Chinese reference information to help you study

Chinese characters seem to be the most difficult part for foreign learners of Mandarin. One likely reason may be that Chinese characters look very different from their Roman language counterparts. Each character in Mandarin represents not only the pronunciation, but also possess a certain meaning. A common complaint is that Chinese characters are so unlike each other that you have to learn them individually. Unfortunately, there are so many to memorise and that when encountering a new character, previous knowledge of other characters rarely helps because you can neither pronounce it directly nor guess what it means. However, this is not always true. There are connections between Chinese characters, composed in a defined way and learning these connections can help learners score better.

Chinese characters form the pictorial writing system used for recording in ancient China. With a history dating back over 8,000 years, it is one of the oldest surviving writing systems in the world. Inscriptions of Chinese characters were found on turtle shells dating back to the Shang dynasty (1766-1123 BC). Known as the Oracle bone script, 1,000 of the 4,600 known bone logographs can be identified with characters used currently. An old Chinese legend credits Cangjie, an official historian under the legendary Emperor Huangdi in 2600 BC, for the invention of the Chinese characters. Although attributing its creation to one person is more likely to be an exaggeration, it is thanks to contributors like Cangjie that we have a complete and well-developed writing system.

Xu Shen, from the Eastern Han Dynasty (121 AD), was a distinguished scholar who attained unparalleled fame for his etymological dictionary, “Shuo Wen Jie Zi”, which explains the written language and parsing words. In the book, Chinese characters are classified into six categories, namely pictogram, ideograph, logical aggregates, pictophonetic compounds, borrowing, and associate transformation. However, Chinese characters generally fall into the first four categories as per their origin.

Pictograms

Pictograms are the earliest characters created and they usually reflect the shape of physical objects. From this pictorial method, other character-forming principles were subsequently developed. Over time, pictograms evolved from irregular drawings to a definite form. Most were simplified by losing certain strokes for ease of writing. However, only a small portion (less than 5%) of Chinese characters fall into this category.

Ideograph

Also called simple indicative, ideographs usually describe an abstract concept. It’s a combination of indicators or the addition of an indicator to a pictograph to connote meaning. For example, a short horizontal bar on top of a circular arc represents the concept of “up” or “on top of”. Similarly, placing an indicative horizontal bar below the pictogram for “wood” is an ideograph for the word “root”. However, like pictograms, the number of this category is also small, less than 2%.

Logical aggregates

These are a combination of pictograms that represent a meaning, rather like telling a story. A pictograph for “person” on the left of one for “wood” connotes “rest”. This story-telling formation is relatively easier to learn as most aggregates have been reformed into or replaced by phonetic compounds.

Pictophonetic compounds

Also called semantic-phonetic compounds, they combine semantic elements with phonetic ones, taking meaning from one and phonetics from the other. For instance, the character for “ocean” (“yang”) is a combination of the semantic classifier of “water” with the phonetic component “yang”. On its own, “yang” means “goat” or “sheep”. This last group of characters is the largest in modern Chinese, making up around 90% of all Chinese characters.

The superiority of phonetic-compounds in the first three categories lies in its unique phonetic components. Many objects and concepts are hard to express through photographs or ideograms, therefore, the association with character pronunciation helps Chinese vocabulary extend faster than logical aggregates. Therefore, newer Chinese characters tend to follow this format.

Over the centuries, the Chinese language has undergone great change. Knowing the origin and evolution of the characters can help learners understand its formation. For example, the phonetic-compound for “cargo” or “goods” uses the character for “shell” as the semantic element because shells were a form of currency in ancient China.

Agape School of Education (ASE) is special because we ensure that our classes are small to maximise teacher-student interaction. Our mix of native and non-native teachers learn from each other to better help students. ASE’s unique curriculum includes regular revisions and testing to ensure students truly understand the concepts and to enhance their learning experience. Find available courses here.

The different types of learning styles

There are many reasons teachers are unsung heroes, not least of all because every student has a different learning style. If they don’t understand the most effective way of teaching their students, teachers will be stuck, unable to help their students reach their maximum potential.

In this article, we will explore the 7 different learning styles:

1. Visual Learners
These learners use pictures or images, and their spatial awareness to learn. Therefore, they need to understand the relationship of the other and themselves. This includes the use of mind maps and other visual cues. These are the students who learn best through film.

2. Aural Learners
These learners require sound and music to learn effectively. Although it is quite difficult to incorporate music into every lesson, sounds also include the use of their own voice. Repeating their notes to themselves or use of audio books and audio material can help these students maximise their learning potential.

3. Verbal Learners
Learners in this category need the aid of speech and writing. However, this is not as simple as getting them to recopy a textbook. Mnemonics, acronyms and even acting out a situation can help these students strengthen their verbal learning techniques.

4. Physical Learners
These students learn through using their sense of touch or by doing. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to jump around while they learn. The use of puzzles or objects that accompany their learning, including writing or drawing are the best ways to teach these students.

5. Logical Learners
These students like organisation and following a structure. Reasoning is the main skill used when learning, although this can often be tough when learning a foreign language. However, they generally also have the aptitude to be challenged to think of different ways of learning.

6. Social Learners
As the name suggests, these students learn best with others, in groups or an open, communicative environment. These students are inquisitive and learn by asking questions, presenting or participating in dialogue.

7. Solitary Learners
These learners prefer the quiet and learning independently. However, they also require clear guidance and distinct explanations as they rarely ask questions. However, to guide these students, teachers will need to ask active questions and find out the gaps in their students’ learning.

While these are the main modes of learning, this is not a set figure. The beauty of learning is that it’s always changing and adapting. Furthermore, students can have a mix of learning styles. Most traditional schools focus on the linguistic and logical means of teaching, using textbooks, repetition, and impressing the importance of exams as a final means of assessment. Unfortunately, this has created and reinforced the belief that there are “smart” students or “dumb” students.

At Agape School of Education, we believe that the key to success is to maximise our students’ potential to learn. To attain this goal, our teachers individually identify their students’ learning techniques and adapt their teaching styles. We also use a range of teaching materials, from textbooks to videos, and even games and puzzles. While there are a good variety of textbooks out in the market, there is rarely a textbook that fits our in-house curriculum. Therefore, we have specially designed in-house textbooks and materials to help our students learn efficiently and effectively. Finally, while we have numerous courses spanning different languages, for students and adults, our curriculum is always modifiable. So, should you require an MOELC-based course or one for business, we are here to help! View our available courses now!

Teaching your kids is trickier than you think

In Singapore, we emphasise the need for bilingualism (even multilingualism, if possible) through our education system. All children are taught their mother tongue language alongside the English language, our main language. More often than not, this mother tongue language is dependent on the child’s race. However, these days the choice is not so straightforward. While Singapore has increased the number of recognised mother tongue languages, parents are seeking to expose their kids to more languages.

It is common for parents to tutor their kids at home, especially at very young ages. Exposing their children to a language before they even start school is thought to give the child a head start but is this always the case?

As we discussed in our previous article, research has shown that children learn from a variety of stimuli from their surroundings. Therefore, parents who attempt to speak a language to their child in the hopes of teaching them the language can be an excellent means of exposure. However, this is contingent on the parents’ fluency in the language.

Research has shown that if a parent is not fluent in the language they are trying to teach their child, they tend to use a limited vocabulary and often imprecise grammar. Unfortunately, this is what the child then learns and applies. This approach can do more harm than good because the child will take these skills and later apply them to further learning, which stunts their ability to learn that language. For example, in French the word ‘mal’ means bad and a non-fluent speaker of the language may use it in a variety of sentences (be it correct or incorrect). The delicate intricacies of ‘mal’, ‘mauvaise’ (poor), ‘méchant’ (wicked), or ‘gâté’ (rotten) are all lost on the child.

Therefore, it is important that parents impart their native language, or the language the parents are fluent in, to their children. Research has shown that children who have strong first language skills find it easier to learn another language. Common sense tells us that for a child to communicate effectively in society, they must first learn and be able to communicate effectively at home.

Once this is achieved, the skills learnt from their native tongue can be used to learn another language. Children require quantity and quality language stimulus to learn effectively. Therefore, it is not enough for the parents to speak a chosen language to a child. The prevalence of speaking partners and opportunities is an excellent way to hone skills, build confidence and learn from one another. This point is true for learners of any age. Therefore, language playgroups, preschools with a focus on speaking one language or even encouraging family members to speak to a child in one language are all beneficial.

That said, the language you choose to teach your child need not be a “beneficial” language. Speaking Arabic is no less beneficial than English because today, we speak a multitude of languages. Focus on building a strong foundation for your child.

If you are looking for language playgroups for your child, Agape School of Education(ASE) has the courses you need. At ASE, conversation is a key focus. We offer a wide range of courses, which follow the Ministry of Education syllabus for students taking a third language or those under the Mother Tongue In-Lieu programme. We also have a range of playgroup classes where toddlers can meet and interact with one another in a controlled linguistic environment. Our teachers are all multi-linguists who enjoy teaching and inspiring students. Contact us today to find out how we can help you learn a new language!

Have you met Corinna?

Corinna has been teaching the German language and culture long before coming to Singapore. Combined with her background in accounting and finance, she has a wealth of experience in teaching German language and culture with precision. Although she is a native speaker of German, she has learnt English as her second language and knows how and where students may struggle when learning a new language. A friendly and fun-loving teacher, Corinna covers all ages and categories in her teaching activity at Agape School of Education, from young to old, private to group, local to international companies. We got to know Corinna a little better in order to find out what makes her the dedicated teacher she is and what motivates her every day.

Why did you decide to go into teaching?

Corinna: Curiosity is engaging to me. I like working with people who are curious to learn new things because they always ask interesting questions. When I teach curious people, sometimes I also end up learning. This is why I always encourage my students to question and explore their knowledge.

What is the most important lesson you have learnt from teaching?

Corinna: I think the most important thing that being a teacher has taught me is hard work and patience. Students cannot expect miracles to happen overnight. It takes time and patience. With perseverance and patience, students can succeed in learning a new language.

What is your favourite part of a teaching?

Corinna: There are many rewarding parts to teaching but, personally, I feel the most accomplished when I see my student progressing. I am even happier when they reach their goals because I know that they have put in the hard work and sacrificed the time needed to attain it.

What are some of your favourite ways to teach difficult topics to your students?

Corinna: I am a big proponent of making learning fun. I like to play games and come up with fun activities that help my students learn effectively. When the students are having fun, they are naturally more interested and more curious.

What is one piece of advice you would give to a new student?

Be patient with yourself, the secret to success is willpower!

3 things you need when learning a new language

When I found out that my family would be moving to Singapore, I realised that I would need to pick up a ‘mother tongue’ in secondary school. Growing up in America hadn’t exposed me to the Singaporean system, but I knew enough from stories that my cousins told me to know it was tough. Scary and tough. I had to put on my battle gear and prepare for the war!

Unfortunately, my actual ‘mother tongue’, Malayalam, was not offered as an acceptable language then, as it is now. In those days, most of us picked from the typical Mandarin, Bahasa Malay or Tamil. Luckily for me, because I entered the local system much later, I was exempted from the three main languages and allowed to choose a foreign language in lieu.

I was thrilled and most people who have taken Tamil will understand why. The alphabets alone can give you a headache. The choice between French and German was a no-brainer. I had always loved the French language, the culture and the croissants. Laissez-faire, you might call it.

Even then, a year before I would have to start French lessons, I wanted to learn it on my own. Such was my naivete. I borrowed an old audiobook (a cassette audiobook!) from the library and tried very hard for the 2 weeks that I had the loan. Needless to say, 2 weeks is not enough and an old audiobook from the 80’s is not a good reference. Still, to this day, I remember the first and only thing I learnt from that audiobook: “Mon anniversaire est le 12 Juillet”.

Basically, I wanted to tell everyone when my birthday was so I could get lots of presents. That never happened, but I did realise that French was MUCH harder than I had expected and that I needed a book from this century.

When I started French at the Ministry of Education Language Centre, the curriculum was gruelling and the language seemed more foreign than ever. I started to fail at a subject that I genuinely found interesting and loved! I realised I needed to truly immerse myself in the language. I was on a mission. Here are some tips that really helped me:

  1. Une tasse pas un verre.
    I translated my house. I put up French translations for items and rooms all over my house. For a good three years, each room in my house, every kitchen item and every piece of furniture had a sticker with its French translation. Thanks to this nifty trick, I was constantly revising my vocabulary!
  2. I watched movies and listened to music
    This was probably the most fun part of learning a new language. I got to use it as a reason to watch TV or listen to music! Granted most of the French shows I managed to rent or CDs I bought were extremely old, but it was very useful when it came to getting pronunciation and inflection in my speech. Since then, my oral exams have always been my forte.
  3. Aidez-moi!
    Most of the students at the MOELC are top students from the top schools who qualified to take a foreign language as a third language. Therefore, mother tongue-in-lieu students were rare. So, the gap between the learning ability of the top students and myself was, many a time, wide. It was understandable that my class teacher was busy catering to the needs of many students and couldn’t always explain to me why they say “J’ai chaud” instead of “Je suis chaud”. I knew it would be important to get a teacher who could focus their attention on me and, more importantly, motivate me to learn my verbs.

Like all happy endings, I improved, but took a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Through my journey in French, I have discovered that:

  1. My true love is not a croissant, but brioche.
  2. The French movies and songs I used to listen to were probably older than my mother.
  3. The francophonie Français is so huge that French is spoken on almost every continent.

I have used my French knowledge to help me get exchange opportunities during my university, apply for jobs and even land clients, even though I don’t work for an international company. I have found that learning a foreign language has helped me understand my own mother tongue and even the English language better. Apart from the undeniable benefits to brain function, learning French helps me think more logically.

Agape School of Education (ASE) is special because they ensure classes are small to maximise teacher-student interaction. The teachers at ASE are a mix of native and non-native teachers who learn from each other to better help their students. ASE’s unique curriculum includes teaching students the culture behind the language so that they can better immerse themselves in the language and enhance their learning experience.

Have you met Maria?

Maria is our multi-lingual professor who specialises in French and Spanish. While at Agape School of Education, Maria has used her background in Finance and Literature helps her connect with a wide range of students, many of whom will vouch for her dedication as a teacher and passion for language. We got to know Maria a little better in order to find out what makes her the motivated teacher she is and what drives her every day.

Why did you decide to go into teaching?

Maria: There are different ways to share something with others and teaching is one of the noblest professions. Although I enjoy teaching students and learning from them in return, I believe knowledge should be shared for the improvement of all.

medium-IMAG0008What is the most important lesson you have learnt from teaching?

Maria: I think the most important thing that being a teacher has taught me is that the most important factor to learning a new language is effort. With hard work and determination, any student can succeed. The teacher can always modify pedagogy to meet the students’ needs, but the student must first be willing.

What is your favourite part of a teaching?

Maria: There are many rewarding parts to teaching but, personally, nothing beats the joy of seeing a student succeed. Knowing that I helped that student to that point of success really gives me a thrill. Not only have I shared my knowledge with my students, I have made a difference in someone else’s life.

What are some of your favourite ways to teach difficult topics to your students?

Maria: In my experience examples are the most effective way to teach a new concept like a new language. It allows students to take a theory and see it’s practical applications. When learning a new and foreign language, and all it’s intricacies, this is especially important.

What is one piece of advice you would give to a new student?

Anything is possible for the French!

Motivating for Learning

The education system has many schools of thought when it comes to learning. We have visual learners, students who prefer to listen to lectures and some who learn through experimentation. When learning a new language, teachers often have to brainstorm a variety of methods to help students learn – through videos, conversational activities, etc. Even with all these tools, a handful of students still struggle to keep up.

Motivation could be the key to unlocking their potential to learn. I know what you must be thinking; “After class preparation, I don’t have the time figure out how to motivate every student!”. Let’s start with the benefits of motivating your students.

What Motivating Does

Well done! Your student is enrolled in your class, which means they (or their parents) must be interested in learning. This enthusiasm, however, needs to be nurtured if it is to be sustained over the duration of the course. Motivation results in several things; individuals set goals for themselves, put in effort and persist in achieving these goals. Studies have shown that consistently motivated students generally perform well as they have a sense of responsibility for their own grades.

This makes conducting lessons a whole lot easier for the teacher because students come to class prepared and nobody has to play catch-up. Interactions in class are fruitful and enhance everyone’s learning.

So, what are the different kinds of motivation? External and internal factors are the general classifications that describe students’ learning stimuli. Being aware of these factors can help you prepare lesson material that triggers a positive response.
Let’s explore them in detail.

External motivation

Students who require external motivation require persuasion to carry out their task. For example, if your student joins your class because it helps them to secure an internship or if they desire a good grade to impress someone (their parents), they are motivated by external means. But this does not mean that they are not worth motivating. Instead, a teacher’s approach to motivating should be to help them to invest in their own learning. Speak to them about their goals for the course and help them set realistic yet high expectations for themselves. Including milestones within their long-term goals will help them keep track of their progress. Complement this with a system of detriments and rewards to keep them motivated. Creating competition and encouraging peer-to-peer learning will help these students to success.

Internal motivation

Individuals motivated by intrinsic means work on improving themselves because they enjoy it and want to track their own performance. For instance, one has a passion for learning Japanese because they like the challenge, and have a curiosity for the culture and the country’s linguistic history. These students require little motivation from their teachers as they are stimulated by discovery. Types of material that work for these students are case studies, research and reasoning. Providing constructive feedback on a regular basis, as well as, giving them control over their learning will sustain their interest in the long run.

Motivating for Learning – What Works?

An experienced teacher can tell you that there is no right or wrong approach to teaching. As such, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ model to motivate your students. Using a variety of teaching methods to suit both types of students will influence them to be better learners. But to find out what type of motivation a student needs requires the personal touch.

At Agape School of Education (ASE), we keep our classes small so our teachers can connect with their students on a personal level. This helps them tailor their lessons and teaching approaches to the individual student. Learning a new language is a beneficial way to help students understand their own mother tongue. At ASE, we combine the technical aspect of language with the cultural. This reinforces the love of the language and helps the student better grasp the language. Our goal is to impart knowledge and inspire passion in our students, and our coaching approach helps our students deal with the emotional aspect of learning a new language.

To find our more, click on the Video Presentation above, click here to download the Presentation in PDF format or contact us today to find out how we structure our classes for your success!

The Efficiency Principle

For many people, National Service (NS) is characterised as a time of tough physical work and character development. For two years, our Singapore men trade in their school uniforms for army greens to serve and protect our country. As most full-time national servicemen (NSFs) spend a significant portion of time in camp, whatever time they have in the evenings and on weekends should be spent in a prudent and efficient manner. One excellent way to utilise this time is to pick up a new language!

medium-Photo 2

Bryan Ho preparing to take the French international diploma (DELF)

Your NS period is a very good time to learn a new language because you can focus entirely on it. It is common for students to be wary of taking foreign languages in university because it has one of the heaviest workloads and it can be difficult to score in that subject, potentially messing up your GPA/CAP. Another common trend is for students to pick up the language and drop after a few semesters, which is a further waste of precious time. This is why the NS period is perfect! You exercise your body and your mind. By keeping your mind active, you also prevent yourself from losing touch with the ‘study’ mindset. This makes the transition after NS to further education or work easier.

Using this time to learn a new language is not just efficient, it has long-term benefits. Students who intend to go for a student exchange programme during university or who intend to attend an overseas university, gain an upper-hand if they speak the language. Why deny yourself a head start?

More and more NSFs are enrolling in part-time courses while serving their NS. They attend classes in the evenings when they book out of camp and also during the weekends. At Agape School of Education, the flexibility of our courses is crucial in helping you learn. Classes are tailored for the student and can be scheduled around book-out timings.

If you’re worried about your supervisors, don’t be! A survey recently showed that army supervisors were lenient and supportive of their NSF’s private studies, allowing them to leave on time to go for classes. It’s inevitable that you may need to miss a week of lessons from time to time because an NSF’s first priority is your service to your country. We understand this and our teachers can build a structured programme that will fit your needs.

It’s not necessary to put your studies and career on hold while you serve. In fact, it’s not recommended. Learning a new language or even keeping in touch with one you’ve already learnt will keep you from forgetting knowledge and skills! This will not only prepare you for the life awaiting after NS but also equip you with credentials that benefit your further education and future career. Be efficient with how you spend your time during your NS. Contact Agape School of Education to find out how we can help you develop, enhance and protect your skills.

Here are two examples of students who efficiently used their free time during their NS period to pick up a new language:

  1. Bryan Ho prepared for to take the French international diploma (DELF) at the B1 level while serving his NS. He passed with an excellent grade and later used his knowledge in French to enter a university in the United States.
  2. Derong Lin discovered his love for writing in French at Agape School of Education! While he was preparing to sit for the DELF examination at the B2 level, he wrote about his experience with the French language. His article can be found on our blog!

    Agape School of Education helped him develop skills that he later used during his tenure as a student in the School of Design and Environment at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Thanks to his knowledge of the French language, Derong was also chosen by NUS for a 6-month internship in Paris, France.

Ushering in the new

In the spirit of the new year, we at Agape School of Education, have also launched our new, updated website! Although we have not forgotten the old, we understand that today, it is important to keep updating ourselves and our digital profile. As technology advances, websites are constantly evolving in terms of functionality, design and how user-friendly it is.

Here are some of the new features of the new site that you can look forward to!

  1. You can now book classes online
    Our new site is equipped with up-to-date information about our classes and with the click of a button, you can sign yourself up. Learning a new language has never been this easy!
  2. Create and monitor your account with ease
    Students can now create accounts to sign up for courses, track their progress and pay fees with the click of a button. Don’t let admin work hinder you from picking up a new language.
  3. A clean and updated design
    Our sleek new design was honed and perfected over many sleepless nights. Our aim was to create a beautiful yet, easy to manoeuvre site, with a focus on the language. After all, everything we do at Agape School of Education is because of our love and passion for languages and teaching.
  4. Optimised search for easy browsing
    Part of our new design is a dedicated page for each language and special programme offered by Agape School of Education. This way, all the information you need is situated in one place.
  5. Promotions and SkillsCredit information at your fingertips
    The first thing you see when you visit our site is the Skills Credit banner. We already offer several courses that are eligible for payment through SkillsCredit. However, we are working on bringing you a greater range of courses to choose from, because no one should be limited from learning. For a limited time, we also have discount coupons for courses available to first-time students.

Take some time today to explore our new website, read the testimonials and sign-up for a language course. Agape School of Education would like to take this opportunity to thank our tireless website designer, Trendy Tan, and our web developers, the Ninjas at One Spiffy, for all their hard work and determination to see this project to completion. While we are still working on the nitty-gritty details of the new website, we hope you like it as much as we do.

Playing to learn: Benefits of the playgroup

Humans are naturally creative, musical and artistic. Yet, our children today are spending less time physically playing, creating imaginary games, and interacting with others meaningfully. Many are becoming socially isolated because their leisure time is spent in front of a computer or television, or with a helper. Studies have shown that this affects their ability to empathise, read emotional language and, most importantly, communicate.

Language skills are essential to a child’s ability to communicate and develop. These skills enable children to engage with other people and learn from their surroundings and in the classroom. Furthermore, multilingualism is great for your child’s brain as there are major cognitive benefits to being able to speak two or more languages as a child. So how can parents achieve this? No, this is not something that can be taught. We simply need to give our children the opportunity to develop these abilities.

medium-girl-kids-training-school-159782As children, we use our voice and body language to express feelings, but they also serve important learning functions. For example, singing has many surprising benefits for children. Studies have shown that children with a strong sense of beat are more likely to read and listen well. Music stimulates all the senses, helping children recognise patterns and sequence, and promoting creativity, social interaction, self-esteem and memory. Songs can also be useful tools in the learning of vocabulary, not to mention their reflectivity of mother tongue culture. Similarly, creative speech activities support children’s’ needs to socialise and play and helps ‘wire’ the brain, supporting a higher level of thinking. It can help young learners improve their listening and speaking skills, and pronunciation.

Perhaps the greatest benefit to using songs and games in the classroom is that they are fun. Interest and joy are important parts of learning a language, something which is often overlooked by teachers. Fun activities can add interest to the classroom routine and improve student motivation. Therefore, learning a language through tools such as song, dance and other creative activities is an effective and motivational way to inspire young students to learn and develop.  

For children under the age of 5, Agape School of Education offers a Playgroup programme. The aim of this programme is to enable children to acquire listening, reading, writing and speaking skills in a second language through gesture, creative speech, song and other fun activities. We expose our students to new languages in a way that helps them develop their learning skills freely (without constraint) and boosts their creativity.

We understand that at their level, a linguistically oriented course will not capture their interest or attention spans. This group environment allows them to explore and increase their knowledge faster and more efficiently. Our flexible and adaptable program allows teachers to customise activities to suit every situation and all students.

Contact us today to find an appropriate class for your young child!