Who or what inspired you to teach Mandarin, dressed up as the Monkey King?
The Julia Gabriel Learning Centre itself. Its philosophy is to make learning language fun and multi-dimensional, to get students to love the language and make learning of the language a lifelong process.
Why did you choose to take on the Monkey King character in class?
The Monkey King is the most beloved character for all, foreigners and locals alike. It’s funny and has a lot of magic to it. Children love it. It stimulates a sense of lifelong learning and helps them appreciate the Chinese culture better. And if you love the culture, you’ll want to learn more.
Do you think your teaching methods make Mandarin appear more hip and fashionable?
20 years ago Mandarin was not as important as it is now. Hence Mandarin is as hip as it is necessary. My teaching methods of bringing drama to class helps students increase their vocabulary and gives them confidence.
It also breaks the stereotype that Mandarin is boring
and difficult to learn.
You were originally from the Shanghai Peking Opera. What made you move from acting to teaching?
During that time [in the Opera], I gave lectures and workshops in Shanghai. I find that when I teach I learn what I teach. I later moved to Singapore to study contemporary theater and gave lectures on Peking Opera at the same time.
How do students generally react when you bring the Monkey King character into class? Are there any unexpected or unpredictable responses?
They are usually excited and want to communicate with the Monkey King. They become livelier, interactive and involved in the drama of the Monkey King. Sometimes they forget that it’s a drama because they see the Monkey King live. A few get a little frightened at first, mainly the two-three year olds.
How does the Monkey King character impact the learning of Mandarin among your students?
They learn faster. When they are engaged in the drama, the language seeps naturally into their subconscious. Like they will have to say “fei” before I will fly. The fear of learning the language disappears and they become more open to the language and want to learn more. The barrier is broken.
Do you bring in other characters from Journey to the West to engage your Monkey King character?
Yes we do. We bring in monsters, the Dragon King and the Jade Emperor. They will play these roles and shift quickly from one role to another. Lessons become really engaging.
You incorporate a bit of martial arts in your lessons. What sort and why?
I twirl the Monkey Stick to kill the monsters. With each movement, it also helps them learn the language as the moves are instructed in Mandarin.