Putonghua study gets lively touch

HERE'S good news for those who dread learning Putonghua, the principal Chinese dialect An easy-to-follow and updated language package, with recordings from the well-known TV star Lousie Lee Sze-kee, will soon appear on the market.

A presenter of Radio Television Hongkong's TV programme Putonghua for three years, Lee has become a popular Putonghua teacher in the public eye. The new package, with the same name and put together by Silver Planet Production, promises to be another success.

The kit consists of two Chinese textbooks and a choice of either six recording tapes or four compact discs. It also has a special section on business communications in China.

Popularising Putonghua is a labour of love for Lee.

''I love the language. With increasing business opportunities with China, there is a greater need for local people to learn to speak it,'' Lee told Young Post.

Putonghua is actually Lee's mother-tongue. Born in the city of Tianjin in northeast China, she moved with her family to Hongkong when only four.

At that time hardly anyone, even her Putonghua teacher in school, spoke correct Putonghua. Even now many Hongkong people fail to properly pronounce words that require a rolling of the tongue, said Lee. But she gives a solution.

''Place a chopstick on your tongue and then roll your tongue up. Try practising the sounds daily for two weeks and your difficulty will disappear.'' Lee said the kit contained much more lively conversations than recordings made by other formal teachers. ''They tend to speak far too stiffly and slowly,'' she said.

Conducting the dialogues with Lee is Beijing-born veteran teacher Mr Ng Po-yung, who teaches Putonghua at Hongkong University's School of Professional and Continuing Education.

The package serves a good purpose ''in the absence of a Putonghua environment here'', Mr Ng said.

''A 45-minute Putonghua lesson a week as a leisure subject for Form 1 and 2 students is definitely not enough. To motivate students, the Government should make Putonghua an examination subject and encourage verse speaking.'' Albert Au Sui-keung, famous singer and director of Silver Planet, is behind the language project.

''We want to promote language learning from grassroots level. The use of celebrities attracts attention and interest,'' he said.

But it is more than an image package - the content is most updated and the format most conducive to learning. Trendy subjects like karaoke are included, while the theme song of the movie Dr Zhivago serves as a prelude to the special business section.

''Light classical music in the background and between chapters helps learners to relax and makes learning easier.'' If this whets your language appetite, watch for Putonghua in the bookstores in early May. Those with tapes costs $250 while the CDs package costs $350.