english dictation vs chinese dictation

today marks the opening session of ICT for SDL and CoL Clinic (traisi code 12470) for sec/jc/ci CL teachers. this course marks two first, a. the first blended learning course conducted at SCCL, and b. the first course i conduct at SCCL after joining the centre for 8 months. thanks to two fellow colleagues, Wu Jing and Anchi, who were there to lend support (:

during the class with 10 fellow CL teachers from 8 schools, i had a chance to share my view on the importance of questioning and be clear about the purpose(s) every time we introduce something (for e.g. an activity, an instruction, an approach) to our students.

this evening, i helped yh4 revised his english dictation taking place tmr. english dictation is carried out by the teacher reading aloud the words and punctuations, with students listening and writing out the passage on paper. last week this time, i helped yh3 revised his chinese dictation. chinese dictation is carried out by the students memorising 3 lengthy sentences and regurgitating them in class with pencil/pen & paper.

it appears that the practices of english dictation and chinese dictation haven been quite different with 30 yrs in between. i recalled going through such activities when i was a pri & sec student. i wonder when teachers carry out dictation, do anyone of us understand and/or question the purpose of carrying it out? until i do more research, i can only hypothesise that in english, the purpose is to assess if students could recall words as a whole, or to form words based on hearing pronunciation. ‘sound’ is closely associated with the word forms. at the same time, it could also be a training for students to sharpen their listening ability as they reproduce what they’ve heard in writing.

now, what’s the purpose of chinese dictation, aka mo-xie 默写? is the purpose just to test students’ ability to memorise chinese characters after characters? why arent chinese dictation carried out the english way? given that chinese characters are logograms, the purpose of testing students’ memory can likewise be achieved. why do we not use the same opportunity to sharpen students’ listening ability too? are any underlying assumptions about chinese language learning preventing chinese teachers from doing so? i suspect it is, for one, linked to the chinese’ belief of equating the ability to memorise as a virtue. but the larger question here is, how often do we revisit the purpose, or at a deeper level, our underlying assumptions about chinese language learning as we design our activities?

if i were a student, you really cant blame me for “liking” english lessons more than chinese lessons just by comparing the dictation activity alone. before we jump to the conclusion that it’s difficult to “interest” students to learn chinese, perhaps we should take time to reflect upon how we’re teaching the language, and the soundness of existing approaches. we could be a major culprit in ‘killing’ off the language though i doubt anyone would readily admit it.

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