Using Music in Mandarin Chinese Class

For younger learners, music is a great addition to Mandarin Chinese class. It is important to make sure that the songs are meaningful to the students. They should not sing what sounds to them like nonsense. For a beginner class of preschool/kindergarten students, I like to start on the first day with the clean-up song sung in Mandarin Chinese. The words “收一收,收一收,快,快,收一收” (clean up, clean up, quickly, quickly, clean up) can be sung to the tune of the clean-up song that kids hear in their regular classes, or at home. Students recognize the meaning immediately and the song is a great tool for classroom management.

Chants and Songs for Young Kids

Chants are also great for young, novice learners in Mandarin class. I like them because they use short sentences and simple vocabulary that the students know,. Short sentences and known words are the key ingredients for comprehensible input. This chant uses both vocabulary for family members and the phrase “我喜欢冰淇淋” (I like ice cream). Good Mandarin Chinese classes need to be built around an outcome that is not language. I would use this song as part of a class where we are making a chart of favorite foods, or foods we eat at home.

There are many other songs that can be woven into a lesson, such as the extremely popular “上学歌.” This song could be part of a lesson or a few lessons to talk about the students’ trips to school every day. Really, any song can work as long as it is presented in such a way that students understand what they are hearing and singing. The only caveat is to make sure that the song is easy for the teacher to sing. Young students will easily get distracted if their teacher keeps stopping to try to get the tune right. I love the song “茉莉花” (Jasmine Flower) but find it really hard to sing so I don’t use it in the classroom.*

What About Older/Higher Level Students?

Intermediate students and above can also benefit from listening to music in class. Again, as long as the music is presented in a way that they understand what is being said in the lyrics, students will benefit. The seven great Shanghai singers, including Yao Lee (姚莉)have great songs that are easily available on the internet. I like 玫瑰玫瑰我爱你 (Rose, Rose, I Love You). Students who are intermediate level and above (and who are old enough) can start to listen to Chinese music they have experienced in class on their own time, to keep getting that input.

What are some other options for music in Chinese class? Share in the comments.

picture of Confucius (Kongzi) playing guqin
Maybe learning a new instrument is too ambitious for a language class

*Feel free to think that I just can’t carry a tune in a wheelbarrow. I know my limits.

Leave a Reply