Teaching Chinese Through Geography: Little Students and Big China
    Date of publication :1/29/2019 8:42:30 PM


Learning a new language is a long process. To get started is more important than to succeed. How to present new language items to learners explicitly, let's see it with our Miss Mandarin.

After the first lesson of self-introduction, I planned to focus on the introduction of language features and China’s geography in the second lesson. For the course materials, I prepared pictures and charts to compare the surface and population between China and France. In this way, my French students could easily understand China is one of the largest countries in the world with a huge population. Since the students had learned "Hello" in last class, I planned to teach two new words "goodbye" and “great” for the second lesson.

The Chinese course started on Friday afternoon as usual. My French students entered the classroom one after another. What surprised me was that all of them greeted me with "Ni Hao" instead of "bonjour"! It seemed that they have done a lot practice after the first lesson. I started my class by asking them “what’s China like in their mind?” They got excited about this question and gave me a lot of different answers. I wrote down their answers in Chinese and  picked out the most frequent words such as panda, dumpling and dragon, to teach them.  While I was still explaining those characters, some students already started to copy those words in their notebooks.

In order to help students understand the “character-based constructional method” in Chinese language, I played a Chinese cartoon “The Story of 36 Chinese Characters" ,which vividly illustrates the pictographic feature in basic  Chinese characters. After watching the cartoon, I asked students to tell me what characters they had seen in that cartoon. Even without any knowledge of the Chinese language before,  those kids figured out 90% of the 36 Chinese characters! So proud of them!

Indeed, learning Chinese through cartoon image of Chinese characters is like learning traffic rules through reading road signs. It’s just that easy! To introduce the four tones in Chinese, I chose a simple but complete sentence, “中国很大” (China is very big), which contains four simple characters with a full range of four tones. This simple example allows students to practice this tonal language easily. Students got so excited about different tones in Chinese and kept repeating these four Chinese characters. Obviously, kids are naturally good at pattern recognition and imitating tones. Two exercises turned out to be very successful. No single kids lost their attention.

Getting a Chinese name was still a hot topic among students. During the break, students from other classes came up to me to ask their name in Chinese.  Several girls from the pilot class chatted with me and introduced me to others as their “Chinese friend”.

 After the break, I brought in two new words “再见goodbye" and "真棒awesome". After reading and writing the two keywords,  I also showed students how to use their own language or English to “Search” theme-based cartoons and videoclips of basic Chinese characters on hihilulu platform. By searching the Chinese character they already learnt on hihilulu, the students could play the interactive games of voice recognition, writing and memory cards. The goal for using hihilulu platform is to create a virtual but rich Chinese content environment at home even their family language is not Chinese.

After two introductory lessons, students started to know a bit about this new language that they will continue to study for six months and to have a general picture of Chinese culture too. All of my students said they are so excited and could not wait for the Chinese New Year cultural event!

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