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Learning a Language begins with the Words

By Chou Sing Chu Foundation
There is a Chinese saying that the construction of a lofty building begins from flat ground. In learning Chinese, one must also begin from the basics. The basis of the Chinese language is in its words, every single word is like a tile or a brick, coming together in the construction of a skyscraper. Without a strong foundation in vocabulary, our children will find it difficult to master the language, and will struggle in their use of the Chinese language.

This series is aimed at helping to nurture our children’s interest in reading. In the first four parts, we touched on how to choose good Chinese books, the writers, the publishers, and the translated children’s literature and poetry. Reading enriches the children’s vocabulary, and the benefits of a strong command of vocabulary is obvious: apart from significantly increasing the children’s confidence in communicating in Chinese, it also improves their ability to express themselves, helping them to find the right words for every situation. With a rich vocabulary, our children will be able to excel in understanding logic, structure and content in composition exercises.
Learning through Inference

Picking the right method of learning new words is crucial. One example is to draw inferences: learning about different examples from one new word, thus resulting in greater efficiency. With this principle in mind, here are three different angles from which to approach learning:

  1. Synonyms and Antonyms

The Chinese language contains many synonyms and antonyms. Some words are very similar in meaning but vary in degree or implication, thus their usage differ. These are termed “synonyms”. These may seem to be a group of troublesome words, but understanding their differences will yield dividends in our children’s learning journey. Apart from synonyms, also take note of the antonyms – words that are opposite in meaning – to enrich their learning.

  1. Graphically Similar Words

The Chinese language has several graphically similar words, differing in only the smallest of details. A word meaning “official” can look quite similar to one referring to a “palace”, while words meaning “clear”, “please”, “green”, “affection”, “fine”, “eye” and “sunny” resemble each another because the word for “green” appears in the rest of them as a radical! But before you turn green, all it takes is to identify the differences between them and understand the meaning of each word, and one can go from learning about a single word to a whole group of words!

  1. Sentence Construction

Sentence construction exercises are arguably the best way to mastering the use of different words. For instance, a term meaning “magical” or “wonderful” can sound quite similar to one meaning “curious”. Such similarities mean that it is easy to make mistakes which results in inaccurate expression, but this can be avoided with an understanding of their differences.

The Joy of Being at Home with Words

Speaking of words and language, Chou Sing Chu Foundation organised a 10-day bilingual exhibition at Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre as part of POPULAR’s annual BookFest@Singapore. Titled “At Home With Words”, the unique exhibition site took the shape of a siheyuan, a traditional residential architecture in China also known as a courtyard house. The exhibition space within was divided into three main areas. The first was dubbed “The Everyday” and focused on daily necessities such as clothing, food, shelter and mobility and their connection to Chinese words. In “The Remarkable”, visitors learnt about aesthetic creations centred on Chinese words through the letterpress and seal-carving. Finally, the “Rhyme of the Ink” section featured an “ink pond” where visitors tried their hand at writing calligraphy. In addition to these three sections, there was a “Photo Gallery” that showcased calligraphic inscriptions on the signboards of different companies, clan associations, and schools, amongst others, emphasising that the aesthetic beauty of Chinese words is a part of our everyday lives.

We will be bringing “At Home With Words” back again in the form of a roving exhibition. Come join us as at the exhibition and share in this encounter with Chinese words!