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YCIS Beijing: Making Students ‘Daren’ in Chinese Learning

March, 2014
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‘Daren’ is the pronunciation of the Chinese word 达人. Daren is a buzzword that refers to a person who is very professional or outstanding in a particular area. A student who is a Chinese Daren means the student can speak fluent Chinese or who has made great achievements in learning Chinese. 

0j7a3825Since Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS Beijing) introduced the Chinese Daren Award to encourage students to learn Chinese and Chinese culture, many Chinese Daren students have emerged. Two senior students at YCIS Beijing – Sydney Hoskin and Jing Ting Cheah – are among them.

Sydney Hoskin from the US has studied at YCIS Beijing for five years. Before that, she lived in Shanghai since she was nine years old. Even earlier she lived in Beijing for six months when she was only two years old.

“At every school I’ve attended I’ve been given the opportunity to relearn what I knew as a child and more, so that I can communicate with our ayi at home and to make living in China easier. It only makes sense to learn the native language, especially when it comes to reading signs and using public transportation systems like taxis, buses and the subway,” says Sydney. “I don’t often use Chinese at school outside of Chinese class, but sometimes I listen in to conversations people are having in Mandarin to gauge my understanding level.”

“I’m Christian, and our family reads from the bible together every night. So for practice, especially for those of us who don’t typically use much Chinese at home, every other night we read in Chinese, whereas the other nights are in English.”

Being Malaysian, Jing Ting Cheah has grown up in a Chinese-speaking environment, which has allowed her to learn Chinese easily. 

1“YCIS Beijing is a bilingual school and offers a very strong Chinese programme that allows me to improve my reading and writing skills,” she says. “It is not uncommon to hear students speak to one another in Chinese, which creates a great environment for me to practice speaking and listening. I also frequently speak Chinese at home, thus reinforcing my speaking skills. Even though I’ve had this experience, I wouldn’t say I’m 100% fluent yet in the language – there’s always more to learn.”

What the two girls have achieved in their language skills and their love for learning is a vivid reflection of YCIS Beijing’s school philosophy and objective to "provide a bilingual programme that emphasizes both English and Chinese languages and cultures and leads to fluency in these two world languages of the 21st century," says Co-Principal Christine Xu. “For students who are studying at YCIS Beijing, they will not only learn everyday Chinese language through Chinese class, but also gain insight and understanding of the host country. Our goal is beyond learning the Chinese language, it’s the value it brings to the students in the future.”

YCIS Beijing has a refined division of Chinese language groups. For lower Chinese as a First Language students, the learning focus is on the students’ solid foundation of characters and their ability of expression. For upper Chinese as a First Language students, the focus is on developing their abilities in reading and writing. For ‘Chinese as an Additional Language’ (CAL) students, YCIS teachers like to use Chinese role-play, dialogue, videos and songs to make Chinese class more interesting.

experiencing-china-5The Chinese Department formed by experienced Chinese teachers plays a big role at YCIS Beijing. Not only do they provide Chinese language teaching at various levels, but also provide students with opportunities such as exploring Beijing through field trips, experiencing China trips, Chinese culture workshops and traditional festival celebrations and Chinese production assemblies.

Moreover, Chinese activities are organized to further encourage students to master the language, such as Chinese Reading Month, Classic Poetry Reading, Hip-hop Mandarin, Chinese Drama Week, ‘I’m a Poet’, Chinese Storytelling Week, etc. Each activity is designed based on the students’ age characteristics and learning habits. For example, Hip-hop Mandarin is one of the most popular activities for students. It is an innovative way to lower the difficulty in speaking Chinese for CAL students as they can use hip-hop music rhythms by playing a guitar or drums on stage to assist their Chinese speaking. The other popular activity, ‘I’m a Poet’, encourages students to read poems of their choice and write their own poems under the guidance of an invited poet on campus.

“We are teaching Chinese but not in a Chinese way. We hope to teach children through interactive methods that they are used to,” says Xu.

According to her, YCIS Beijing has launched the new China Study programme for Year 1 to Year 9 students. This programme is designed to emphasize student’s participation and focuses on hands on experiences. The programme has a strong focus both on today’s China and China’s culture heritage. The learning topics integrate subjects from history and geography to visual art, performing art and music. As showcased in the school’s Chinese New Year performance Beautiful China, the children performed Xinjiang folk dance and Tibetan dance, recited Chinese poems and Chinese idioms and demonstrated a Chinese tea ceremony and their Kung Fu skills as a result of their learning about China.

25The Chinese Daren Award is another new initiative to enhance Chinese learning. The Daren Award system recognizes both the achievements and efforts of students. According to April Peng, YCIS Beijing Primary Chinese Coordinator, there are seven types of certificates and there is also a Chinese Daren Cup for Chinese language classes. A Daren Points Table is designed for each class to collect merits for strengthening and improving performance. Each week the teacher will announce the cup winner at school assembly. Winning the Chinese Daren Cup is surely a great motivation for the students to carry on.

 

However, there are no shortcuts for learning a language and it is same with Chinese. Here are some learning tips that might be useful for fellow students:

 

Sydney: Practice - If you don’t use it, you lose it. Read signs when you’re out and about. I find it quite satisfying when I know more characters than the friends I’m with.

Whatever article or text you are reading in class, practice reading it at home. Reading aloud builds confidence and helps you practice tones. Also, I find it helpful to practice writing the characters. Seeing it and writing it helps the characters to stick in your mind better. Write the meaning of the word next to it, because actually knowing what the character means is imperative if you want to remember it for more than your next in-class dictation.

Talk to your Ayi, Chinese friends and the locals in your area for practice. Even if it feels awkward or weird, the practice is good!

Jing Ting: I think not being embarrassed about speaking the language and frequently using the language is something that will really help a person to improve their speaking skills. Being scared and embarrassed to speak the language will just limit the opportunity learners have to improve, especially if they have just started learning the language.

Reading and writing is a skill that has to be developed through constant practice. One way that will help in writing is not only to remember how to say and write the word, but to use it in a sentence. While watching Chinese TV, it is also really helpful to listen to the actors speak while reading the Chinese subtitles. 

 

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