Resources for when there is no Mandarin class

Even When School is Closed, Students Can Still Listen and Lean Mandarin

It is December, so that means that most Mandarin classes will be taking a 1-2 week (or possibly longer-eeek!) break. Many parents and adult students worry about their kids, or themselves, losing some of their language over the break. Below is a roundup of some resources for continuing to get input in Mandarin Chinese (either through listening or reading). There is a mixture of traditional and simplified characters used in the different resources below. I teach simplified characters, but there is no harm in being familiar with both systems.

For preschool students and those who are just beginning Chinese:

This little ditty covers the very basics of hello and goodbye. It uses traditional characters with pinyin.

I like this song because it describes the different family members in a simple way. In addition to learning mom, dad, etc., students also learn that “mom’s mom is 外婆 and dad’s mom is 奶奶.” It doesn’t get started until about 25 seconds in.

For elementary students who can sit through a story entirely in Chinese:

This Chinese-language version of Don’t Let the Goose Drive the Bus uses traditional characters and bopomofo.

This version of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? is also in traditional characters. I like it for comprehensible input because it is a story that students are almost guaranteed to be familiar with and it repeats the same structures over and over.

I like Are You My Mother? for the same reasons that I like Brown Bear. This version uses simplified characters and pinyin.

I got the tip for the Little Fox series from Twitter. There are many videos in this series, some are familiar, like this story of Little Red Riding Hood in Chinese, and others appear to be original stories. These videos do not have Chinese or pinyin subtitles. Since the vocabulary is fairly advanced (e.g. going to the vet in one story) I only recommend for students who have had at least 75-100 hours of Chinese study.

For middle school students and older who have been learning Chinese for at least 400 hours:

The American Mandarin Society has put together a list of all the places online you can watch (binge :)) Chinese television. You’ll have to click around the links because not all shows are available outside of China. I recommend watching romance(爱情) or comedy (喜剧) shows, because they tend to take place in present-day. Programs about ancient China or kungfu (武侠) tend to have a lot of specialized vocabulary that a student would not know, or need to know.

The BBC has many articles in Chinese, both in simplified and traditional characters. You can read about North Korea, or even just keep up with Prince Harry and Megan Markle over the break.

More free stuff:

Are you an adult student who is not ready to read news articles in Chinese, but wants to practice reading? I am working on a novella in Chinese that is a comfortable read for students who have had 200 hours of Chinese. With a dictionary and patience, it would be an achievable read for a student with 100+ hours of Chinese study. Get in touch with me and I will send you a copy when it is ready (hopefully before December 24, 2017).

Tasks-Making the Most of FLES Programs

Teachers and administrators are often very optimistic about what a group of students in an elementary dual-language program can accomplish. Depending on the grade level, students may spend 80-90% of their day immersed in the target language. But what about students who are in a FLES (foreign language in elementary school) program? They might be getting only one hour per week of class time in the target language. How can that time be used effectively? One option is to use tasks.

Research shows that students who do task work as part of a language program tend to learn more. So what is a task? Tasks have a purpose. We use tasks to learn something about ourselves. Tasks also always have an outcome that is not language. With my adult classes, a common task that I like to use is to take a class survey and then to compare our answers to national averages. During one of the first classes, with the help of the Social Security Administration, we can see if any of us have one of the most common names in America. With this task, students get to use the small amount of language that they have to learn actively, rather than passively listening to a lecture.

For children, a task might take a bit more preparation. For a group of young beginners, a task I did recently was to have the group graph their family members. The resulting graph is shown below with the names blurred out for privacy. Since our topic was family, we used the words for mom, dad, and siblings over and over as we filled in the graph. We also used numbers as we counted the number of moms, dads, elder brothers, elder sisters, etc in the class. The students who did this task are novice beginners, with only a knowledge of maybe 30 words, but they used more than half of those words in completing this task.

family task

Comprehensible Input and Mid-Autumn Festival


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.