Teaching Chinese Through Cultural Activities: Chinese New Year
    Date of publication :2/7/2019 9:12:12 PM


Culture is essential when studying languages. Because understanding cultural background–art, literature, lifestyle– helps you reach language proficiency and really live the language while you learn. Therefore, learning Chinese culture is part of Chinese learning. Let's see how to teach Chinese through festival culture with our Miss Mandarin.

If seasons have color, then the winter must be red and white. In December, the white-beard Santa Claus wears red suite coming from white snow; In January Chinese people celebrate their lunar New Year in red. This week's course is about Chinese New Year. Such a nice coincidence! The first snow of this year dropped on that Tuesday in Paris while I was preparing presentation about this culture event. The buildings outside my window were covered in white flakes of snow, but the screens of my computer were all in New Year red.

How can I introduce this most important holiday to French students in Chinese? I prepared the course in five parts, including one manual activity:

  1. What is the Chinese New Year?
  2. How did it come?
  3. How to celebrate the Chinese New Year?
  4. What to eat at Chinese New Year Eve?
  5. Activity: New Year greetings and making paper dragons.

I planned to introduce why the Chinese New Year is called "SpringFestival”, how to calculate the Chinese New Year date by using the Lunar Calendar, why the Chinese New Year lasts 15 days, how the 12 Zodiac associated with the Spring Festival, what is the zodiac sign of  the year of 2019 as well as the customs and typical food of the Spring Festival. I tried to use pictures, videos as visually support to better illustrate the concept to children. Regarding the origin of the Spring Festival, I used the audio e-book "The Story of the Year" on the hihilulu platform as visual support. In addition, I prepared all necessary materials for making paper dragons.

With the rich new year courseware and heavy materials, we started our third course from the introduction of Chinese red for new year celebration. I then showed the pictogram of the character  (Spring in Chinese). Kids were so excited to guess the meaning of each character components. Yea, I was not even least surprised: they found all components “grass, sun, grain”. Naturally, kids got the form of the Character CHUN, as well as the meaning of Spring Festival. From the wax and wane of moon displayed on lunar calendar, kids understand why the new year celebration in China lasts for 15 days. The next fun part was to guess the oracles of 12 zodiac signs and identify the zodiac sign of each students while repeating the name and years in Chinese. Students were super active and engaging, always with hands up for participation .  we successfully completed this game of “search and match” Chinese oracle and signs. Through this interactive exchange, students get an general idea that all 80,000+ Chinese characters are composed of the same 200 character components which are like the building blocks of Lego game. Recognition those basic components will be tremendously helpful in learning Chinese.

The classical content about Chinese New Year is the story of Monster Nian (year). We watched an E-book story about Nian on hihilulu. After watching the video, I asked the students to recite the story of Nian according to their understanding. No worry!  Though Chinese language used in the story is much beyond their Chinese level, everybody wanted to give me a version of Nian story, which were pretty much close to the details. To correct some of their misunderstanding, I showed a 1-minute French video from FranceTV, which makes a simple humorous sketch about Chinese New Year. The course went on with Q&A. With the help of two videos, the students got straight to the answer of food and traditions (I repeated and wrote down those terms in Chinese).
The crown jewel of this course was to making paper dragons! Three groups, three gorgeous dragons!  The body of dragons were made by hard cardboard, which were decorated with Chinese characters learnt during the three courses.   I helped students to make the dragon head, wear the dragon body, and fix the dragon dance stick. Each group proudly made a small tour of parade inside school building and showed dragon specially to the students at K1 classes. At the end, students didn’t want to finish the class and continued to draw details. They are proud of themselves! Me too, I’m proud of them!

As same as the others, the Friday afternoon Chinese course passed so quickly!  My students learnt key words of Spring Festival, the history of Chinese New Year, the origin of Zodiac and they made beautiful paper dragons! Surely, they got their little treats---the Lucky Snacks and White Rabbit Candy (we ate when we were young during the Spring Festival). I seemingly felt the steps of Spring Festival…hope they also could feel the blessings of spring.

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