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How does a Chinese child learn about his mother tongue (from age 3 to 8)

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Enjune Zhang

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How does a Chinese child learn about his mother tongue (from age 3 to 8 )
中国人小时候都是怎样学母语的 (以3岁至8岁年龄段为例)

 

I happen to pay a visit to the bookstore and the children's book area is crowded with kids and their mothers busy teaching them how to read after the words. They get lucky to have parents around being their tutors, and I remember that I have nowhere to find mine when I was three or four, let alone to have them teach me how to read or write. It reminds me of how we learn mother tongue as a child.
碰巧去了趟书店,我发现童书区域挤满了娃和忙着教孩子朗读字词的宝妈。都是些幸运的孩子,有父母亲自上阵充当家教,要知道我三四岁的时候连见上爸妈一面都难,更不用说让他们教我读写了。这情景让我联想起年幼时学习母语的过程。


In China, children are supposed to go to kindergarten at about the age of four, and before that time family members play a significant part in showing us how to talk, besides, the TV programs and the materials with characters and vocal function mean a lot to us back in those days. 
在中国,孩子们四岁左右上幼儿园,在此之前,家庭成员在教我们怎么说话这件事上功不可没,此外,电视节目、带汉字和语音功能的学习器材也起了不小的作用。


At the beginning we have no idea what it means when we imitate the pronunciation of the adults, and they seem to enjoy teaching us how to speak without feeling bored. Later on we say the character or word presented to us before and we seem to get the things we want in return, and that's when we start to realize how speaking up will make the life of an infant easier. 
刚开始我们只是模仿大人们的发音,并不知道其中代表的含义,大人们也看似挺享受教我们说话的过程,没有丝毫厌倦的意思。后来我们说出了之前大人们向我们展示的字词,而且这让我们得到想要的东西。那时候我们开始意识到通过说话表达出自己的诉求可以让自己过得更随心所欲。


We still have no idea of the written forms of what we speak, and just name it after the adults, trying to make it sound not so confusing to them so our demand will be soon satisfied. Actually, we take speaking as a way to give the order, which we want the people around us to follow. 
我们只是说着母语,并不知道发音所对应的汉字。我们只是跟着大人们讲,并尝试着让声音听起来清晰不含混,让他们更快懂得我们的意思并满足我们的需求。实际上,我们视说话为发号施令的方式,我们说话是为了让身边的人围着我们转悠。


Therefore, what we speak is closely related to our need from within, until the adults bring about something like flashcards with pictures of animals and music instruments, story books and reading machine, etc. That's when we start to know something about the outside world instead of focusing just on the daily necessity of eating and sleeping. And what we have been exposed to at this period, somewhere around age three, will distinguish us from the peer concerning the level of language. 
因此,我们说话的内容与内在的需求紧密挂钩。直到大人们拿出了带动物和乐器图案的卡片、故事书和点读机等法宝,我们便开始了对外部世界的探索,关注的事情也不再局限于吃和睡。我们三岁左右所接触到的东西影响着我们的语言水平,这也让语言水平在同龄人之间有了分化。


We have no idea what this is about until we are put together in the kindergarten later, and see that some of the kids know almost everything even before the teachers start the lessons, while some of them have a hard time understanding what the teacher is talking about.    
我们对此并不知情,直到后来上了幼园,意识到确有这种情况:一些孩子在老师授课前就几乎懂了所有内容,而另一些孩子连听老师讲课都十分吃力。


Thanks for my grandpa's habit of watching CCTV channels and his patience reading bedtime story to me, I knew that there is another way of pronunciation of Chinese which sounds alien and strange to people speaking Cantonese originally. And my listening comprehension was pretty good before I went to the kindergarten.
多亏外公有看中央电视台的习惯,也会耐心地给我讲睡前故事,我知道汉语除了平时惯用的粤语发音外,还有另外一种发音,听着很陌生。在上幼儿园以前,我的粤语听力理解能力已经很好了。


The only thing puzzled me was that we talked with teachers and classmates in Cantonese but read after the tape in Mandarin when we learned from the textbook. We started learning how to identify the corresponding characters and build their connections with the pronunciations. With a certain foundation of listening comprehension, it was easy for us to link the written forms with the familiar words we'd heard hundreds of times.                                                                      

唯一一件让我困惑的事是,幼儿园里老师和同学平时都说粤语,但一到课堂学习课文时就放普通话的录音带。我们开始认识与发音对应的汉字,建立汉字与发音的联系。有了之前奠定的听辨基础,再去识之前听了上百遍的字就显得容易了。


Pinyin was not introduced until a term before we were going to primary school. Prior to Pinyin, we had read after the tapes for Mandarin pronunciation of the certain text. Actually we could speak Mandarin before we had Pinyin into our life. And then in primary school Pinyin was taught again and it remained an important part of our course throughout the nine-year compulsory education. Pinyin is not the necessity for someone to speak Mandarin. Language has something more important to do with imitation than rules.
我们是在上小学前的一个学期才引入拼音的。在学拼音以前,我们已经跟录音用普通话朗读课文了。甚至在学拼音以前,我们也会讲一些普通话。上了小学后,拼音又重新出现在课堂里,并在今后的九年义务教育里一直伴随左右。不一定要学拼音才会讲普通话,对语言学习而言,模仿比规则更重要。


I guess that people born in Beijing hardly need to learn Pinyin since they have mastered the pronunciation of Mandarin through everyday communication since childhood, and similar situation may happen to the English native speakers that they don't go directly to phonetic symbols when they study how to speak English. 
我猜想生在北京的人可能并不需要学拼音,因为他们自幼便以普通话进行日常交流,并掌握了这门发音方式。同样,英语母语者也是通过日常发音模仿学会说英文,无需直接从音标学起。


Pinyin is not the starting point of our connection with Mandarin, not should any pronunciation rules with any language. Speak first, then let Pinyin help us correct and polish the pronunciation we have, and lead us to more characters of which we have no idea of their pronunciation.
拼音不是普通话的起点,其他语言的发音规则也不应该成为我们与这门语言建立联系的起点。先通过模仿去说,然后再让发音规则帮助我们纠正或优化发音,并让我们通过发音标示知道更多生字的发音。


We started to look up a new character in the dictionary via radical and Pinyin when we read and wrote at the age of five or six as pupils in the first grade of primary school. Teachers taught us how to make words with the characters learned just now, and then the sentence with a certain word given. Building the words and sentences got us well prepared to the composition later on, and we started writing from diary. 
五六岁上小学一年级时我们接触到汉语读写,便开始按照发音和部首查字典。老师会教我们怎样用刚学的字组词,进而用所给的词语造句。遣词造句的能力给后来的写作打下基础,我们从写日记开始写作。


We were asked to do lots of reading apart from the textbooks, guided by the booklist recommended by teachers. But I was the one ignoring all the recommendation and went directly to the bookshop to explore books of my own taste. I read really slowly and even now I kept this habit. I preferred taking notes of the beautiful wordings applied and sometimes marking down things crossing my mind while reading. It helps my improvement in writing a lot, in native language as well as foreign language.                
老师会要求我们读许多课外书,并相应地提供一些书单。而我通常更倾向于直接去书店发掘适合自己口味的读本,并不局限于既存的推荐。阅读的速度也是极其缓慢,现在我仍保持这个慢读的习惯,以停下来记录优美的词句,或记下阅读时闪现在脑海里的念头。这对于写作能力的提升大有裨益,汉语如是,外语亦然。          

 


It will be a natural way learning language from listening, speaking, reading and then writing, and I'm curious about how much more efficient and effective I would become in learning English if I take the right path instead of paying partial attention to reading only. I try to recall how I learn Chinese just to see what kind of enlightenment I have for English study. 

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