Education Insights| An Inspiring Mandarin Classroom

When you open the door of a Chinese (Mandarin) classroom at Wellington College International Hangzhou, what immediately catches your eye are national flags of different countries and the word “hello” written in different languages, demonstrating the Wellington Identity of being “Inclusive”. This also enables pupils from different cultural backgrounds to find a sense of belonging when they enter the classroom for the first time. Pupils will start teaching the Mandarin teachers how to say “hello” in their native languages, while at the same time learning their first Chinese phrase; “ni hao”.

Giving foreign pupils Chinese names can also motivate them to learn Chinese. It requires teachers to take some effort to give pupils a real Chinese name based on their characteristics instead of a simple transliterated one. For example, Kohana, a quiet girl, was originally named Li Wen as her father’s name Richard is pronounced Li Chade and “wen” means quiet in Chinese. However, she was unsatisfied with the name and hoped to have a unique one and therefore, I gave her a new name – Li Zhuo’er, adapted from the Chinese idiom “zhuo er bu qun”, suggesting a person who is outstanding.  She loved the new name and the meaning behind it.  As for Jorgia, I named her Qiao Yi. She told me that the name was exactly the way she wanted it as it was related to her hobbies – art and literature. Daniel who wants to be a great man was named Xi Mingxuan, which shares the surname with the president of China. He was happy about the name as I told him that “ming xuan” is commonly used in Chinese to describe a man who is imposing.

Pupils are encouraged to use their Chinese names as much as possible in Mandarin class, helping them memorise Chinese characters without extra effort.

How to make Chinese class more enjoyable?

Firstly, teachers should design effective classroom activities focusing on learning objectives, and such activities should be designed in advance according to the abilities of their pupils. For example, a mini-market can be set up to help pupils learn item names. Pupils can pretend to use RMB to buy and sell goods. Additionally, teachers can demonstrate to pupils how they can bargain with the shopkeeper in Mandarin, making the activity even more interesting.

Secondly, teachers should utilise innovative teaching approaches to create a student-centered learning environment. For example, they can ask pupils to take over the classroom, engage them in a role-play game and run a campaign for weather reporters. Achieving the learning goal in a creative way will bring surprise to the pupils and keep them actively engaged in the learning process.

Finally, classes can be taught in a vivacious way. Taking cues from the context and the relevant class content, teachers can exaggerate their facial expressions, use interesting body language, and – perhaps most importantly – change the volume and intonation of their voice in order to attract more attention from pupils.

“How time flies!”. That’s what pupils generally think about our Chinese class. They don’t want the class to end!

The consolidation of pupil’s basic knowledge

It is relatively difficult for non-native pupils to learn pinyin and write Chinese characters. Therefore, we spare some time for pupils to practice spelling using pinyin in every class. For the most difficult pinyin tones, we visualise them by using buttons of different colors. This helps pupils avoid mistakes.

As for writing Chinese characters, teachers will first draw a square block on the whiteboard or on a PowerPoint slide and then guide pupils to write them in the air using their index fingers, stroke by stroke.

It is very difficult, even for a native Chinese speaking pupil, to recite a text. To make the recitation process more enjoyable, teachers will invite the pupils to stand in front of the classroom and offer them some public speaking skills. Gradually, reciting the text becomes a pupil’s favorite part as they enjoy exhibiting their talent in front of the whole class.

Language and culture are inseparable

Interesting elements of Chinese culture, such as festivals, customs, legends and handicrafts, can be carefully turned into interesting classroom activities. Pupils can review what they have learnt through practicing calligraphy, making lanterns and folding origami, making Chinese class more enjoyable.

Chinese zodiac paper-cuts posted in the classroom are attractive to pupils. There are also various wall charts containing tongue-twisters, vegetables, fruits and sports, which are also highly popular to pupils. Sometimes, even if there is no class, pupils enjoy staying in the classroom for a while to look around.

A knowledgeable person can be a teacher, while an upstanding person can be a role model. To create an interesting classroom, teachers need to spend effort not only helping pupils gain knowledge, but also more importantly inspiring their passion for learning Chinese and Chinese culture.