Mid-Autumn Festival is Around the Corner
Teachers are thinking this week about how to cover Mid-Autumn Festival (October 4 this year). How should Chinese classes include cultural elements like holidays while using research-based practices that we know are effective in helping students build proficiency in the language?
Teaching Culture and Language
A major caveat for language teaching is that cultural knowledge, e.g. knowing that we eat mooncakes for Mid-Autumn Festival, does not lead to proficiency. To put it simply (and bluntly), having this kind of explicit knowledge does not help language acquisition. We know from the research that comprehensible input in the target language is what works to build proficiency. There is probably no Chinese program, however, that does not have culture as part of its curriculum. For example, these Chinese immersion standards from the Center for Applied Linguistics have culture as its own category, right next to speaking, listening, reading and writing.
Keep it Simple
Effectively including Chinese culture in class means sticking to the principles of comprehensible input. Listening to the story of Chang’e and Hou Yi is probably too much for a beginner Chinese class. It’s probably too hard for a group in first grade Chinese immersion as well. Instead, pull out something simple from the holiday and use that as a basis for the lesson, like eating mooncakes. Talking about family could work, too. The goal of the lesson is not for students to know everything about Mid-Autumn Festival. The goal is for them to have 100% comprehension of the content so that they can acquire the language.