Travel, Teach, Live in China

Ideas for Teaching Chinese
By:Pamela Ann Ludwig

Mandarin Chinese is one of the most widely spoken languages of the world, according to Ethnologue. However, concepts such as the pictographic writing system and the use of tones in Chinese pronunciation pose specific challenges to English speakers. Because of these challenges, you will need to take special consideration in how you approach teaching Chinese reading, writing, speaking and aural comprehension.

One of the most foreign aspects of Chinese to English speakers is that of the language tones. Because the "rising" and "falling" sound of the voice when pronouncing words affects their meaning, you will need to take extra care when teaching Chinese vocabulary. Encourage your students to speak as often as possible in class. The only way you will be able to tell if they have the correct grasp of the tones is to listen to them and correct them as often as possible. Provide your students with language tapes or recommend some audio materials for individual review. Mastery of tones comes with repetition, so it is important for students to get as much exposure as possible to spoken Chinese.

Learning the Characters
Requiring your students to read aloud in Chinese is necessary for you to assess their grasp of the written characters and for them to practice pronouncing Chinese vocabulary. Chinese characters represent full words rather than a group of letter your students won't be able to "sound out" words as in other foreign languages that use alphabets, such as Spanish, Dutch, Thai or Farsi. Your students will need to memorize every word individually in order to be able to read and comprehend a text in Chinese. Setting aside time in class for students to read aloud can help you assess their need for help in comprehending the characters as well as in correctly pronouncing the tones.

Reading the Chinese characters requires different skills from writing them; give dictations in class to test your students' aural comprehension as well as testing their ability to write the characters. Dictate a set of vocabulary words for beginning students, and progress to sentences and paragraphs for intermediate students. Dictations will test your students' abilities to distinguish and properly identify the differences between tones in Chinese vocabulary, as well as their ability to correctly write the characters. Carefully watch beginning students as they write the characters so that you can be sure they are using the correct stroke order.

Students need to memorize every individual word in the Chinese script as it doesn't allow for spelling out sounds. Memory is like a muscle; the more you develop it, the stronger it becomes. Develop your students' memory muscle by assigning short prewritten dialogues for them to read and memorize as homework. Have them recite the dialogues by memory in class as part of a test or a class activity. Require the whole class to memorize the lines of both speakers in the dialogue. Surprise them on the day of the activity with which part they are to perform, and pair them up with one another for the class performance.

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