Trying all means and ways to attain higher Achievement Level (AL), especially in PSLE Chinese is always a huge topic and a great bugbear for a lot of our kids and may I say, parents too.
Learning Chinese is a challenge, and coping with Chinese exams – ultra headache. The common pain points – our kids find it tough to remember the Chinese characters, much less apply. They face difficulties to make out the difference between similar looking characters such as 检、脸、险、剑. And at times, when the child wants to write the Chinese phrase kāi shǐ (which means start), subconsciously a few Chinese phrases pop up in his head – 开时、开是、开事 or 开台 (the right word is 开始 by the way)
You may be thinking – isn’t this very simple Chinese? Well, you will be surprised it isn’t.
The question remains – are there any ways to help the child learn and remember better?
The good news is – there is! But the bad news is – it’s not a magic pill and it’s going to take time and efforts.
Understanding Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve
First of all, let’s understand The Forgetting Curve. Our brain is not wired to soak up everything we have learnt – new information is usually stored in our short-term memory bank and after a while, due to capacity constraints, the brain has to decide if that piece of information goes into long term memory or its simply trashed – forgotten!
The latter is more often the default decision.
The forgetting curve is first coined in the late 19th century by a German psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus. He tested his memory over various periods of time and plotted it on a graph that looked something like this:
What this graph tells us is that when your child first learns something, the information disappears at an exponential rate – and this applies not only to learning Chinese! Your child loses most of the learned information in the first couple of days, after which the rate of loss tapers off.
And you would also observe from the graph, the loss in information is most pronounced within the first day, almost 50% of the information is lost. (we’ll come back to this point later)
The good thing is when Ebbinghaus discovered the exponential decline of memory, he went a step further to identify the factors that contribute to it (Hurray!).
The level of memory retention depends on a couple of things:
1. Does the learning process create a Strong Memory?
Like anyone of us, our kids will be able to recall stronger memories for a longer period than weaker ones. What constitutes a strong memory? A strong memory can be emotional, funny, sad, angry and it is almost always relevant to the learner.
How do we then create learning that is relevant to each learner, so that the learning has meaning – and henceforth, it is very readily stored in the brain as a strong memory!
2. Timing is Everything!
The forgetting curve shows that our kids (including us – adult learners) will forget an average of 90% of what they have learned within the first month.
So what this means is that if you continue to send your kids for all kinds of Chinese tuition classes – the avalanche of information is not going to help, and they might still not remember – especially if condition (1) as above is not met.
And even with good teaching and good memories created, how can we help our kids capture all those good stuff to score a higher Achievement Level (AL) in their PSLE Chinese exams?
Here are some strategies you can look at to win The Forgetting Curve:
Strategy 1 to combat The Forgetting Curve: Repetition
According to Ebbinghaus’s study, repetition is the key to retain knowledge. By frequently revisiting the newly learned content, the brain will then identify the information as important and hopefully, it gets a better chance to be stored as long-term memory.
Our kids need to learn a total of 1800 Chinese characters in their 6 years of primary school, and if we divide up the number of words that needs to be learnt – it’s about 30 words a month, or about 8 new words a week!
The essential building blocks to doing well for Chinese comprehension (阅读理解) and composition (作文) is Chinese vocabulary – the more words they know (by heart and knowing the meaning), the better they’ll do well for their studies – and dare we say, the better they will enjoy the language!
So in the school, you may ask – didn’t our kids go through Chinese spelling (听写), Weighted Assessment (WA) and also Semestral Assessment (SA)?
Indeed, the spelling tests and assessments are designed to help – but if you look at Ebbinghaus’s graph again – a significant percentage of information is lost almost immediate after teaching.
If the student is not prompted to revise immediately or the teaching process creates a weak memory, we know the consequences.
Ebbinghaus pointed out that the most effective way to beat the forgetting curve is to put the newly learned knowledge into practice both immediately and frequently. This helps trigger the brain to remember the information and store it as long-term memory.
In our new courses tailored to help students perform better for PSLE Chinese, Vitamin M+ (suitable for P5 and P6 students) and Vitamin M-Star (suitable for P6 students), our 90 mins online lesson is designed to combat the forgetting curve.
Take a look at the lesson flow:
Teaching of Chinese Vocabulary > Writing and reading out loud to create stronger memories > Immediate application in written exercise > End of lesson Recap and Quiz (1st repetition) > Homework reinforcement (2nd repetition)
The following week lesson will start with a recap (3rd repetition) and at the end of each term, we will have mock tests (4th repetition) to strengthen memory.
Point to note – repetition is not just about presenting the same information in the same way over and over again.
The key here is to give your learners breathing space and also a chance to connect with different learning materials on the same topic.
Strategy 2 to combat The Forgetting Curve: Spaced Learning
Spaced learning is another method suggested by Ebbinghaus to overcome the forgetting curve.
This method involves reviewing or teaching the same materials during various timed sessions, after a series of breaks in between.
This concept is a bit like advertisement. You may not remember the TV Ad on first watch, but after a few repetitions on TV at different occasions, and seeing the printed version, the social media ad, the radio ad etc – the consumer starts to get it – you’re selling me this product. The message is committed to memory and the next time, the consumer needs to make a decision – viola! You remembered the product!
In our Vitamin M+ lessons for primary five students, we create interesting and memorable videos to flash out the concepts – imagine learning about composition writing through watching fun how-to videos! These videos can be replayed as many times (remember repetition) as the student desires and concepts will stick onto them (committing to long term memory).
We also use short documentary videos to enhance learning of comprehension, allowing students to understand more Chinese vocabulary usage through video and audio sensory stimulation.
If you’re still not convinced of how leveraging on multimedia, multi-sensory can combat the forgetting curve, have a look at this graph comparing information retention by listening, watching and doing over 3 hours and 3 days.
A combination of listening to lesson teaching, watching video resources and doing worksheets and exercises will lead to between 65-92% of knowledge retention, rather than listening alone!
So with this package of worksheet exercises, animation-based quizzes, original video resources and regular assessment checkpoints, Vitamin M+ and Vitamin M-Star creates a virtuous loop of spaced repetition learning to promote long term memory retention of knowledge.
Consistency is Key!
Learning a language is a process that takes time and don’t be disheartened if your child has weaker foundations – it means he/she needs to start afresh and put in consistent efforts, creating stronger memories with Chinese vocabulary, and to combat the forgetting curve with effective studying strategies.
And if your child is in primary 3 or 4, this is the best time to start building on their foundation. Our flagship program, Vitamin Hour, which focuses on listening, watching and speaking will kickstart their journey to do better in PSLE Chinese in 2 to 3 years time, and also nurture them to become effective bilingual students!