Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sing to read

Is the prerequisite of singing reading? Adults normally read the lyrics first before they upgrade the words into a song by adding melodious intonation. Or if the opposite is true, one would then claim that one sings first before checking out the lyrics. Normally, we listen to songs before deciding if we would like to be part of the fandom as a (singing) listener.

For Jia Yi, a three-year old, she sings first. The songs she sings contain 30 to 40 Chinese words. She does not understand the lyrics but she likes Chinese New Year songs very much, as the songs are sung by her peers in colorful costumes. Jia Yi sings and dances along for hours while watching her peers singing joyously. Below is a sample of Jia Yi having fun while watching a video in her parents’ bedroom:

Jia Yi singing to her favourite tune in her parents' bedroom
In case you think Jia Yi is a monolingual Chinese girl, she is also a true blue fan of Hi-5 and she watches Disney Junior Channel, which is part of a paid telebroadcast delivered by ASTRO, a company offering a private telebroacast service. Disney Junior shows English cartoons and musical programmes especially tailored for children below 12.

Arguably, singing has a captivating effect on young and adult minds. In Jia Yi’s case, the CD-Rom of Chinese New Year songs is a launch pad to pronounce Mandarin words in a melodious manner. We may regard the singing as an enhancement of linguistic and rhythmic intelligences in Jia Yi’s cognitive development.

                                                      The CD cover of Jia Yi's favourite Chinese New Year songs

The magical effect of singing on reading seems to garner a steady following. In an alumni sharing session, it was mentioned that Thai songs were used to teach secondary school students Thai before their actual volunteer work in Thailand. My Thai teacher Achaan Sudha included a lot of songs in her Thai lessons as part of our learning extension. My Thai learning became quite a memorable experience with the use of songs.

Beyond reading development via rhythmic intelligence, cultural strengthening is another plus point when Chinese New Year songs are used in early childhood. The songs in Jia Yi's CD-Rom are concerned with the celebration of spring in the lunar calendar. There are plenty of Mandarin references to red packets, good wishes, auspicious terms, as well as communal semiotics such as the color red, mandarin oranges, gold coins, the God of Fortune, peach blossoms and willow tree.
Jia Yi requesting a snap shot

The time spent listening to the songs is a blessing in disguise, not least because it is a positive distraction that prevents Jia Yi from playing digital games too often, like Scarecrow and Candy Crush, which are readily available on the family's iPad. That means Jia Yi's digital exposure to terms such as divine, life, saga and sugar is lessened. The risk of developing a distorted or engineered English comprehension by means of gaming lexicon also decreases. While Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings make some interesting alternatives in her collection of CDs, it is appropriate for Jia Yi to sing about some of the cultural references that are closely associated with her cultural heritage before her next trip to LEGOLAND.

Jyh Wee Sew
Centre for Language Studies
Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
National University of Singapore

1 comment:

CIkgu said...

I am beginning to wonder if mimicry is merely an imitating act, especially at the developmental stage of a child.

Even for adults, mimicry if repeated may be generative of other (linguistic, visual or audio) segments, either closely related or associated yet different from the original pivot.