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Sharing the benefits of abacus mental arithmetic

Wednesday March 16, 2005

Sharing the benefits of abacus mental arithmetic

By MAJORIE CHIEW

As a child, Tai Chiang Ching was amazed at how fast his uncles and aunts could calculate with the abacus. His grandfather saw how mastery of the abacus brought good job prospects. 

With such a talent, you need not look for a job. The job will come to you, so to speak. Representatives from banks or institutions will come looking for someone with such a skill and promptly hire him or her. 

When he was still very young, his grandfather encouraged him to learn the abacus. Being a “good grandson”, he took his grandfather’s advice seriously. 

When he was in Form Two (14 years old), his school started a mental arithmetic class. 

Tai Chiang Ching: ‘Anyone from the age of four to 80 can learn abacus mental arithmetic.’
“I waited such a long time to learn the subject; when I got started, I liked it,” says Tai, who, at 44, is a Taiwanese authority on abacus mental arithmetic.  

The founder and president of CMA International (Taiwan), an institution providing abacus mental arithmetic education, Tai is currently on a road tour to key centres in Ipoh, Alor Star, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and Batu Pahat, to promote his method of abacus mental arithmetic. 

In fact, he enjoyed his lessons so much that he even took tuition classes on the subject after school. Under two different teachers who taught different methods, Tai developed a good understanding of abacus mental arithmetic.  

“I was 14 when I started aspiring to be an abacus mental arithmetic teacher and paid particular attention to the subject in class,” says Tai, who spoke in Mandarin during an interview with StarTwo

One of the bright ones 

Two years later, he had learnt the basic skills of using the abacus. He was among 60 students selected to represent his school in an abacus mental arithmetic competition and placed under the tutelage of a special teacher. 

After various elimination rounds, he made it as one of the 10 best students in the subject and underwent a three-year programme. During the second year, he represented his school in abacus mental arithmetic competitions. Although the school team did not win first prize, it performed quite well by emerging third and fourth in various inter-school competitions. 

When he completed his studies, he wanted to remain in school to be an abacus mental arithmetic teacher. “I expressed my interest to the principal but was turned away. The school board’s policy was to take a trained teacher and not a trainee in abacus mental arithmetic,” says Tai, who was 18 then. 

He went away disheartened but he did not give up his dream. He achieved Advanced Level Four in abacus mental arithmetic when he graduated and even made a commitment to his teacher that he would attain the highest level in abacus mental arithmetic, Advanced Level Five. 

After he found a job as a trainee teacher, he continued to train himself in abacus mental arithmetic. A year later, he sat for an exam and achieved Advanced Level Five in abacus mental arithmetic. His teacher realised he was a special student because normally no graduate would return to his alma mater to sit for such an exam, says Tai. 

At 20, he signed up for three years of National Service and still kept abreast of his pet subject. After serving in the National Service, mental arithmetic was getting very popular in Taiwan and there was a rising demand for teachers and home tutors. 

One day, it dawned on him that he did not know how to teach. He wanted to train his own students in mental arithmetic and sought the help of a mental arithmetic teacher. 

“I realised that teaching mental arithmetic requires training in the right approaches and methods. I’m very grateful to my teacher who had guided me,” says Tai. 

In 1991, he was voted the World’s Best Mental Arithmetic Trainer when his pupil, Lin Zi Yin, 10, beat 200 children (aged 10 years and below) to become the World Champion of the 1991 Mental Arithmetic World Competition in Taiwan. 

Tai was also the teacher to Su Wan Ting, then 12, the first prize winner in an abacus calculation competition among 10 outstanding children in California, the United States, in 1996. Tai is also an invigilator and judge for world-class international mental arithmetic examinations and competitions. 

After two years of learning from his “master” in mental arithmetic, he began his career in teaching mental arithmetic. In 1984, he began with about 30 students and at one point the number rose to 1,200. 

Passionate about mental arithmetic, he wanted to do more. 

“It occurred to me that mental arithmetic is easy to teach by training teachers so that they could embark on their own careers. And for this purpose, they need teaching materials,” says Tai, who has written over 200 books on mental arithmetic as well as produced CDs, VCDs and cassettes on abacus mental arithmetic. 

He is also president of Yu-Ming Publishing Co. Ltd, Taiwan’s biggest publisher of mental arithmetic books, which was set up in 1993. He also developed a website (www.cma.com.tw) in Chinese, which has become a reference tool for users worldwide. 

In 2002, Tai decided to promote his method of abacus mental arithmetic internationally, beginning with Hong Kong. Then, he introduced it to Malaysia and Singapore in 2003, to China last year and to New Zealand this year.  

How many fingers? 

Of four most accepted methods of abacus mental arithmetic – single-hand (two-finger) method, two-hand (four-finger) method, three-finger method and 10-finger method – the four-finger method is superior, he says. 

With 22 years experience in this field, he perfected the two-hand method, which he claims is “a much easier and faster way of making arithmetic calculations”. 

In 1993, he innovated on the two-hand method (using the thumb and forefinger of both hands) for arithmetic calculations, which was introduced eight years ago in China. 

“Anyone from the age of four to 80 can learn abacus mental arithmetic. All is take is two years for someone to master the skill and retain the knowledge for the rest of one’s life. Such knowledge is worth it,” says Tai. 

Some parents expect a child to complete the course in one to three months. In such a short time, the child would only know how to solve simple math problems. To have a deeper understanding of the concept he would need to invest more time and practice. 

Can one learn abacus mental arithmetic in less time? 

Tai reckons that it takes four months to master the foundation level but this time frame can still be shortened to two months or even a month by increasing the lessons to two or three each time, depending on the person’s mental stamina. 

Anyway, Tai quips: “Abacus mental arithmetic is fun. If you want to, you can learn it. It’s a matter of interest.” He invites those interested to visit his website to find out more.  

With abacus mental arithmetic, a person’s sight, hearing, touch and imagination can be stimulated. One can improve one’s mathematical skills, concentration, memory, response and reflexes and, ultimately, one’s intelligence, claims Tai. 

For a child, an abacus is like a toy too. As he touches the abacus beads, the brain is stimulated. A child seldom gets to be involved in such “touch learning”. 

It is said that the left brain controls the right hand and the right brain controls the left hand. As abacus mental arithmetic involves the use of two hands, it is said to stimulate a balanced mind. 

This arithmetic method is practised in Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand. 

In Malaysia, there are 20 CMA authorised centres and there are plans to set up 30 more such centres this year, says Ivylina Tiang, CEO of CMA Malaysia (CMAM), which was set up two years ago. CMAM is the master franchise holder of CMA programme in the Asean and Australasia region. 

“In Taiwan, the school system still employs the single-hand method in abacus mental arithmetic. However, outside the schools, one can learn the two-hand method from private tutors. In China, teachers need to learn the two-hand system, a newer method of abacus mental arithmetic that has proven to be faster and more accurate,” he says. 

Tai says there is no scientific evidence to prove that abacus mental arithmetic is good for anyone. Mental arithmetic teachers are still researching the advantages of this method of arithmetic calculation. 

“We know its benefits from testimonies of parents and children as well as teachers. We can tell the difference in a child who has learnt abacus mental arithmetic and one who hasn’t,” he claims.  

“Each time the child ‘stirs’ the abacus beads, he is able to tell you the answer. This shows that the brain has accepted the method of calculation. If you can say the answer aloud and ‘see’ it, it means your brain has been stimulated.” 

Direct enquiries about the CMA programme to 03-9059 3813 or 012-3665336.

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