2012-10-15 How do the ACC kids learn Chinese?
An article by Singaporean journalist Lee Jing Song
Earlier this year I had the privilege to meet the ACC kids when they were in Singapore and I was very amazed by their Chinese literacy. The fact that they can communicate, sing and even present a speech in Chinese is truly exceptional which really made me wonder: how did these kids learn Chinese?
Last month a journalist from Singapore visited the Amitofo Care Centre in Malawi to investigate how exactly do these hundreds of kids learn Chinese at the centre. The journalist was there for a mission: to find out whether they are any tricks or hints that could help the Singaporean kids who find it difficult to learn and remember Chinese.
When asked by the journalist about the challenge she had in learning Chinese, Wan Yue (who is 15 years old and joined the centre four years ago) honestly said that she found it extremely difficult to cope in the beginning, but then she realised that there is only one way to make this work – practice, practice and more practice! She said she actually had to repeat saying a word many times until she got the pronunciation right, and on top of that she also wrote the words repeatedly on a daily basis in order to memorise them.
“I wrote each Chinese word at least 50 times and during this process I found that I became more familiar with the word and began to understand its underlying meaning”.
Three languages in primary school
The ACC kids in primary school have to do five subjects - Maths, Science and three languages (a widely spoken language in Malawi called Chichewa, English and Chinese – which is more than what Singaporean kids have to do. When the ACC kids reach secondary school, they have to do three additional subjects which are history, geography and Malawian sociology.
The journalist spent his first day with the kids in primary school, sitting through the 35-minute long classes, and noticed that comparing to Singapore there is no major difference in terms of how the subjects are taught at ACC. Take the Chinese class as an example, the teacher simply drew a number of fruits on the blackboard, write their Chinese names next to them and taught the kids how to pronounce them. The journalist also noticed that the kids had a high level of concentration and listened really well to what the teacher had to say.
Chinese to change their destinies
The head of ACC Malawi, Miss Lo, told the journalist that the kids are between the ages of 3 to 17 and have no knowledge of the Chinese language before they join ACC, but it takes only 1 to 3 years for them to learn the basics and 5 years to read and write it.
Miss Lo added, “I don’t think the ACC kids are born with better language skills than others. I believe that it’s the attitude of the kids, together with the environment we provide them with, that helps them learn Chinese so quickly. Besides the 35-minutes classes the kids also have to participate in other activities such as Buddhist study, martial arts, dancing and singing which are all conducted in Chinese. Furthermore, most of the volunteers at the centre are from Asia which gives the kids another opportunity to practise.”
During the four-day visit the journalist spent a lot of time with the kids and not one of them said they hate to learn Chinese, which reflects the fact that they do have a positive learning attitude.
Master Hui Li, the founder of ACC, said: “The ACC kids all came from poor backgrounds and did not have the opportunity to learn something new. When they arrived here, they were suddenly exposed to many new things and knowledge that broadened their thinking and enriched their lives in various ways. Hence they naturally develop a positive learning attitude towards learning.”
Malawi is the 9th poorest country in the world, with an average age of 37 due to the AIDS pandemic. Many parents therefore pass away when their kids are still young, leaving over 2 million orphans behind. Fortunately the government was willing to receive international aid which opened a pathway for ACC to establish care centres in Malawi. The ACC kids know that they are privileged to be at ACC and also understand that they have to work diligently in order to shape their own destinies. Some of the older ACC kids also feel grateful that ACC has taught them Chinese, because they understand that it has improved their mobility in the jobs market. One of them even said that she wants to go to China and study to become a doctor, so that she can save the sick people in her tribe.
A typical day at ACC:
· 04:30 – Wake up
· 05:00 – Morning worship, meditation, chanting and Buddhist teaching
· 06:00 – Morning exercise
· 07:00 – School starts
· 14:00 – School ends
· 14:30 – Buddhist story telling
· 15:00 – 17:00 – Other activities (martial art, singing, dancing, speech, extra classes)
· 18:30 – Evening service, meditation, Buddhist teaching
· 19:00 – 21:00 – Free time
· 21:30 – Bed Time