Monday, October 06, 2008

First guest post...sort of...

Actually, I'm posting comments made by a reader, YY, (Singaporean living in Canada) on my Math mummies to the rescue post (YY, hope you don't mind). Remember I've said often about how many supersmart kids there are around, well, YY is related to a few of these kids. She also has interesting thoughts about intelligence, this nurture vs nature thing we're always on about. Let's discuss!

I'll just start from her very first comment in this post on early reading so you guys have a background on the kids she's talking about, amazing stuff.


Hi Lilian,

Thanks for your informative post and my experiences are very similar to yours. I, too, bought some Glenn Doman stuff (mainly the math dots; but I made my own word flashcards..) but my boy at 1.5yrs hardly wanted to look at the flashcards! He was only interested in the captivating picture dictionary which flashed automatically on the computer screen...

It was later on when I taught him phonics (more like letter-sounds, without the complicated phonics rules) that got him into starting to read. It was around 4yrs old that he began to figure out simple words.

When he was 5 we emigrated to Vancouver, Canada. In his kindergarten class he was the only Asian kid and yet he was the best reader! (a fellow Canadian parent commented to her friend that I could speak 'really good' English.. Obviously she & her friend had never met a Singaporean before.. Most of the Asians they've encountered had prob. been only HKgers & Koreans..).

Having said this, Canadians do put a lot of emphasis on reading, writing & verbal expression esp. at elementary school level... The various Canadian provinces were amongst the top 10 in a recent (I think it was 2007?) global reading competition for grade 4 kids, even more highly ranked than UK kids.

I like this post of yours very much & will recommend it to friends as a good summary of techniques that I myself have found to work, after various trials & errors...

I just watched the video of Sean reading and hey, he sounds just like my 6-yr old nephew, E., who grew up in Oxford, UK. They both have this charming, crisp british accent!

Mind you, my nephew E. could read from age 15MONTHS!! (yah, it boggles the mind...). But you see, there's a sad story behind this.. When E. was about 1 he was diagnosed with a serious vision defect in one eye and his desperate mom tried to help him by giving him maximum amount of visual stimulation possible,.... in the form of flash cards!!! So it went that--helped by a genetically high IQ I suppose--he could figure out the sounds of simple words even before he could walk...

On the other side of my family, I have another step-nephew who could read at 2 years of age!!! Oh, he was (& still is) an only child and you should see his home--the entire flat is like a schoolhouse with educational posters & flashcards stuck all over the walls.. Every waking moment he's living in a classroom and his mom made sure that her every interaction with him was turned into a teaching opportunity.. He & his mom were even featured on a Mandarin documentary about exceptional kids, produced in Singapore.. ;-p

However, something in the documentary was vaguely disturbing.. When the interviewer asked him what he would remember about his childhood when he grows up, he went:"... oh, I would remember math, science, chinese, english...."


Anyway, the result of having such clever nephews meant that when my own son FINALLY started to read at age 4, I felt like a great burden rolled off my shoulders!! :-\

yy (oh, I'm the 'anon' contributor of comment number 5 :-)

While taking a ride in my car, my UK nephew went: "Look, my little car is undergoing his daily routine.. he's now taking his bath, and than he's taking his lunch." Whereupon my teenage step-daughter asked him: "What is the meaning of the word 'routine'?". The 6-yr-old nephew thought for about a second and then responded, carefully & meaningfully, in that hoity-toity accent of his: "A 'routine' is a series of activities that you can do on a daily basis!" (Gasp... Later on when I asked his dad, he insisted he had never coached his son on the meaning of the word).


Hi all,

I had been pondering awhile about this phenomenon of Asian kids consistently beating the rest of the world in global math & science competitions... I'm definitely seeing it here in Vancouver, Canada, when during my daughter's high-school 'Awards Night' the math prizes were INVARIABLY given to Asian boys (mostly from China, HK or in the case of her school, Korea). And in the 5km-radius from where I live we can find about 5 or 6 Kumon schools! (largely filled with Korean kids as my area has the 2nd largest Korean community in Canada, after Toronto).

I was wondering: is it a cultural proclivity, because Math is (at least, up to high-school level..) to a large extent such a skills-&-drill-oriented subject that is therefore so suited to the typical Asian grill-&-drill approach to education..

Then I came upon this website that has many scintillating, provocative (& politically INcorrect, mind you!) articles, one of which seems to shed light on this Asian math & science superiority, claiming that N.E. Asian (i.e. Chinese, Korean, Japanese) have the highest visuospatial IQs (responsible for math & sci abilities) and rank 2nd in overall IQ behind Ashkenazi Jews only because of our lower verbal IQ...

Go hit the website & take a look:

Continuing from the interesting link I posted above (i.e., I forgot to inform readers that at the bottom of that article one can find a chart correlating ave-national 'verbal IQ' to national GDP, and that on that chart Singapore was ranked HIGHEST in the world for 'verbal IQ'!!

Sort of appears to contradict the premise of that article in that the author was making a point that Ashkenazi Jews have the highest overall IQs and beat the N.E. Asians because of their higher verbal IQs, yet Sgp--which is 75% made-up of pple of NE.Asian descent is ranked highest in verbal IQ.... But perhaps it's because one can't really find a nation whose national-average IQ is a true representation of that of Ashkenazi Jews…?

Anyway, there apparently is, floating around somewhere, evidence to suggest that Sgp-reans have the highest verbal IQs in the world. I know many of us cynical Sgp-reans would immediately jump to the conclusion that aiyah, it's becoz they only picked the smartest kids to take the test, mah! But then, it can really be the true result of a generation of emphasizing English as 1st language in Sgp and the trend of more-&-more English-speaking families in Sgp, even in the minority groups. Of course I’m assuming that the verbal IQ tests were conducted in English because as far as I’m aware, native Mandarin speakers in mainland China or native Cantonese speakers in HK, are very very eloquent talkers & erudite writers in their respective native tongues too… Not forgetting of course native speakers in East India or any other culture with rich spoken or written literary traditions..

I have some anecdotal examples just glaring at me from within my family about how environment can potentiate genetic predictions: my step-daughter came over to Canada from Sgp in Feb 2007--when half the school-year was already over, and by the end of the school-year she beat the majority-Caucasian school cohort to be Top Student in English!! You see she grew up in a completely English-speaking family and in her preschool years was hot-housed in not fewer than THREE kindergartens one-after-another within the same day (yah, her mom was some champion mommy-coach, sister to that other mom who produced my afore-mentioned-step-nephew-who-could-read-at-age 2). And somehow or other she & her elder brother never had any typical ‘Singlish’ slang rub off on them... Their accent is somewhat ‘neutral’ too, like that of some Sgp newsreaders or LKY or PMLee, for that matter.. And my UK nephew is another example of an Asian kid that prob. beats a lot of british kids in linguistic abilities but then, he did grow up not only in England but also in an entirely English-speaking family--like so many other Sgprean or Peranakan & many Chinese-Malaysian families too... Plus, his dad being a professor in THE Oxford University, he had been going to preschools predominantly attended by kids of other 'academics' & 'intellectuals' too!! His dad was recounting to me one typical language exercise the kids had to do, for instance they had to use different words to describe, say, a sunset. And my nephew came up with: "... That's a vermilion sunset." (what the H*** is a VERMILION sunset for heaven's sake?!? 0_0)


So is that good stuff or what? Who else thinks YY should start a blog of her own?


monlim said...

Actually, not a real surprise since SGP kids have been winning all sorts of international writing competitions for a while, beating all those from native speaking countries. Quite amazing when you consider our population size. I agree much of it can be attributed to English speaking families and English as first language in schools. But yet, the English standards among teachers here, esp primary school teachers, continue to be sub-par in many cases, IMO.

Lilian said...

Singaporeans top all these world writing competitions, but we don't see many of them featuring amongst the top practitionists in law, social science and the humanities. Why is this so?

About the chart, if the North-East Asians were tested in English, then their verbal IQ scores won't be accurate right? I was actually interested in the verbal IQ score for Indians! Must be off the charts :)

I once met a Chinese chap who went to Harvard Business school and worked in Seoul as General Electric's GM or something. He was soooo witty and made the funniest remarks during the few days that we were on course together, all in perfect American-accented English. I was curious and asked him if he was as funny when he's speaking Chinese with his Chinese friends as he is in English with us; he thought about it, and said he's funnier in Chinese!

Anonymous said...

Dear Lilian,

You’re so nice & it’s so unexpected but pleasant to have you value my comments in this way, and I only hope you don't actually mind me 'squatting' in your blog-space like my temporary 'platform’ so liberally as I have done!

As for starting a blog of my own, I realize I'm more comfortable with just lurking! I'm sort of a turtle with chameleon propensities--a very shy turtle who retreats within its shell at the slightly startle, whose survival skills include trying to blend in a little with whatever milieu it finds itself in—-so as to avoid showdowns or confrontations of any form. Yes I would make a lousy debater. Presently I do have this dread of being 'found out' by pple I know in real life, of being picked apart & judged. I have this compulsion, with every individual I encounter, to carefully choose what I feel comfortable sharing & what I don’t. Anonymity is a safety blanket.

And even for ‘lurking’, having been bitten once or twice before I’m also shy about which blogs I actually park my comments in… So it’s a reflection of the nature & quality of your blog & it’s readers that makes me feel safe to share some of the slightly controversial & thought-provoking perspectives, and knowing that I will be understood intelligently & perceived in the kindest possible light.. :-)

Peace & goodwill to all!

PS: And now that you've actually so kindly brought up my comments to 'front-pg' (*ahem) may I just make a slight correction in my article: It should be 'their RESPECTIVE native tongues, not 'prospective'. (referring to mainland CHinese & Hkgers)

monlim said...

Definitely, if the verbal IQ tests were in the native languages, I'm sure the scores would be very different.

I think it's a fallacy to think that good writers/speakers will go into fields of law, social sciences etc. Not all maths lovers want to be mathematicians. I guess language is one of those things that usually ends up as a means, not an end. They probably have other interests. Like me, I can write but I hate law and I would definitely not consider being an academic or researcher.

Lilian said...

haha, YY, you may be just about as anal as I am...I'll amend prospective to respective PRONTO!

Lilian said...

Mon: My observation is that many Singaporans/Malaysians write tonnes better than they speak. If a Singaporean speaks well, chances are he writes even better. If he writes well, it does not mean that he speaks well. On the other hand, the angmohs speak so darn well, but many of them have atrocious writing skills. Brian has classmates who are so impressive in presenting themselves that I was surprised to see the 'quality' of their written work. And you know what counts lots in the working world!

My cousin sister who works for Exxon-Mobil was just griping about how she knows she's no less capable than her bosses, the only thing these angmoh fellas have over her is their ability to talk. Ooooh, am I treading in dangerous politically-incorrect waters now?

Anonymous said...

Yah, the author of ‘La Griffe Du Lion’ probably had the demographics found in American societies in mind when he referred to IQ’s of Ashkenazi Jews and NE. Asians. He was referring to “fully-assimilated second and third generation NE Asian Americans”—thus the handicap of not growing up in an English-as-1st-language background is eliminated SOMEWHAT but perhaps not totally. … And he was saying that this group is UNDER-REPRESENTED—not absent—in law, social science and humanities in the USA, but over-represented in math/med/science/engineering.

On the other hand, Ashkenazi Jews (i.e. Jews of Northern European descent), their IQ’s being of equal strengths in either verbal or visuospatial aspects, are EQUALLY well-represented in legal, social science & the humanities, or math/med/science/engineering. Indeed this is borne out by the observation that Ashk. Jews are glaringly over-represented in the top law firms in the US eastern seaboard (in the Sgp context, think David Marshall), in Hollywood in the west-coast, in diverse industries & enterprises, amongst those who made landmark discoveries in medicine or physics (think Einstein), computer whizzes (check out the founders of Google), those dons of the pure sciences in the ivory towers, and in the rank-&-file of Nobel laureates in most fields. When my brother did his PhD in Comp Sci in London U, all 4 of his advisers were Jewish!! (one of them even had this very Hebrew name of ‘Samson Abramsky’.. haha). (I have a personal prejudice about the ave angmoh IQ—after taking out the small but significant Jewish contribution--but I’m not sure if it would not be too inflammatory to share it here… :-)

(btw in Sgp, the anecdotal observation is that East Indians are OVER-represented in both the legal & medical fields, are they not?!? And globally some of the best value-for-money computer programmers are from India & Pakistan… My hubby has used Pakistani programmers for one of his startups before, which caused a small scare when once a US border official questioned him: “Why were you in Pakistan in the yr 200X???” Whereupon hubby nervously replied: “Oh I was there to meet some programmers.. .. eh, COMPUTER programmers… not the other kind, you know… hah..”

There’s probably a difference between ‘written-language’ IQ & ‘verbal’ IQ. I don’t really know which the author of La Griffe Du Lion’ was referring to. The ubiquitous observation of youths & parents who have emigrated from Sgp to Vancouver seems to be that the white-Canadian kids can REALLY TALK… Those Sgp kids who have benefited from the best possible English backgrounds in Sgp (like my stepdaughter) may have an upper hand in the written form of the language but FEW do match the AVERAGE Canadian kid in verbal expression… My stepdaughter may have been Top Student in English in her Canadian school, but that’s because they don’t test on verbal expression. (She’s actually painfully reticent in person). Most of the white kids, at the drop of a hat, can confidently spin a sufficiently entertaining tale from seemingly nothing very substantial. I see this in church, when these kids can spontaneously go up to the pulpit and share fluently at length about the interesting details of some small event, without seeming to have ‘prepped’ for it. My ex-Sgp-lawyer friend, who has volunteered on various civic management boards, have observed this at board-meetings too. I have the suspicion that those kids in Beijing or Shanghai from privileged backgrounds are probably as confident & erudite in their native tongue, but maybe oriental kids generally grow up being frequently told to be ‘respectful’, deferential, and to let the elders & teachers do most of the talking. There’s certainly a lot more innate or inculcated inhibited-ness when I do see Asian kids standup to talk, vs. the white kids… And historically those of introvert & contemplative bent have been valued in oriental cultures whereas extroverts, fearlessness & assertiveness are valued in N. American ‘pioneer’-descents.

Btw in another article somewhere in the same website (I think) it was mentioned that the ave IQ in Shanghai is 109! Historically & also in current times Shanghai has been a cultural, industrial & financial capital of China. So it’s not really surprising. There is also an article where correlation has been drawn between coldest winter temperatures and ave IQ’s of peoples indigenous to those regions. NE. Asia does have cold winters, so do Scandinavian countries where Nokia, IKEA, Skype, etc originate.. I suppose it makes sense that harsh climates would sieve out the fittest over the long-run.

As for the English standard of preschool/elementary teachers in Sgp… I have this incident to share. A few years back I attended a parent-orientation event of the early-reading school ‘I CAN READ’ in Serene Centre (yah, my kiasuness expressed). During the session one of the parents—an expatriate of probably Caribbean origin?—said that she felt so irate & ‘insulted’ by the sub-par Singlish she overheard from one of her kid’s preschool teachers… I tried to diffuse the tension generated by countering that hey, Sgp is ‘getting there’, just not quite there yet…


monlim said...

I've always known that, that ang mohs get ahead at the workplace just because they can speak, but actually if you disect what they say, you'll sometimes find that there's no substance underneath. Look at what's happening with the US elections!!

Anonymous said...

To add: my UK nephew seems to buck the stereotype of the verbally-bridled Asian kid… He seems to have very little inhibition when it comes to being the focus of attention in any social setting (to his dad’s slight dismay :-). Every Sunday before church the parents have to remind him to stick to his promise NOT to go up & talk to the worship leader DURING service.. haha… I'm not sure what made him this way except that his mom is a real chatterbox and when with her, I often just do the listening while she does the talking...


Lilian said...

"I have a personal prejudice about the ave angmoh IQ—after taking out the small but significant Jewish contribution"

Goes to show doesn't it?...the importance of showmanship vs real-know-how.

Ay, computer programmers are really important in those kind of networks, your hubby is lucky he didn't end up in Guantanamo Bay.

Re correlation between cold countries & IQ, you're gonna make mums here rush out to buy industrial-strength airconditioning! And wouldn't this mean Eskimos would be the smartest people in the world? Russians too for that matter. Hmm, we have 7 months of winter here, I think I'll just turn off the heating and let the boys freeze it out, see how many points their IQs can be boosted ;)

Re Sg school teachers, Brian had a pre-school English teacher who consistently uses "Nowsadays", really grates my ears each time she does that.

I'm pretty incoherent myself when speaking and pepper my speech with plenty of lahs and other singlish terms, but something must be wrong with an education system that purports itself to offer English as a first language, yet there are adults who use Nowsadays, "I scare he can't pass PSLE" (translation: I'm afraid he won't be able to pass PSLE), "Can you give me some advices?". But that (emphasis on bilangualism) is a topic for another day.

bACk in GERMANY said...

yy: You should start a blog... a private one like mine! You've got a fan in me now for sure.

I haven't seen/read such heated discussions on education before in Sg, very definitely not during my NIE terms. Uh-oh... do I see arrows coming my way? A sure way of killing myself is to tell others that I'm in the education line! Haha...
But right now, I'm speaking as an ignorant parent of two young kids.

Hmmm... will be zooming over to your recommended links. In the meantime, keep your thoughts coming... I'm sure Lilian won't mind a squatter for the time-being, but we want a blog, ok? ;)

Lilian: Yay, let's freeze our butts off and up a few IQ points this winter! Very amused by the idea, LOL!

Lilian said...

Yes YY, try private blogs. You write so well and have so many interesting thoughts to share, you owe it to us, you owe it to the world, you owe it to mankind! haha. I'm nuts. But yes, please blog :)

Alcovelet said...

Hi YY, your thoughts are absolutely intriguing, and so is SFT. Intuitively, it makes a lot of sense - IQ should have tangible contribution to GDP. But the entire case seems to rest on the veracity of the IQ data. I find it hard to believe that this data exists in such granular detail.

Another issue, is that the study doesn't take into account the effect of urbanization on per capita GDP. I think of S. Korea right away because I'm familiar with the country - per capita GDP is low because of the large rural population, not, I presume (especially if you know Koreans well!) because of lower IQ. I therefore wonder about the other countries I do not know about and therefore will not support SFT.

I hope I understood the article thoroughly enough. Tks for the very meaty thoughts however! Very interesting!

Tsu Lin + + said...

Reading the La Griffe website, I further found out that his methodology has been highly criticised :