The Village Pupils
You know the hand movements for the song Y.M.C.A. by The Village People? These pupils learn Chinese in a similar fashion
Like most children who grow up in non-Chinese speaking families, Tania Cheng didn't find it easy to learn Mandarin.
"Chinese was as scary as Dracula," said the nine-year-old, who uses English with her Chinese dad and Bahasa Indonesia with her Indonesian mum.
But after attending Guangyang Primary School's Chinese Character Aerobics lessons, the Primary 3 pupil is no longer afraid of learning the language.
"When I can form the words with my hands, I remember better how to write them, " said Tania, who attended the Chinese lessons last year.
The primary school's unique teaching method won a Gold Award at this year's Ministry of Education ExCeL Festival that recognises schools for innovation in their teaching methods.
In three Chinese Character Aerobics lessons a week, pupils copy the Chinese letters with a series of hand and body gestures.
They also have to guess what words their friends are forming and write the characters down on their mini whiteboards.
Started 2½ years ago, this method aims at helping Primary 1 and 2 pupils remember how to write Chinese letters through muscle memory.
"Younger children are generally more kinesthetic and these movements can teach them to write the basic characters," said Ms Lucy Sim, 49, the teacher spearheading the project.
"I saw the video for the song Y.M.C.A. (by The Village People) accompanied with body movements and thought it would be interesting to apply it to learning Chinese."
The project was an extension of the school's "2-2-3 word pattern karaoke" sessions, started in 2011 to help children remember the words they have learnt.
"Most students I see speak very little Mandarin at home and I hope these methods can change their mindset towards Chinese as something difficult and boring," said Ms Sim, who has been teaching Chinese for 26 years.
The aerobics sessions have improved the primary school pupils' learning experience.
"Chinese seems more fun now, since I get to exercise at the same time," said Tania, who enjoyed the aerobics lessons. She now listens to Chinese music in her free time.
Another Primary 3 pupil, Jennis Lim Jia Xuan, said: "I used to spend up to an hour learning just 10 Chinese characters because I forgot them easily. But now, it's easier since I can remember the movements and translate them onto paper."
When I can form the words with my hands, I remember better how to write them.
- Guangyang Primary School Primary 3 pupil Tania Cheng