Archive for August, 2009

Student Teaching

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

While studying at ICLP I have been confronted with a great deal of questions concerning how to approach Chinese upon returning to my home institution. Thus far, everyone’s answer has been, “Language Partner”. This is just fine considering that the surrounding Fredericksburg area does in fact have a, albeit small, Chinese population who speak Mandarin (dialectal issues can come up given that most Chinatown residents happen to speak Cantonese). Language growth on my part isn’t what I am necessarily worried about, I am certain that with a history professor who speaks Chinese and the Chinese language professor being a resident of the Mary Washington campus, I can continue to work on conversation everyday as well as do private work on vocabulary and grammar. Additionally many of the ICLP teachers have opened up their email inbox to any and all questions I could have while studying. The icing on the cake of course is my study abroad to China coming up next year in February.

What I am concerned about is, where other students sit on studying Chinese. Having now been studying in an intensive environment where language classes is the only type of class you take, I realize that at universities across the board you are merely treading water, at best. I have found students who although have been studying Chinese for several years have major issues with pronunciation. To be fair, I still royally suck at tones, however this is the downfall of almost every single non-native speaker of Chinese. The problem lies in there not being enough time for people to practice their Chinese outloud and have someone over them helping to correct their pronunciation. At ICLP we have a class called a “Dan Ban Ke” which is literally a single person class. The process is excruciating as you no longer can hide your voice in the crowd. Just you and the professor, no where to run or hide. The reality of the normal university’s situation is that first and foremost they do not have the manpower in terms of language instructors to do this for every student enrolled in a Chinese course, which mind you can sometimes go upwards to 25 people in smaller institutions. This is problematic as students learning a new language require individual attention to address their needs. I recall many days in 101 and 102 being able to not have to speak at all for the entire class unless I wanted to. No one is at fault for this situation, it is merely how it has to be given the fact we have only one instructor who already teaches four classes. Another force at work here is the student’s schedule. Unless they are majoring in Chinese, currently not possible at UMW, they will not be using or even studying for Chinese everyday. We only have class every MWF so there are two down days per week plus the weekend where many students won’t practice their Chinese. As the program at Mary Washington is still very young many students cannot yet hold fluid conversations for a long period, and we don’t have upper level students that can help guide and tutor lower levels. That’s a little bit of a lie since we did in fact have tutoring services available from some of the upper crust students of the 200 level classes. However, maybe it doesn’t matter whether students need tutoring or not, but that they require more opportunities to speak out.

Chinese, as an English speaker, feels horrifically awkward to speak at first, and I personally felt very embarrassed to be making these weird sounds in my dorm room or in any public space. Where do you practice? Where do you go to work on tones and the subtle differences between sounds? My question to you, readers, is what do you do to help overcome the above situation? I have come up with some of my own answers to address this, but feel that they are limited. For instance, 100 level students do not really have the ability to speak but you could potentially hold pronunciation clinics to get them to understand how to make some of the more awkward sounds. Many students still pronounce “xue” as “shui” because the x u e combination produces an umlaut that non-native speakers do not produce clearly. So although I am only an intermediate student, can I actually effectively run a say once a week pronunciation clinic? Would students even show up? Ultimately I would like to see 200 level students meeting up with 100 level and working through the beginner’s book, do practices and drills together. This I feel would benefit both learners as going through the old material can refresh your mind on grammar structures and potentially forgotten vocabulary.  I started checking into a book series that is big in mainland china called “Crazy English” where an instructor will take students outside and just have all of them shout english phrases out collectively so no one feels nervous.  I could definitely imagine a rack of Mary Wash students outside on Ball Circle yelling “Nihao!”