The Benefits of Learning Chinese Poetry

In this article, we will discuss the benefits of teaching our children Chinese poetry, both classical and modern.

After grammar, many children, and adults alike, find poetry to be the next horrible thing they are forced to learn. Why then, in the pursuit of Chinese literacy, should we consider introducing Chinese poetry to our children?

Before we continue, we recommend emphasizing the beauty, rhythm, and surprise of the language used in poetry instead of dissecting and examining the poems unto death. Nothing kills joy like being forced to find “deep meaning” in an art form that is meant to express feeling and ideas in a symbolic way.

Cultural literacy

As we have mentioned previously, there is more to fluency than knowledge of words and grammar. Cultural literacy is just as important for communication and finding common ground with others. Part of it is knowing the key cultural touchstones of a people. It becomes a sort of shorthand for conveying ideas and main points.

For example, in Western culture (at least, until recently), cursory knowledge of the Bible or Shakespeare was vital to understanding and interpreting much of English literature. Most educated people would be able to identify famous snippets of sonnets such as

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
      - William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

In a similar vein, almost every single Chinese person can recite 靜夜思 by 李白.

床前明月光
疑是地上霜
舉頭望明月
低頭思故鄉

There is something beautiful and sustaining for our children to take part in memorizing - or at least, familiarizing themselves with a poem that dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE).

Furthermore, classical Chinese poetry is linked to Chinese calligraphy and Chinese calligraphy paintings. It is a way we can introduce these types of Chinese arts to our children - not to mention, dynasties, histories, and political systems.

Yes, that can seem rather intimidating. While these side subjects are not necessary to be incorporated along with teaching poems, if you wanted to, you can.

A means to become more aware of Chinese words

Poetry provides a means for our children to become more aware of Chinese words.

Through poetry, children will hear repetition, alliteration, rhythm, meter, and rhyme. This is another way for our children to be exposed to the musicality of the Chinese language. They will learn new Chinese words and phrases and unconsciously pick up the rise and falls of the language.

Similar to how songs and music help children memorize and remember lyrics, the rhyme and meter of poems help them memorize the words. Thus, it is another way to drum the cadence of Chinese into their muscle memory.

Develop creative language skills

Classical Chinese poetry were written to specific structures or forms. You could teach your child how to write and fit their ideas into literary strictures. This encourages children to consider why they would choose a particular word over another, taking into account rhyme, meaning, and expression.

Furthermore, having children write and compose their own poems will encourage creativity, expand their vocabulary, and teach them how to incorporate a non-literal understanding of language. They ideally can learn new ways to express themselves in Chinese as well as increase a specific writing skill, giving our children a more agile command over the Chinese language.

Appreciate the beauty of the Chinese language

All languages have their unique beauty. Poetry can show children the wit, melancholy, and range of both the Chinese language and its people.

When our children learn to appreciate Chinese through poetry, they can see the richness of our culture and history and thus be encouraged to pursue Chinese more so on their own.

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Posted in English, 教養心得, 語文發展 Language, 語文閒話.