Those of you who are familiar with the wonderful book The Pet Dragon: A Story about Adventure, Friendship, and Chinese Characters, by Christoph Niemann, may enjoy this two-part interview with Niemann about his work.
In the second part, Niemann tries to create an image out of increasingly complex characters:
A study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences may help resolve this question by getting to the nub of what is going on in a bilingual child’s brain, how a second language affects the way he thinks, and thus in what circumstances being bilingual may be helpful. Agnes Kovacs and Jacques Mehler at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste say that some aspects of the cognitive development of infants raised in a bilingual household must be undergoing acceleration in order to manage which of the two languages they are dealing with.
The aspect of cognition in question is part of what is termed the brain’s “executive function”. This allows people to organise, plan, prioritise activity, shift their attention from one thing to another and suppress habitual responses. Bilingualism is common in Trieste which, though Italian, is almost surrounded by Slovenia. So Dr Kovacs and Dr Mehler looked at 40 “preverbal” seven-month-olds, half raised in monolingual and half in bilingual households, and compared their performances in a task that needs control of executive function.
Another useful resource for learning Chinese, with loads of links categorized by topic, which can be added to by readers.
American high school students recently competed in the 4th annual Chinese Bridge Chinese speech contest in Boston. From the CCTV report on the event:
Students with one or two years of high school Chinese participated in small group dialogues on topics related to everyday life, while students with more than two years of Chinese language study presented individual speeches.
Each student’s performance was evaluated by a panel of Chinese language teachers and native Chinese speakers.
At the climax of the event, the contestants sang the popular song for the Beijing Olympics “Beijing Welcomes You”.
CCTV also has a video, or an amateur video of the New York team’s performance can be seen here:
Learn more about the contest here.
Meanwhile, in China, American culture and language is being spread by Mickey Mouse. This is nothing new, but Disney has taken it to a whole new level by opening English-language schools to tap into growing demand for English-language education and a potential market of millions of impressionable young students. The Wall Street Journal reports:
The company says the initiative is primarily about teaching language skills to children, not extending its brand in the world’s most populous nation. But from the oversize Mickey Mouse sculpture in the foyer to diction lessons starring Lilo and Stitch, the company’s flagship school here is filled with Disney references.
Classroom names recall Disney movies, such as “Andy’s Bedroom,” the setting of the “Toy Story” films. To hold the attention of children as young as two years old, there is the Disney Magic Theater, which combines functions of a computer, television and chalkboard and is the main teaching tool.
Disney’s foray into English-language instruction in China comes as the niche industry is booming. McKinsey & Co. estimates that China’s foreign-language business is worth $2.1 billion annually. More than 300 million Chinese are studying English, according to a speech delivered in January by Premier Wen Jiabao.
With T now one year old, we are all constantly tripping over board books left lying around in odd corners of our house. “Book” was one of her first words and she can read several of them, repeatedly, and be completely enthralled for all ten lines of text, before pointing frantically and saying, “Mama book mama book mama book” until it is read again, and again. Even though I am never sure how much she really understands of the text, she definitely has strong preferences and won’t touch some books while others are already getting worn at the edges.
In the three years since L was in the board book phase, I have noticed that an incredible number of popular books are now available in Chinese (or maybe they always were but now I know where to look). I ordered a random selection for her and these are now among our favorites:
Elmer’s Day (English-Chinese) (or others in the Elmer series): This incredibly simple story about a patchwork elephant and his friends has colorful, lively drawings that hold a baby’s attention.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. A classic and the simple, rhythmic narrative translates easily.
Sleepyhead. A night-time story that teaches body parts in a gentle rhyme.