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Learn Chinese, Embrace Chinese Culture

May, 2018
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As a ten-year-old Italian girl, Lavinia can be easily mistaken as Chinese when you just hear her speak.

“My mum has been in Beijing for 25 years and she used to learn Chinese. She writes better than me in Chinese. But,” the little girl says proudly, in Chinese of course, “I speak better than her,” with an even prouder assertion of “much better” seconds later.

Lavinia has developed a strong interest in Chinese culture: she loves Chinese painting and even learnt some skills. Her favorite Chinese story is the tale of “borrowing the palm-leaf fan three times,” a well-known section of the Chinese mythical legend Journey to the West, which tells the adventures of the Monkey King, his master Xuan Zang and the two other followers of Xuan Zang. She even played the role of the Monk Sha, the third follower of Xuan Zang, when she was in Grade 3.

Her fluency in Chinese has much to do with the systematic Chinese education program offered by Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS Beijing), where she has been studying since Kindergarten. That’s because Chinese is taught at YCIS Beijing not simply as a single subject, but rather it runs through all disciplines in parallel with English, so that students make the best out of both Chinese and Western cultures, explains YCIS Beijing Primary Chinese Coordinator April Peng.

Students are in the hands of streamed system when it comes to their Chinese learning. Firstly, they are separated into two groups: native Chinese speakers and non-native Chinese speakers. The non-natives are then categorized in four sub-groups based on the levels of their Chinese skills, while the natives fit into sub-groups A and B, Sub-Group A including those with strong cultural background knowledge, such as those from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, and Sub-Group B those who have no problem speaking but lack exposure to certain cultural backgrounds, such as students from the Asia Pacific region.

Students may freely jump to a higher level if they are considered qualified after evaluation. Once a student reaches the highest level of the non-native group, he or she will shift to Sub-Group B of the natives. “Students are actually encouraged to make fast progress,” Peng says.

chinese-education-ycis-bj-photos9When it is time for the daily Chinese language class, each student will go to the class catering to their sub-group, where they study teaching materials developed by the school itself that blend the best parts of Chinese materials compiled by various institutions, including those used by public schools in China. There is also a Chinese studies class each week for Year 2-Year 5 students, which covers Chinese cultural traditions, ranging from calligraphy and painting to dinner table etiquette, etc.

In addition there is a popular Chinese studies workshop afternoon held every year for each year level respectively, where a cultural expert from outside the school is invited to teach the students knowledge, with skill and experience, about items as clay figures, traditional Chinese rice-pudding and Peking opera. And all Primary students take a field trip each year to experience cultural traditions such as watching a shadow play, visiting a prince’s residence or making pottery. On top of all these classes and activities, the use of Chinese permeates a variety of other subjects, which helps students learn more about their significance and cultural background.

“In general, the school endeavors to create a strong environment around Chinese language on campus and its culture to instill this into students,” concludes Peng. According to Peng, the Chinese ability of a Year 13 student at YCIS Beijing who is a native Chinese speaker is comparable with a peer from a local public school through the IB course, while a non-native student can also speak and write well.

As an experienced teacher who has been at the school for 15 years, she argues that learning should be a happy and collaborative process for students. At YCIS Beijing, learning celebrations are held periodically, where students show their recent progress and achievements in front of the whole learning community at the school. Their presentations may take on different forms, ranging from PPTs and drama to musical performance.

For native Chinese speaking students, she warns them not to become complacent: “Say to yourself: why not go deeper? Why not read some more profound books to seek personal culture perspective and belonging? And why not take up a pen and write?”

For non-native learners, Peng suggests that they try to express themselves in Chinese, especially in daily life, such as when they go to restaurants, take taxis, and so on. And all the while they should maintain in-depth learning of their own mother tongue, which will help them compare the two languages and boost their Chinese proficiency in turn.

“Try to open your mind and embrace the language you are learning, because once you embrace it, you embrace the culture it is attached to and therefore you usher in more possibilities for the future,” she says.

  

By Qin Chuan

  

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