever tiring? You bet. And I also performed to up my practical experience. The lessons always seemed too short as were the performing time. The reward for me was when I improved tremendously and I was very happy. From this, I am truly convinced that happy learning is one of the best ways to be motivated. Such learning is focused and self motivated.

小呼 also asked a good question, she asked “我们为什么要学习呢?”. Children need to understand why they learn and they may not be able to visualise what a “better life in future” would mean to them in future. Personally, my study motivation throughout primary and secondary school were my parents, because they made me, although they have never required me to be top in school. I also made myself study to stop my mom from nagging at me and to avoid canning sessions for failing when the results were released.

Joy’s learning with me is always led by herself. When she expresses curiosity about something, we explore it, regardless of what it is and what “level” I consider it to be. Take for example the “I don’t want to brush my teeth” phase she went through a few months ago. I found this video from youtube, it piqued her interest on the concept of germs and bacteria, something I only learnt in primary school.

She started asking me about germs and bacteria after that and we read different things and also watched different videos on them, one of which is this one:

After watching, I don’t discuss it with her if she doesn’t initiate it but very often, she does and she chooses to apply what she’s learnt about germs / bacteria in her daily routines, like when eating, when bathing and when brushing her teeth. She is linking up what she’s learnt about germs / bacteria to daily life and by now, she understands the concept of good germs / bacteria and bad germs / bacteria, what makes us fall sick and why do we have to keep clean. Application of learning to life has proven effective time and again, even for introducing what might be perceived to be difficult concepts to a child as young as Joy.

Spoken language has imagery

Eeva said that “语言是有画面感的,没有画面感的叫字” loosely translated as “There is imagery in spoken language, what doesn’t have imagery are words” (It is really not as impactful to translate what she said in English and I am not able to replicate the beauty of how the statement was put in Chinese)

First things first, I disagree that “没有画面感的叫字” (“what doesn’t have imagery are words”). My opinion is that in the Chinese language, even a single word can invoke imagery, which is why writers and lyricists still have jobs. What I agree whole heartedly with is that “语言是有画面感的” (“There is imagery in spoken language”). It links back to my vocal training again.

You may have heard many, many times on local singing competitions about the concept of “语气”.  “Vocal imagery” is exactly how I would translate it. It means to invoke images of scenes with your voices through the use of vocal layering, meaning, heavy, light, airy, strong and a myriad of different variations you can create with your voice. If you enjoy music, you must be convinced that voices have imagery power.

Eeva demonstrated how the use of vocal imagery can help us in our daily lives. She requested volunteers to go up on stage to read this sentence, pretending that they were newscasters. How does a newscaster need to sound when they are reading the news? Is it light and floaty, or is it grounded and convincing? Through this exercise Eeva taught us a few techniques to aid us in our vocal imagery, something I have found very useful ever since I learnt it from vocal lessons years ago.

The power of languages lies in visualisation

Eeva told us that the most important element in language learning or development lies in language visualisation. In fact, she said that language visualisation is just about the most important thing she could impart to us that day.

Language visualisation is the images that are triggered in your mind when you hear something. One sticking example Eeva gave to illustrate the same point was one where 2 children were asked to construct a sentence using ‘good girl’.

Look at the visualisation attached to the sentences visualised by each child

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

From this example, it is apparent that “good girl” to one child refers to own behaviour (“I am a good girl”) but to another, it refers to an act of good that might not have to do with self “My sister did ____, she is a good girl “.It might still be arguable as to which child has a fuller grasp of “good girl”, but we can certainly see that the 2nd child has more visualisation of the concept of “good girl”.

I personally will try my best not to put Joy through any enrichment classes if I can help it but if I were ever to find it necessary to send Joy for language classes, I would most certainly like her to attend one which teaches through language visualisation.  Eduplus, a school founded by Eeva will most definately be one choice I will explore.

Inspiration: Giving back to the society

It was not quite full house situation that day and, right from the start of the show, Eeva Chang and her team were very candid in disclosing that the tickets didn’t sell well at all, to the extent that they were giving them away. My ticket is not free, you are reading my work for it but I feel great, because now that I have experienced it, I know for a fact that I will gladly buy tickets to her next talk show.

At the end of the talk show, Eeva and her team thanked their sponsors. This part is something that I normally view as too “commercial” for my liking but as she shared about the difficulties she encountered in getting sponsors for the shows and how different sponsors responded to her, I felt very moved.

The question many businesses posed to her was “what benefit is there for me”?

I’m not surprised but I feel sad that people can not see beyond dollars and cents. Benefit to society can also benefit businesses in the long run, after all, a business cannot be separated from the environment it thrives in. I’m glad though that there are still some who were willing to step forward for Eeva and support her cause of to review the Chinese language. In fact, I am grateful, because then, I get to experience such an inspiring show. It was then that I resolved to give back to society as much as I can, because I remember the many things and opportunities that I have been given in my life so far. Pay it forward.

Disclaimer: It was my privilege to be able to experience the Eeva’s Language Power talk show in exchange for a blog review. No compensation was received, I am not a trained educator, just a mother with a deep love for the Chinese language, all opinions herein were formed based on my personal experience together with interpretation of the talk show.

P.S. If you’re interested in how Joy learns at home with me, you can read these posts You can also find me here:

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One Reply to “Language Power 蓝格子, 跑啊!”

  1. A very comprehensive and meaningful post! Thank you for this heartfelt sharing of learning! I too, have been struggling to learn mandarin like your friend and am glad to progress. : )
    Angelia’s most recent post : An Inspiring Set Up that I Couldn’t Resist!My Profile

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