“Having Fun” in Learning Chinese

[Source]    People’s Daily Overseas Edition [Time]    2017-09-01 16:35:53 

Instead of giving lectures in an inefficient “cramming” way, it is better to encourage students to learn to “have fun” in learning Chinese. Shen Wen (second from right) painting the paper kite with great interest

If a word can be used to describe the temperature in Thailand, that would be “high”. If a phrase is used to describe the enthusiasm of Thai people in learning Chinese, I think no phrase is more appropriate than “extremely high”. This is also my deepest feeling when serving as a volunteer Chinese teacher in Thailand.

In May, 2016, with the dream of “telling China’s story in a good way”, I came to the Confucius Institute at Bansomdejchaopraya Rajabhat University (BSRU) and embarked towards an unforgettable journey.

“Mr. Zhang, do you know how to play Chinese kung fu?”“Is this stroke called Nà in Chinese calligraphy?” “Is Chinese roast duck tasty?” “Is Chinese medicine good for our health?” ……I was overwhelmed by such questions about “Chinese culture” in the writing class offered to sophomore students majoring in Chinese at BSRU.

Classroom atmosphere at the Confucius Institute has been very active with many students showing strong curiosity, fondness for raising questions, and high enthusiasm. These students preferred “playing” when experiencing themselves rather than raw learning. They liked having fun by nature, so how to enable students to “have fun” in learning Chinese and make them believe that learning Chinese is no longer drudgery had become the focus when I was preparing for the class.

In fact, my decision of starting a class featuring “having fun in learning Chinese” was inspired by a Thai student called Shen Wen. Shen Wen was a very quiet boy in our class who usually didn’t talk a lot. He carefully took notes in every class, but his score was not very satisfying when it came to the writing exam.

I once had a conversation with him. He told me hesitantly that personal interest meant a lot to him. If the Chinese teacher just talked about the dull basic knowledge of Chinese language, he would get bored while learning it.

The idea of teaching students in accordance with their aptitude immediately occurred to me. I thought it would be better to encourage students to learn to “have fun” in learning Chinese instead of giving lectures in an inefficient “cramming” way. Later I asked them to use the brushes to paint on the kite what they think of China. I also took part in the process and asked them to make a sentence so as to check their vocabulary. Before long, the naïve-looking panda and the winding Great Wall unfolded vividly before us. The students then flew the finished kites, running and playing in the playground. I noticed that the reserved Shen Wen also laughed happily in the activity. Of course, the purpose of the activity was not only to make them understand the kite culture, but, more importantly, to teach them methods of learning Chinese. When I was correcting their compositions, I found that many students expressed their fondness for “having fun in learning Chinese”. To my greater delight, not only could newly learned words be spotted in Shen Wen’s composition, but the sentences also appeared more coherent than before. Since then, as long as there was a cultural event held by the Confucius Institute, the students in my class would actively participate in and write an .article for me to correct.

Actually, within one year of being a teacher at the institute, the students I taught included children who were just learning to speak, middle school students who had strong interest in Chinese culture, college students who had the ambition of studying in China, and local teachers in their sixties or seventies. I had seen their perseverance in learning Chinese and felt their eagerness to understand China. Whenever class was over, children in the kindergarten pressed the palms of their hands together, saying thanks to me. Whenever I learned that, in order to participate in the Chinese training at the Confucius Institute every Saturday, some teachers from other provinces had to take a train, then transfer to the BTS Sky train, and finally take a motorcycle, I would feel a heavy sense of responsibility.

I still vaguely remember the scene upon leaving and the feeling of being reluctant to leave when I received the small gifts and wishes from the students. My teaching experience over the year has been encouraging me and strengthening my belief of dedication to teaching Chinese as a foreign language in the future.

(The author is a volunteer Chinese teacher from Tianjin Normal University)

(Story/photos by Zhang Da, People’s Daily Overseas Edition Page 9, August 30th, 2017)