Family Language Alive - Children Learning Chinese

Situation #3.3 All Chinese schools seem very similar in curriculum and theories. I am not sure what the best is for my child...

October 2, 2010

3.3 Main Article

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Situation #3.3: All Chinese schools seem very similar in curriculum and theories. I am not sure what the best is for my child.Reality: It is true that even though there are different types of Chinese teaching methods and curricula out there, most concentrate on some equal balance of reading and character drilling*. Some classes utilize speaking as well. Not all classes are equal in the emphasis they place in each area. You should find one that suits your child. Even though reading and character drilling do seem to require more time and effort to achieve, we cannot dismiss speaking and listening as unimportant. In order to communicate effectively with native speakers in Chinese, one needs to know not only the mechanics of the language, but also how to use the language socially in culturally appropriate ways. More importantly, speaking and listening have a direct influence on his competence in reading and writing. The program should be flexible enough to adapt to your child’s and family needs.

You should also be aware that the teachers, not the school, have the most effect on the lessons being taught. You may want to not only go to an orientation, but also pay a visit, if the school allows (if it doesn’t, you may be concerned), to actual classes of different teachers and see what the balance of those language demands (speaking, listening, reading and writing) are for the students.

*Character drilling is a traditional method to help children memorize how to write a Chinese character properly. In this booklet, we use the word writing as story-making, journaling, etc, that are constructed from his experiences and interests. Note that character drilling should not be taken as writing, as some programs may deem it as is. Character drilling, if you think in English, is equivalent to a spelling or penmanship exercise.

Considerations:

  • What percentage of time is my child speaking in class, or is the teacher talking most of the time? Are there opportunities for children to communicate with one another in structured and unstructured manner?
  • What percentage of the home assignments is character drilling?
  • Is reading part of the home assignments? Is the reading connecting to my child in any way that is meaningful in his life? How can I bridge this gap when I read with him?
  • Are there other ways I can use to complement the school program to convey Chinese customs, beliefs and ways of life such as the use of books, magazines, music, films, games, shopping at Chinese shops, and going to restaurants and ordering food?
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January 19, 2014

The Core of Teaching

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I once had a Chinese cook who can make wonderful Asian cuisines. One day, I wanted her to make some Western butter squash soup for me. I told her the exact instruction. Unfortunately, the final result was nothing but a Chinese-style squash soup which I couldn’t puree. The taste was just not what I had in mind either. Believe me, I tried to teach her again and again later, but after a few more failures, I concluded that there is just something impossible for a Chinese cook to change, especially when she’s set in her ways for years because that is her “core.”

Over the years, I have found it difficult to find one who possesses a high quality in ALL of the following:

  1. Chinese language proficiency,
  2. Knowledge of the Western culture enough to understand the audience’s way of life, i.e. the children of today’s modern society,
  3. Proficiency in how children work and how to teach in general

Perhaps this is one of the major difficulties most Chinese language classes face in finding competent teachers to pass on the language. As the soup analogy goes, “core” of teaching styles is hard to break. Children are smart enough to notice the difference between one who is only proficient in the language and one who truly cares about them and their learning. Contrary to what most schools are seeking using the priorities above, it may be more effective to reverse the order. It is certainly possible that a teacher, who knows more how children works than how the language works, has a much higher chance of nurturing Chinese into the core of her students.

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