Tuesday, March 25, 2014


A gecko made up of discarded CDs in Madrid where one of my nieces is temporarily living. Despite having a mom from Taiwan, she passed on learning Mandarin or Taiwanese. She did learn Japanese and hopefully Spanish.
I've always been fascinated by how quickly children learn a foreign language, especially languages that use different alphabets or use ideograms. I am also fascinated by how some people can speak a language yet not read it. My son-in-law can speak Arabic but I don't believe he can read it. I once was travelling with a Hong Kongese-American who didn't learn English until he went to school and asked him to translate some banner in a Chinatown where we were. How do the F should I know what it says? Um..it's written in your first language. He never knew how to read ideograms. I can read, poorly, several languages but I read them much better than I speak which I think is common for learning foreign languages that at least share the same alphabet.

During my first month as a Brownie Leader of first graders, I had two recently landed Japanese guests. One already had been here 6 months and already spoke English as if she always lived here but the other only came here in the past month and hadn't picked it up yet. Their moms were even further behind in their English lessons and lacked the 6 year old mind that seems so adept at language acquisition. I needed the one to translate for me when I needed to communicate with the moms. She offered to write notes. Well OK. I know what type of notes my other 6 year olds were capable of..and these girls were no academic slouches (PhD in nuclear physics from Stanford, anyone?) and this girl quickly wrote an elaborate note with what appeared to be excellent calligraphy. Was she exceptional? My sister-in-law said not. The ideograms are very logical and concrete, much so than forming words from an alphabet, which is fairly abstract, so young children can write fluently. If a child sees the word 'man', does a picture of a man instantly form?  If they see the pictogram for 'man', well it looks like a man.

Chineasy is a system of learning Chinese ideograms developed by Taiwanese-American ShaoLan Hsueh. She married a non-Asian and had children. None of her children had any interest in learning her language claiming it was too hard. She analyzed her language and decided that it consisted of 100 building blocks. If one could learn these blocks, then one could decipher the meaning of all that it is written. Some blocks are used much more frequently than others so Chineasy, as she calls her system, starts with them. One won't be able to speak Chinese after learning her system (all dialects use the same pictograms but the pronunciations vary so much that a Cantonese speaker can not understand a Mandarin speaker) but one should be able to read it at a low level without much trouble. Any google search will lead you to her pages where one can see how this works.

Should I learn this? Or should I work on bettering the languages I already studied.

Oh so much that I can do or should so. First step, massive house repairs. We spent some time yesterday learning about everything one needs to know about roofs and then some. What I would rather do with this money...

No comments:


Blog Archive