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Teaching Chinese at an International School

March, 2011
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img_0094e589afe69cacEva Xu is the Head of Mandarin at Shanghai Rego International School. She has been teaching Mandarin across the whole school from Nursery to Year 13 since the opening of the school eight years ago. 

We met Eva at the REGO Chinese New Year celebrations and talked with her about teaching and learning Chinese for the expat children…

LittleStar: How do you like teaching at an international school?

Eva: Teaching at Rego is exciting and very rewarding. In my job, there is a lot of variety and every day is different. I enjoy working with colleagues from different countries and like teaching students who come from all over the world. I feel I can experience different cultures without having to travel abroad, and it is fun to share our Chinese culture with them.

What differences do you see between Chinese students and expat students?

Eva: Chinese students are hardworking and pay a lot of attention to detail. Expat students tend to ask more questions and are more willing to express their own opinions. Chinese and expat students complement each other very well as they bring their own uniqueness into the classroom. 

LittleStar: Is it more difficult teaching Chinese to the expat kids?

Eva: It’s different rather than difficult. Students have different ability levels and so the range can be quite large.  However, we’re fortunate to have small classes so that each student can receive more attention and that way they can make faster progress. I find that most students are keen to learn Chinese. It helps that they are living in China as they can see the relevance of learning the language. I’ve even had some students that were so keen that they asked me to give them extra lessons!

LittleStar: How do you keep the lessons fun for yourself and the students?

Eva: Teaching is definitely a rewarding experience. We include a lot of different activities in our lessons and encourage students to participate fully in them. And because we enjoy teaching, the students seem to find lessons more fun too.

LittleStar: Do the students really like to learn Chinese? Do they learn very quickly?

Eva: Students do like to learn Chinese. They can easily pick up words and phrases but writing characters can take a bit longer as it requires more practice. 

LittleStar: Are the small children learning more quickly than the older students?

Eva: I would say the younger children tend to learn Mandarin more quickly in listening and speaking as they pick it up through songs sung in class and other activities. They regard Mandarin as a normal part of their lives. But the older students are better in picking up the grammar and writing skills.

LittleStar: What is difficult for them in learning Chinese? Is writing very difficult for them?

Eva: Students usually find speaking Mandarin easier than writing. As writing Chinese characters is different to writing in English, some students take a bit longer to develop their writing skills. It takes time and a lot of practice to be able to learn Chinese characters, but once they’ve mastered the structures and the connection with each part then everything becomes easier!

LittleStar: Usually we find students from Asian countries speak very good Chinese; do you feel the same?

Eva: Yes, I agree. In my experience, I’ve found that Korean or other Asian students are able to pick up Mandarin very quickly as it is close to their mother tongues and normally Asian students work harder than Europeans.

LittleStar: What textbooks are used in the Chinese lessons at REGO? How do you prepare your lessons?

Eva: We have a variety of different resources to cater for the different needs of our students. With the non-native speakers we follow the Chinese Made Easy series and we have a special selection of books for the native speakers. In the Primary school, students have daily lessons in Mandarin and in the Secondary school students can take Mandarin as an option. Our Chinese Mother Tongue program enables students to learn the language in greater depth. We try to create fun and interesting lessons for our students and try to include as much variety as possible. In addition, we try to encourage students to participate as much as possible in lessons by using role-plays, flash cards, interactive whiteboards, etc.

picture-006e589afe69cacLittleStar: If an expat student stays at REGO or Shanghai for only 2 years, do you think it is enough time for him/her to learn Chinese well? What level can s/he reach?

Eva: I think a lot of progress can be made in two years. If the student is well motivated they should be able to reach a level where they can communicate reasonably well in Mandarin, recognize many of the basic Chinese characters and be able to write simple sentences.

LittleStar: What do you think is the best or most efficient way to learn Chinese?

Eva: There are lots of ways to learn Mandarin but I think one of the best ways is to set aside time daily for studying Chinese and then putting what has been learnt into practice by speaking as much as possible. Well, there is no shortcut in learning a language. Practice makes perfect.

LittleStar: Do you encourage students to take the HSK exam?

Eva: At REGO, students take Mandarin exams at GCSE level and at IB Diploma level. I feel there is enough depth and breadth in these exams to cater for the needs of our students. There is some overlap in the material we teach with the HSK, so if students were keen to take the HSK exam we would support them.

LittleStar: Do you suggest that their parents also learn Chinese so that they can practice at home?

Eva: I understand some parents may not have that much time to learn Mandarin because of work and family commitments but learning even a few words or supporting their children with their Mandarin studies can have an extremely positive effect. Parents who are able to practice their Mandarin with their children can create a feeling of learning together which is motivating for both parents and children.

LittleStar: What advice do you have for students learning Chinese?

Eva: Keep on practicing and do not give up! Jia You! Jia You!




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