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Learning Chinese - Writing It Right through Pictures and Phrases

04 Nov 2008

Learning Chinese by writing

Pupils hold up beautifully decorated written work.

This is the seventh article in Schoolbag's series of 10 features on the new primary school Chinese Language curriculum.

An earlier version of this article was published in Lianhe Zaobao on 1 May 2007.

How can you write if you know neither the words nor what to write about?

The ability to pen your thoughts is vital to mastering any language, including Chinese. But before a child can do so, he or she must be able to recognise the characters that make up the language, as well as understand how to use them in speech and writing.

That is why the new Chinese Language curriculum seeks an appropriate balance in its emphases on reading, writing, listening and speaking. Far from neglecting written composition, the curriculum provides a firm grounding in the skills needed to write in Chinese, be it letters to loved ones or sharing personal stories in essays.

Picturing your thoughts on paper

In Primary 1 and 2, pupils learn to write simple phrases and complete sentences based on pictures they see in class. Their activity books feature an exercise called "Words of the Mind", which spurs pupils to respond to a picture using vocabulary that they have heard or read.

For instance, a teacher might show a picture of a family, with the theme: "My family and I". He/She then guides the class using questions that encourage them to describe the picture in various ways and jot down phrases related to the subject. If pupils do not yet know how to write a particular Chinese character, they can use pictures, symbols or hanyu pinyin to express what they want to say. As they create their responses, the pupils discover that writing is in fact not as hard as it seems.

Using hints to stimulate their imagination, the teacher also helps the pupils realise that there's no need to worry about having nothing to write about. From greeting cards to short essays on everyday topics, pupils will find that they have both something to say, plus the ability to say it. The confidence and skills acquired from "Words of the Mind" exercises will be invaluable in Primary 3, when pupils are expected to pen full paragraphs and essays.

Daily practice through simple diaries

Children enjoy thinking about, questioning and voicing their feelings. As parents, what can you do to encourage these interests and nurture effective writing habits? Well, parents can get their children to pen their thoughts about things they see or events they experience in a "single-sentence diary".

Learning Chinese by writing

"Pictures help pupils to learn to write" .

A simple entry could be a heartfelt response to the school day, such as:
8 February - My Teacher praised my writing in class this morning. I feel so happy!

While parents can help suggest ideas of what to write about, it's best to let the child decide what he or she wants to say in the diary. Like the "Words of the Mind" exercise, it's perfectly alright to use pictures or hanyu pinyin to represent characters they have not learnt before. For instance, a child could draw the sun to indicate "qing" (clear day) or a smiling face for "xiao" (smile). When they eventually learn the actual character, it's also much easier for the children to remember, as they can easily associate the character with the picture they drew.

It's simple, short and even surprising, as a single-sentence diary can unlock your child's creativity and curiosity. Try it at home and you can help your child develop a lively interest in writing and sound writing habits, as he or she puts into practice the new words they learn each day.

How you can use the single-sentence diary to strengthen parent-child interaction

  • Create a space at home for the child to display his or her single-sentence diary. The diary doesn't have to be an exercise book. You can set up a white board or use notepads that your child can stick on the refrigerator with magnets.
  • Have regular discussions with your child about the sentences they wrote and don't forget to praise them when they write well.
  • Motivate your child to write with warm words and rewards. Besides verbal encouragement, parents can pen their praise or attach stars or stickers under the child's diary entries. Imagine how happy your child would be to read lines like "You did well!" or "Mommy is proud of you!" after their daily effort.
  • Contributed by:

    Xu Yonghua
    Si Ling Primary School

    Wong Yeow Choon
    Chinese Language Curriculum Planning Officer

    Learning Chinese by writing

    "What should I write about today?" .




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    Learning Chinese by writing

    "Drawings help pupils remember the characters for different objects" .



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    Learning Chinese by writing

    It's ok to start off with simple drawings and short phrases.



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