Kate E. Reynolds

  • Modelling

    I’ve spent the past few months trying to learn Mandarin-Chinese. As I did when I was revising for Latin exams many, many years ago, I listen to recordings of the language, often falling asleep to the tones.

    Somehow I expect Mandarin to penetrate my thoughts while I’m in bed even if I don’t repeat the expressions I hear. When I’m going about household chores, I do copy what I hear, internally congratulating myself on my authentic Chinese accent. The theory behind this pattern of learning seems to be working. I can ask the air to sit down, have a cup of tea and tell it the price is too expensive. I put this down to saturation and repetition.

    When I listen to my son I recognise a similar struggle for him in using verbs and nouns in any sentence.

    Too often I ‘forget’ to give him open-ended questions which could lead to his using expressive language or expanding his repertoire. To the question

    “Do you want pizza?”

    He is bound to answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Yet if I rephrased the question to say

    “What would you like for dinner?”

    Jude is enabled to think and choose without being spoon-fed an answer. Given the opportunity to give one word as opposed to thinking through a sentence, my son will choose the single word. That’s the same with my Mandarin. If I could be understood with one word, I’d be likely to opt for that instead of forcing myself to develop linguistically. Is it laziness or pragmatism? Judge for yourself.

    Listening to CDs of another language gives me modelled phrases to copy. In the same way, we can model sentences for our children to repeat in the understanding that these may become stock phrases to be used in context. The methods of modelling sentences can be effective or ineffective as follows:

    INEFFECTIVE (with criticism)

    Jude: Mum has lellow car

    Me: Not a lellow car, but a yellow car

    JUDE HEARS THE INCORRECT WORD TWICE AND THE CORRECT ONE ONLY ONCE

    Jude: Mum has lellow car.

    Me: Not a lellow car. We don’t say lellow. Remember the word is yellow, not lellow.

    JUDE HEARS THE INCORRECT WORD THREE TIMES AND THE CORRECT ONE ONLY ONCE.

    Jude: Mum has a lellow car.

    Me: Mum has what colour car?

    JUDE HAS NO MODEL SENTENCE AND MAY NOT UNDERSTAND THE QUESTION.

    EFFECTIVE

    Jude: Mum has a lellow car.

    Me: Yes I do have a yellow car. It’s a bright yellow car. It’s a yellow like the sun. I wonder what else we can think of that’s yellow.

    If a child does not have speech and language issues, repeating the correct word once may be sufficient. In our children with autism, several repetitions are helpful.

    Once parents and caregivers are attuned to this way of modelling sentences it becomes automatic. It’s more useful and supportive if the entire family uses the same technique. This gives the child exposure to consistent repetition in a constructive manner. It’s a pity I don’t have the same for my Mandarin. It looks like it’s back to the audio for me!

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