Mandarin teacher training day

The Business Confucius Institute ran a teacher training event for local Mandarin teachers on Saturday 9 June with trainer Chris Webster.

Chris, who is the Director of the Swire Chinese Language Programme in Oxford, impressed attendees with his excellent Chinese and extensive teaching experience. He also shared a wealth of examples and resources; demonstrating successful tools and methods by incorporating them in his training delivery, and distributing samples taken from the new Pearson Mandarin toolkit.

Topics covered during the one-day session included:

  • Teaching Chinese effectively in Secondary Schools
  • Classroom talk
  • Translation and literary texts

Teachers were able to share their experience, discuss challenges, and learn new techniques to try in their own classes.

View photos from the day on Flickr and Facebook.

Leading by example

One challenge teachers face is creating a Chinese environment in class. The new GCSE requires students to speak spontaneously in Chinese, making it even more important that teachers encourage and enable this in the classroom. In addition to highlighting the ‘5 Cs’ of teacher talk (see below), Chris demonstrated this approach in the delivery of his training throughout the day. He consistently came back to words and phrases that the ‘students’ should know and say in Chinese, using supporting materials stuck up on the board and being clear and consistent in his expectations. By repeatedly checking comprehension of the training exercises and asking trainees to repeat instructions back at him, he showed them exactly how they too could ensure that all students in their class had understood what they had to do – whether it had been explained in English or Chinese.

The 5 Cs of Teacher Talk

  • Consistent – keep drawing students’ attention back to words and phrases they can use in the target language (e.g. ‘teacher’ and ‘what does this mean?’)
  • Concise
  • Checks understanding
  • Creative (in order to do a lot with just a little language)
  • Communicative (focusing on meaning as much as possible and responding appropriately)

A different perspecive

One of the advantages of being a non-Chinese Mandarin teacher may be the ability to see the language from a different perspective, and spot opportunities to use it in unusual ways to engage students. For example, students love saying “你干嘛”, and Chris uses this in class correction activities or when maintaining discipline in the classroom. Native Chinese teachers may find this a bit direct and not think to use it in this context, but it is an authentic use of Mandarin that can really encourage the use of the target language in class.

Other unusual approaches included the use of rap to memorise and practise texts. Chris directed teachers towards the website mandarinrappodcast.com where they can find resources and even send recordings of their own students!

On the other end of the scale, Chris also advocates using some more traditional Chinese phrases and classroom routines that students actually really enjoy. For example, making students put their arms together on the table to ensure they are listening (the final move in an effective sequence for gaining attention, in which the teacher counts down from 5 to 0 in Mandarin, and students are expected to be quiet and in this position at the end). Students also enjoy beginning the class by standing up to recite a well-known phrase like “好好学习,天天向上” (good good study, day day up).

Not like other languages

Although teachers can learn from the methods used to teach European languages, the approach used cannot be exactly the same. For one thing, progress in writing will not be as fast as the other skills – and this is fine!

Chris was happy to challenge established ideas, but also knows when to draw from tried and tested traditional teaching methods.

For example, in Chinese it is important to teach the meaning of radicals and characters, rather than just the translation of a word or phrase, so that students can use those clues in the future to decipher other language they come across. An app called Zizzle, that turns all radicals into pictures, was recommended as a useful tool.

A growth mindset

While recognising that Chinese is different to other languages taught in schools, Chris challenged any hint of the belief that Mandarin Chinese is too hard for students to learn. His session on Classroom talk showed that teachers can create an environment for speaking Chinese in class, and when someone mentioned the lack of a Chinese environment at home Chris reminded teachers of the wealth of resources on the Internet. He stressed that developing a growth mindset is a crucial part of setting students up for success.

However, while there is a lot that teachers can do to inspire a love of Mandarin in their students and provide tools for maintaining interest and discipline, Chris also highlighted the importance of structural support from the management in a school. Teachers can only do so much if the parents and head teachers don’t take Mandarin seriously.

A rewarding job

If their presence at this training on a sunny Saturday wasn’t enough to demonstrate teachers’ passion and dedication, it became clear when they were prompted to share what they find rewarding about teaching Mandarin. They described how lovely it is to receive thank you emails from parents, and to see the amazing progress that students can make. Teachers remember the experiences they have with students on trips or putting on shows, and the feeling they get when students pass their Chinese Proficiency Exams.

Teachers left at the end of the day feeling motivated and excited to apply what they had learned in their own context.

View photos from the day on Flickr and Facebook.