How to Coach Your Child for Tingxie 听写

He was not learning tingxie. He was just messing around.

1. “ Eye Power” does not work
There is no shortcut to learning for tingxie 听写.  This is what I told one of my sons : eye power will not help you learn tingxie 听写.  He thought if he stared at the list of words long enough, he would learn them.  Unfortunately, it did not work at all.  There is only one way to learn : practise, practise, practise.

2. Practise Writing
There is the right way of practising and there is the wrong way of practising.  The parent or the teacher may tell the child to write each word 10 times.  The wrong way is to write each stroke 10 times separately.  In other words, write the first stroke 10 times, then the second 10 times, and so on. It is kind of like the factory assembly line assembling the parts of the character.  You can write it a hundred times and you will not ever remember how to write the word if you practise this way.  Quit it.

Wrong way!

The right way to practise is to write the whole character 10 times, meaning you write the whole character completely once, and repeat for 10 times or more, depending on how fast you learn.  Most of the time, the child is not tested on a character but a word, which can be made up of 2 or more characters.  In this case, write the whole word, the entire phrase or idiom (cheng yu), and repeat for 10 times or more as necessary.  The reason is this : if you learn each character separately, your brain will not connect which characters go together to form words.  When you write a whole word, which is more obvious in its meaning, or an idiom, or a whole phrase, there is a context and we always learn better when something is in context.

3. Certain heuristics help
Usually, not always, a character is a composite made up of a radical part (部首) and another character that will suggest the sound of the character.  The simplest heuristics is to make use of the radicals.  E.g. 氵has got to do with water such as 海 sea, 洗 wash. 钅usually has got to do with metal such as 铜 copper, 铁 metal, 钱 money (think of coins in the past).

The way some characters are formed could give a clue to its meaning. Ancient Chinese characters were kind of like hieroglyphs.  They were pictorial and that characteristic is retained in many of the current characters. This can be helpful for remembering how to write a character.  E.g.尖 (sharp) is made up of 小 (small) on top and 大(big) below.  So they made up a character that suggests something sharp – smaller at one end and bigger at the other. 男 is made up of 田 which is field on top, and 力 which is strength or effort at the bottom, suggesting ” the one who works hard in the fields”, usually the man.  森 is made up of 3 木, which means trees.  Forest 森林 is made up of many trees.

4. Use creativity to make up stories
Sometimes you cannot see any obvious heuristics in terms of radicals or how the character is formed to help the child to remember how to write the character.  There is nothing stopping you from using your own creativity to make up stories!  E.g. One of the first characters I taught my children was 聪.  I told them, this is “聪明”的“聪”.  Meaning intelligence.  How do you become intelligent?  By using your ear to hear,  the two dots are like your two eyes to observe carefully, the mouth to ask questions and the heart to learn and remember.  Touch the ear, eyes, mouth and then heart when explaining so the child can observe that the parts are lined up in a similar arrangement, with the ear at the side, eyes on top of the mouth, mouth above the heart. This character looks very complicated for a young kid but my children had no problem learning it and remembering how to write it.

5. Kinesthetic Learning
If you have a kinesthetic learner, and you are very good at the names of the strokes – I am not – you can get your child to “recite” the strokes as he uses his hand to “write” it in the air (kind of like conducting a band).  So 大 will be 横 (make a big horizontal stroke in the air), 撇(make a slant stroke from right to left), 捺(make another slant stroke from left to right) and then say 大.
This is the closest to reciting the alphabets in a word to learn spelling that you can do with Chinese. I honestly have not seen another kid who learns tingxie like this except my sister when she was in primary school.  It was really quite amazing and certainly more fun than writing over and over again on a piece of paper.  So if it works for you kid, why not?

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