Thursday, July 28, 2011

Know English, Will Travel

Wu Siwei (right), Ammon Cunningham and his wife Marissa playing a card game. The American couple stayed in Wu's home for 15 days in exchange for a two-hour English conversation everyday. Gao Erqiang / China Daily

A novel concept is marrying budget-conscious travelers to the nation with hungry-for-English yuppie Chinese. Shi Yingying reports

When 22-year-old Ammon Cunningham and his wife Marissa from Utah's Salt Lake City decided to visit Shanghai in the middle of June, accommodation was the last thing on their mind, despite it being peak time for hotel occupancy, thanks to the on-going Expo. The young couple had arranged to stay in a 140-square-meter apartment in Putuo district for free, in exchange for English conversation everyday with their hosts - 18-year-old Wu Siwei and his mother, Jin Yujun.

This was made possible by a non-profit Chinese organization called Tourboarding, which offers a virtual platform for free lodging in Chinese homes in exchange for English tutoring. Guests are required to speak at least two hours of English every day in return for their stay, giving their Chinese hosts the chance to learn from a resident live-in English teacher for free - lessons that can otherwise costs 200-350 yuan ($30-50) an hour, and even more than 1,000 yuan an hour at some training institutions.

"I think it is very nice to actually be this close to the local culture," says Ammon. "We would like to not only visit tourist spots, but also see how a Chinese family lives, what their customs are like, and what's their favorite television show."

Although Ammon's company in the US would have covered his cost of accommodation as one of the aims of his 15-day trip is to expand business with the Shanghai branch of Gymboree (an early childhood education company), the young man chose the Shanghai family over a star hotel.

He chanced on the Tourboarding website while "looking for information on Chinese culture and what's okay to do".

"I thought this might be fun to try," says Ammon. "So we contacted Wu's mother and the rest is history."

Wu, a recent high school graduate, was most excited when he heard that two English-speaking foreigners would be staying at his home. The teenager is currently preparing for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for his future plans to study in the US.

"Unlike the formal teaching in my school, the conversations I have with Ammon and Marissa are more like everyday conversations between friends," Wu says.

"To spend more time with them, I show them around Shanghai and that means far more than two hours of English every day."

Ammon says they talk about diverse topics. "I think that's really good as in China, students usually memorize everything so they can clear a test. This kind of conversation is a lot more difficult for them."

As to suitable US universities for Wu, Ammon's 20-year-old wife Marissa, who is still in her last year at university says, "I'd definitely encourage him to go to the University of Utah. It is very famous and near our city."

Marissa says the biggest cultural shock for her is the lack of personal space. "Here in China people are always right next to each other, but in the US, everyone tries to keep away as much as possible.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How Can Parents Help Your Young Child to Build Pre-Writing Skills

Like reading, writing is another basic skill, which lays the foundation for children’s future success. In addition to help your child form a good reading habit, parents should observe your child’s learning stage and support your child to develop writing skills properly. Children usually learn to print first. However, they are not able to write well until they have developed good fine-motor skills, we call them pre-writing skills.

Fine-motor skills development demands that children are able to accurately and effectively use the small muscles in their hands. These intrinsic muscles will be used for the rest of their lives and for essential functional activities. Childhood is the critical time to properly develop these muscles. Well developed fine motor skills are essential for kids’ future success.

Help your child develop strong fine-motor coordination

Fine-motor is usually defined as the ability to coordinate the action of the eyes and hands together in performing precise manipulative movements. As we know, most activities, which are called bi-manual activities require the use of the two hands working together to perform the task. There are some single-handed manipulative tasks are referred to as uni-manual activities; for example, using a hand to do drawing and handwriting.

In general, children show the most improvement in simple fine-motor control behaviors from 4 to 6 years, more complex control behaviors tend to improve gradually from 5 to 12 years, some fine-motor skills, like isolated finger, hand, wrist, and foot movements tend to improve significantly from 5 to 8 years. Proficiency in fine-motor control allows children to develop skills that will have both consequences immediately and in their later life.

Tips for parents

Well developed fine-motor skills are foundation for kids to learn writing and perform many essential functional activities in their lives. Fortunately, parents can do a lot of things to help your child’s fine-motor skill development.

We recommend you to encourage your child do the following activities to help him or her develop the balance, precision, and hand-eye coordination that are needed to perform the fine-motor skills used in handwriting and other tasks your child will involve in his or her life.
  • Play with small blocks and other miniature toys, such as Lego’s
  • Learn to master some everyday skills such as tying his or her shoes, buttoning and zipping his or her clothes
  • Turn things over or turn pages of a book
  • Screw and unscrew the cover of a bottle of water
  • Play some games that involves the handling of cards and small pieces
  • Play games that require precise hand and finger control
  • Do drawing, painting, and coloring
  • Play puzzles
  • Play with small objects such as coins
  • Make crafts using crayons, marking pens, scissors, glue, finger paints, and tearing paper
  • Be able to use one finger at a time, such as in playing the piano or typing
Above all, be patient with your child because it does take longer for children to learn skills than parents think. Give your child sufficient time let him or her practice, enhance, and evaluate his or her fine-motor skills. Encourage your child by praising his or her efforts often. Please remember, every child has a different pace in acquiring the fine-motor skills. The more your child uses his or her fingers in activities, the sooner and the better he or she will acquire these skills.

To improve your parenting skills refers to Great Parenting Books.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

How young children learn English as another language

By Opal Dunn, educational consultant and author

Young children are natural language acquirers; they are self-motivated to pick up language without conscious learning, unlike adolescents and adults. They have the ability to imitate pronunciation and work out the rules for themselves. Any idea that learning to talk in English is difficult does not occur to them unless it’s suggested by adults, who themselves probably learned English academically at a later age through grammar-based text books.

Read the notes below about young children learning English as another language. You can also download these notes as a booklet. Right-click on the link below to download the booklet to your computer. You may print this booklet.
The advantages of beginning early
  • Young children are still using their individual, innate language-learning strategies to acquire their home language and soon find they can also use these strategies to pick up English.
  • Young children have time to learn through play-like activities. They pick up language by taking part in an activity shared with an adult. They firstly make sense of the activity and then get meaning from the adult’s shared language.
  • Young children have more time to fit English into the daily programme. School programmes tend to be informal and children’s minds are not yet cluttered with facts to be stored and tested. They may have little or no homework and are less stressed by having to achieve set standards.
  • Children who have the opportunity to pick up a second language while they are still young appear to use the same innate language-learning strategies throughout life when learning other languages. Picking up third, fourth, or even more languages is easier than picking up a second. 
  • Young children who acquire language rather than consciously learn it, as older children and adults have to, are more likely to have better pronunciation and feel for the language and culture. When monolingual children reach puberty and become more self-conscious, their ability to pick up language diminishes and they feel they have to consciously study English through grammar-based programmes. The age at which this change occurs depends greatly on the individual child’s developmental levels as well as the expectations of their society.
Stages in picking up English  
Spoken language comes naturally before reading and writing.

Silent period
When babies learn their home language, there is a ‘silent period’, when they look and listen and communicate through facial expression or gestures before they begin to speak. When young children learn English, there may be a similar ‘silent period’ when communication and understanding may take place before they actually speak any English words.

During this time parents should not force children to take part in spoken dialogue by making them repeat words. Spoken dialogues should be one-sided, the adult’s talk providing useful opportunities for the child to pick up language. Where the adult uses parentese (an adjusted form of speech) to facilitate learning, the child may use many of the same strategies they used in learning their home language.

Beginning to talk
After some time, depending on the frequency of English sessions, each child (girls often more quickly than boys) begins to say single words (‘cat’, ‘house’) or ready-made short phrases (‘What’s that?’, ‘It’s my book’, ‘I can’t’, ‘That’s a car’, ‘Time to go home’) in dialogues or as unexpected statements. The child has memorised them, imitating the pronunciation exactly without realising that some may consist of more than one word. This stage continues for some time as they child picks up more language using it as a short cut to dialogue before they are ready to create their own phrases.

Building up English language
Gradually children build up phrases consisting of a single memorised word to which they add words from their vocabulary (‘a dog’, ‘a brown dog’, ‘a brown and black dog’) or a single memorised language to which they add their own input (‘That’s my chair’, ‘Time to play’). Depending on the frequency of exposure to English and the quality of experience, children gradually begin to create whole sentences. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Get Them Talking

Exploring English by Keith W. Wright

Besides boosting their confidence, asking your child about their day will also improve their English speaking skills.

OVER the last few weeks, we have been looking at ways to improve your child’s English at home by making learning the language fun. So far, we have looked at developing children’s reading and writing skills.

This week, the emphasis is on improving speaking skills. Remember, good talkers usually become good readers and writers. 

Developing your child’s speaking skills does not have to entail formal lessons. Just encouraging them to talk about their day does wonders for their vocabulary and sentence construction.

It is an interesting time as well as an enjoyable and educational one when at the dinner table, parents ask their children about interesting things they saw, people they met at school, what they did or simply “a good thing that happened today”.

Always encourage your children to talk to be active, attentive listeners.

To achieve this goal, parents need to set the example and listen to what their children say as well as expand and on what they have said. When asking questions, parents should offer distinct choices, such as: “Would you like a red balloon or would you like a green one?” and “What fruit should we buy at the shop – bananas, apples or mangoes?”

Remember that children are “copiers”. How you speak, what you say, the standard or quality of words you use, your idioms and colloquial speech, as well as the grammatical errors you make, all are usually copied and quickly become “theirs”.

When speaking to your child, especially when asking questions, endeavour to use “mature” words and not “baby” ones. For example, ask “What would you like for dinner?” instead of “din-din”. Later, the word “like” can be changed to “prefer” or “fancy”.

Full-sentence responses – instead of one or two-word answers – should be encouraged. For example, when you ask: “Which book do you want to read now?” Encourage “I want to read this one about lions and tigers”, instead of just “This one”.

To build your child’s vocabulary, encourage the use of different descriptive terms when speaking to describe people, objects, feelings, events and so on, such as: tall man, huge tower, high wall, pretty dress, beautiful flower, delightful song, sad face, unhappy girl, gloomy weather, exciting day, enjoyable picnic, wonderful concert.

This ability leads eventually to the child mastering the 4S Art of The Alternative whereby they think about and use “better” words to describe something, instead of using the same simple descriptive words most of the time.

For example, instead of always referring to something as “nice”, they will choose superior words, such as: a delicious meal, an enjoyable trip to the zoo, a brilliant sunset, etc.

Take the time to write down your child’s stories and ideas. Encourage your children to create and tell their own stories.

Write what they say and then read their story back to them. Encourage your children to be imaginative and to think outside the box.

Finally, a quick and effective way to assist children to speak English with confidence and competence is to sing English songs. 4S uses music as an effective English language-teaching tool.

It makes learning a lot of fun, especially when “action” songs are used.

A great, traditional favourite and one that is so easy to learn is Old McDonald’s Farm where there is virtually a near endless list of animals to be used and sounds to be made.

To reiterate the point made earlier, learning should be enjoyable.

It should be as much fun as possible, especially for the young. Singing “easy” songs achieves this goal as all young children like to sing and clap and stamp their feet and no one really cares or notices if they are out of tune or rhythm.

Here is a simple and enjoyable game for both the classroom and the home called “I Spy”.

The sound, symbol and word recognition activity known as “I Spy” is an excellent way of teaching and reinforcing a learner’s knowledge of the single sounds and symbols of the alphabet, the blended sounds and symbol combinations and initially developing word recognition, pronunciation and spelling skills.

It is easier for young learners to commence with an initial alphabetical sound rather than a symbol (letter) that begins the name of things they can “spy” (see) in the immediate environment, such pictures and things in the room, on the walls, on the desks or tables, outside, through the windows.

Learners take turns to be the “Spy” saying, for example, “I spy with my little eye something beginning with the sound ‘b..’”

The other learners then have to guess what has been spied, i.e. book, bench, basket, ball, etc.

If someone guesses the correct answer, he or she then becomes the “Spy”. If no one guesses the answer then the original Spy has another turn.

The same game can be then played with “blend sounds” such as “br..” or “fl..” or “gr..” etc for the words bricks, bread, brown, brow, flower, floor, grass, grey, and so on.