Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Day 82: So grateful

What went well? 

  1. Woke up to an email from my mentor in Melbourne, explaining the details of a project she wants her team of five undergraduates to help her with - co-authoring a journal article reviewing school-based positive psychology interventions!!!!!! I had kinda been fantasising about publishing stuff as an undergraduate especially since hearing about Amy Wrzesniewski's insane achievements (6 papers as an undergraduate)...and it looks like those dreams were actually closer to reality than I could have ever hoped for! I'm just so grateful and so inspired by my mentor's generosity and kindness in giving us this opportunity. It's incredible.
  2. Went to a really interesting talk this afternoon by David Moser - "Is Chinese character writing still a basic skill? The new digital Chinese tools and implications for Chinese learning". It was so thought-provoking and so relevant. See below.
  3. Got another email from my mentor telling me that the positive book chapter I helped her to edit last year, "Balancing the curriculum: teaching gratitude, hope and resilience", has been published! It was really cool to see the final product.

What did I learn? 

  • In China, there's a problem: "Character Amnesia". Even native-born Chinese are finding it difficult to remember how to write everyday characters in their own language, and resort to pinyin to fill in the gaps. Why? Digital tools (e.g. digital dictionaries, Pleco, OCR, speech-to-text) have reduced the need to actually produce characters by hand. The Chinese government has gone to serious efforts to try and promote more emphasis on writing characters, with a lot of attention in the media about this issue and even spelling bee-style game shows on CCTV. David Moser suggested that this is futile though, as digital tools are the future. Instead, he argued that digital tools are both the problem and the solution. If we can write using digital tools and have our reading assisted by digital dictionaries and OCR automatic character recognition, why waste that much time memorising characters when you could just be trying to expose yourself to as much text as possible to acquire vocabulary? Recognition is key, not the physical production of words. Importantly, he's not suggesting that we get rid of characters, but just decrease the emphasis on writing and increase the emphasis on recognition. His talk definitely emanated a lot of the American values of pragmatism, efficiency and individualism, and probably the Western universalist perspective, but it was a compelling argument nonetheless, and has certainly influenced my ideas about how to best go about approaching my Chinese learning. I guess my goals would be to be able to have deeper conversations with family in China, as well as being able to talk to people about (and within) my profession in the future. So, based on his talk, I think some good ways to go about improving my Chinese vocabulary for these domains might be to try and read a lot of this kind of material (supported by digital dictionaries) and also do translations of these (again, with digital dictionaries). But I've asked him for more advice on this, so it will be interesting to see what he says.

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