Category Archives: The Learning Chinese Craze

China and New Zealand Work Together to Promote Mandarin Study

I found this article about a an ambitious program captained by the Confucius Institute at the University of Auckland to quintuple the number of students learning Mandarin in New Zealand.

From the article:

“Last year, the institute placed eight assistants in New Zealand schools to promote the language – this year, that number will be 18.

Under the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement, up to 150 Mandarin assistants can work in New Zealand at any one time.

“We are very encouraged by a near 40 per cent increase in Kiwis learning Mandarin last year and will be doing much more to generate interest in the language this year,” said institute director Nora Yao.

“I will expect a more significant growth, and even if we do not reach our target, I am confident we will get near there.”

This year, 18 schools will be hosting the Chinese language assistants, whose jobs will be to fuel interest in Mandarin among students and train local teachers to teach the language.”

First, kudos to the governments of China and New Zealand for undertaking this effort. It won’t succeed (a huge percentage of those who start studying Mandarin drop out before they learn more than a few phrases), but it is an admirable effort.

Question for the reporter: How do you train local teachers to teach Mandarin when they don’t speak it in the first place? Or, are there already certified teachers in place who are Mandarin speakers and readers?

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Filed under China, Greater Asia, Language, The Learning Chinese Craze

Learning Chinese Initiatives in Australia Flop

Check out this article on the results of a push to teach Asian languages in Australia. From the article:

“Most parents just don’t see the sense in learning Asian languages. What chance is there really that their daughter will need her schoolgirl Indonesian to do business deals? What cultural payoff is there in learning Korean that a child in this essentially European country couldn’t get twice over from learning French?”

Yep.

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Time Magazine Article: A Mandarin School in Minneapolis

Fascinating article here about a Mandarin immersion school in Minneapolis. I believe that attending an immersion school like the Yinghua Academy for several years is one of the only ways a person can become truly fluent in Mandarin while still living in the United States.

From a cross-cultural perspective, check out the part of the article that discusses some of the cultural adaptation challenges the Chinese and Taiwanese teachers are facing. These folks are living in an entirely different world now. I’d love to go and talk with them for a few hours about what the Americans are thinking.

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Newsweek Article on Learning Mandarin

Newsweek recently posted an article entitled “The Mandarin Scam: So you want to learn Chinese? Your best bet is to say at home.

The author takes issue with the quality of Mandarin language instruction, and the teaching methods used, in China. He concludes that a student of Mandarin Chinese would be better off using online options or staying home and learning.

While I don’t doubt that there are problems with the way Mandarin is taught in China (students who study Mandarin in Taiwan have their fair share of complaints), there is one thing I am sure of: It is ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE to learn to speak Mandarin fluently if you never live in China or Taiwan.

I suppose there might be a rare exception–someone who moves to an enclave of Chinese speakers abroad and learns to speak Mandarin that way, but for most, they will never achieve fluency until they live abroad in Taiwan or China and speak Mandarin all day, every day, for six months to a year.

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Mandarin in the UK: Insight from Tesco’s Chairman

This article details some of  Tesco Chairman David Reid’s recent comments on the state of Chinese learning programs in the UK.

Echoing the recent comments of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Mr. Reid made the following statement about the importance of teaching Chinese in UK classrooms: “…The unprecedented speed and scale of changes in China means the UK cannot afford a slow transformation, as that will deny British young people the support they need to best prepare them for a future in which China will play a big role.”

I haven’t seen much in the way of industry leaders encouraging people to learn Chinese. I appreciate Mr. Reid’s comments. More business leaders should speak out in favor of learning Chinese (with appropriate respect given to some of the difficulties of learning the language).

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“The Pain and Joy of Learning Mandarin Chinese”

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Melody Chen at The Taiwan Journal has produced well-written, insightful article that brings up most of the relevant points for those investigating the cost (in time, money, and pain) of learning Chinese.

Here it is: The pain and joy of learning Mandarin Chinese. Enjoy!

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Learning Chinese is Easier Than You Think? Afraid Not.

You can imagine what I was thinking when I got this link in a Google alert: Chinese easier to learn than students expect, languages lecturer says

From the article:


“…McClure said he wouldn’t trade teaching Chinese for anything, but also notes that there are also two major misconceptions about the Chinese language.

“Chinese is a fairly easy language. In Chinese, you’ll never have to conjugate a verb. It’s very straightforward.” McClure said.”
I agree with Mr. McClure, the lecturer quoted in the article, that there is no conjugation necessary in Chinese, and this does make life easier for people learning Chinese. What I cannot agree with is the statement that Chinese is an “easy language.” What about the four regularly used tones and the necessity of getting them right if one wants to be understood? What about the writing system, which has no alphabet and requires memorization of 3,000 characters and their often complicated stroke orders just to reach a first year high school student level of fluency? What about the fact that there are almost no vocabulary words in Chinese that sound anything like an English word? Chinese is decidedly not an “easy language.” More accurately, Chinese grammar is easy to understand. If you come from a romance language learning background, you’ll jump for joy on the day your Chinese teacher explains Chinese verb tense to you. There are essentially no plurals in Chinese, and prepositions are much easier than they are in English or Spanish.

I’m thinking that Mr. McClure is either trying to be encouraging to students and went a bit overboard, or he was misquoted.

The second misconception mentioned had to do with whether or not native English teachers can effectively teach Chinese. I fully support Mr. McClure’s assertion that a native English teacher can be a very effective teacher of Chinese. There are many reasons why I feel this way, all of them based on personal experience, but the details on why I believe this are fodder for a future blog post.

The middle of the article gets a bit closer to the truth…

“…there are thousands of characters to learn and not even a native Chinese speaker will know them all.

Although the average high school student in China will graduate knowing more than 3,000 characters, a Chinese student at this college will learn how to read and write 300 characters in one semester, and another 300 if they continue in the course.”

…before careening back into la-la land…

“Because each word in Chinese is made up of one, two or three characters, a student can become proficient in the language while here.”

(Proficient? In a few semesters of studying Chinese in America, you would be able to have very simple conversations in Chinese, but not in any depth, and certainly not with any grasp of detailed information.)

…and then moving back into the realm of reality again…

“Because it is a four-credit class, McClure also teaches the culture and history of China. Frequently, he uses movie clips to illustrate a lesson.

“It’s somewhat over their heads,” McClure said, “but they enjoy it when they can pick up phrases they know. Watching a movie with duct tape over the English subtitles is the closest you can get to immersion.” “

Kudos to Mr. McClure for adding history and culture components to his syllabus. It makes classes more interesting and gives students a cultural framework for their studies. Saying that movies in Chinese are “somewhat over their heads” after only a semester or two of study is another understatement.

Look, I don’t want to discourage anyone who wants to learn Chinese. If you are interested in doing business in greater China, working as a diplomat, getting into translation, or teaching English in greater China, learning Chinese is a very worthwhile pursuit. The fact that Chinese is so difficult to learn is what attracted me to the language in the first place (that, and growing up with a father who spoke fluent Cantonese). But let’s not do students the disservice of making Chinese sound easier than it is. You’re looking at a year or two of classes in the US, Canada, wherever, and then a good six months to a year of study abroad in China or Taiwan before you’ll be able to hold a conversation that goes into a bit of depth or actually be able to put the language to some kind of functional use. If you want to be able to read and write, you’re looking at an even longer period of time. It can be done, but you should go into it knowing what you’re up against.

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