When Spring Festival Meets Learning Chinese

[Source]    People’s Daily Overseas Edition [Time]    2018-02-13 16:18:11 

As a carrier for the denomination of the many human civilizations from generation to generation, each and every language has contained the distinct cultural genes of a nation. For Chinese lan-guage learners, to learn Chinese is to make oneself a piece in that cultural puzzle. Effectively inte-grating the cultural ideas of Chinese traditional festivals into overseas Chinese language teaching, and guiding students to understand and recognize the in-depth cultural ideas within festivals to interpret the superficial cultural phenomenon they come across, so that student’s interest to learn the language and culture is enhanced—this is what teachers of teaching Chinese to speakers of other languages think and are implementing.

Teaching Chinese Language by Adapting Content from Spring Festival

By Peng Ying and Xu Haiming

One of the difficulties when learning Chinese language in Italy is the shortage of the natural lan-guage environment that transports the learner to realistic daily life trials, which leads to learners having difficulty in matching the words with real life situations naturally. From the perspective of academic theory, the in-depth reason causing the phenomenon is that when learning the words, learners cannot get access to the physical objects or the environmental hints that directly link the words to the objects on the spot. Therefore, during teaching Chinese to speakers of other lan-guages, Chinese language teachers should manage to create the language environment where both the words and their respective objects appear, increase physical or psychological hints re-flecting what the words refer to, and expose the learners to the language input with words linked to the objects as more as possible so that they can experience the real atmosphere of discourse production and discourse functions. And by doing so, the efficiency of learning Chinese language can be improved. Such academic theory of language recognition requires that the Chinese lan-guage teachers take advantage of each opportunity and every piece of material at hand and keep in line with the situations to achieve situational teaching.

Confucius Institute at Oriental University of Napoli in Italy hanging lanterns and spring couplets to celebrate the Chinese New Year

Spring Festival, China’s most important one, is the very opportunity to adopt the situational teaching approach. In recent years, the Confucius Institute at Oriental University of Napoli (CIOUN) in Italy, targeting at classes with different Chinese language proficiency levels and ac-cording to a variety of courses, has taught Chinese language and cultural knowledge related to Spring Festival in the following ways.

Confucius Institute at Oriental University of Napoli in Italy organizing activities to usher in the New Year and early grade students singing and dancing “Happy New Year”

Firstly, in the early grade Chinese-language classes, students can learn words through pictures and physical objects and acquire the typical expressions by singing Chinese songs. It is not easy to impart the knowledge of Spring Festival to the Italian early grade students only through language since they have never learned Chinese language before. Therefore, Chinese language teachers often bring the students into the atmosphere of China’s Spring Festival and guide them to experi-ence its atmosphere by displaying visual materials related to it through which the students can immerse themselves in the discourse raised in the situations as well as people’s facial expressions and physical objects. Then, with the simple sentences in the videos projected on the screen, the teachers can lead the students to learn the typical expressions of Chinese festivals. Typical ex-pressions such as “Congratulations” “May you have good fortune according to your wishes in the Spring Festival” “Wish everything goes well” and “Good luck in this Dog year” are the expressions that are naturally produced and emerge in typical situations in the form of the lexical chunk. Therefore, there is no need to analyze the language elements in detail in class as long as the stu-dents can speak the language. Another way to introduce the cultural background behind Spring Festival in the early grade Chinese-language classes is to learn some simple Chinese songs and traditional Chinese dancing, which allows the students to feel the blessing and delightful atmos-phere of the festivities. For example, early grade students have been taught to sing “Happy New Year,” and also dance and deliver performances while singing them. In this way, the students not only acquire some simple expressions, but have fun while doing so. It is noteworthy that the stu-dents will learn the words more effectively if they are taught in the way that words are matched to pictures they draw.

Confucius Institute at Oriental University of Napoli in Italy hosting celebration activities for the Chinese New Year

Secondly, in the senior Chinese-language classes, Spring Festival can function as an opportunity for students to learn poetry related to the festival. The Confucius Institute at Oriental University of Napoli has remained committed to making use of the essence of traditional Chinese culture to serve Chinese-language teaching. In the senior Chinese language classes, some teachers have set up a section called “Approaches to Poetry”. Upon the arrival of Spring Festival, these teachers can instruct the students to go through Chinese “Spring Festival Complex” contained in poetry by interpreting poems, such as “Amid the boom of firecrackers a year has come to an end, and the spring wind has wafted warm breath to the wine,” by Wang Anshi and “New Year only deepens my longing, and adds to the lonely tears of an exile” by Liu Changqing. Explaining the “Tusu” and others through the poems can be a good entry-level approach for the students to further study and understand the Chinese culture in the future. In addition, Chinese language teachers can also guide the students to experience the charm of rhymes in Chinese language through poetry.

Finally, in Chinese language listening and speaking classes, teachers will encourage Italian stu-dents to interview Chinese residents in Naples in local communities about their ways to celebrate Spring Festival. Upon finishing the task, the students need to introduce the interview content in class and conduct debates over the theme “Changing of Chinese People’s Ways to Celebrate Spring Festival: Tradition and Modernity”. Apart from furthering their understandings about the different approaches when celebrating the festivities adopted by overseas Chinese, students can brush up on their knowledge regarding time-brought changes to Spring Festival culture and how the festival is adapted to local conditions. At the same time, the curriculum set up in this way not only practices students’ ability to “act with the language”—the ability to interview local Chinese people by using the language, but also improves their capability to “think with the language”—the logical thinking capacity to express their opinions by using the language. The debates over how Chinese people spend Spring Festival have also provoked discussions with multi-layer enlightening meanings, like those about how the traditional ways evolve into modern ones, the changes of a nation’s traditional festival and others, thus making the lesson vivid and interesting with profound meaning.

(The authors are Chinese language teachers from the Confucius Institute at Oriental University of Napoli in Italy)

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